Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Co-hosts Oman out to maximise top-order and seam-bowling strenghts. The Red Brigade have a bevy of spinners to complement their seam strength.
The Red Brigade have a bevy of spinners to complement their seam strength.
For a side that as little as five years ago were competing with the likes of Tanzania and Vanuatu in the lower-reaches of the now-defunct World Cricket League, the rise of Oman's “Red Brigade” to the top of the Associate one-day ladder and back-to-back qualification for T20I World Cups is in itself one of the more remarkable stories in Associates cricket, but little did Zeeshan Maqsood's team know when they held on for a nervy win over Hong Kong at the 2019 Global T20 Qualifier that they had secured a berth at a tournament they themselves would be hosting, at least for the initial stages.
But for an outstanding innings from Jatinder Singh in that must-win match, where he carried the bat for 67* to see Oman to a defensible 134 before Bilal Khan ruined the Hong Kong reply, Oman might have been, like their unfortunate Emirati neighbours, looking on from the sidelines for their unexpected home World Cup. After looking initially dominant in the Global Qualifier two years ago, Oman stumbled toward the end of the group phase, slumping to a surprise defeat at the hands of Jersey in their final group game before being comprehensively beaten by Namibia in the Semi-final play-off to land themselves in that clutch eliminator against Hong Kong.
Since then Oman have looked the side to beat in Associates cricket however, at least in the 50-over format. Under long-serving head coach Dulip Mendis, who has been with Oman for close to a decade now, they have weathered a difficult period during the pandemic, which threatened to upend the domestic system that the national set-up draws on, and which indeed anchors many of the national-team players in the country. That system continues to attract outside talent, and though the core of the Oman side that contested the Qualifier remains intact, there have been a couple of additions that address some, though not all of the squad's vulnerabilities.
Jatinder and Bilal remain central to the home team's plans, the former a dynamic presence opening the batting and the latter as spearhead of the pace attack. The top-order and the seam section are Oman's two principle strengths, the form of Aaqib Ilyas, promoted to open with Jatinder in Oman's last two warm-ups, gives Oman an enviable opening pair, while Bilal Khan's rapid left arm swing paired with Kaleemullah's height and bounce has proved an effective new-ball combination for Oman across formats, while Pakistan under-19s paceman Fayyaz Butt, who rarely gets a look-in in the ODI side these days, has also been hitting a hot streak in the shorter format.
The return to fitness of Ilyas and Khawar Ali – another contender for the second opener's slot – also adds to the ranks of Oman's spin-allrounders, Ilyas an accurate wrist spinner and Ali a more than useful utility spinner, legbreaks to right handers and offspin to left, complementing the left arm fingerspin of Maqsood himself and newcomer Ayaan Khan. The latter's impressive showing with the bat in a recent series against a touring Mumbai side was encouraging, but the Omani lower and middle order remains something of a concern.
Maqsood himself tends to bat further down these days, and at times has been able to hold the middle order together if the top of the card fails, but Oman remain prone to cascading wickets and collapse when the momentum turns against them. In Naseem Kushi and Sandeep Goud they have hitting-power down the order, the former especially capable of counter-attacking at the death, while of the seamers Kaleemullah and Butt can both clear the ropes late, but the lower half of the batting line-up remains a potential weakness should early wickets fall.
If Oman have yet to find a reliable winning formula in the shorter format and generally look less that the sum of their parts, they nonetheless boast a roster which, if they can work out how their team fits together, could be a threat not just in the First Round but potentially in the main draw. Getting there is by no means a given depsite their home advantage, with the schedule suggesting a do-or-die final match against Scotland may decide whether Oman will be playing an away leg in this tournament.
Danger Man:Bilal Khan's comparative anonymity outside of Associate circles stands in contrast to his reputation among those who regularly face him. The left arm quick has been the stand-out new ball bowler across formats in Associates cricket for some time, top wicket taker at the Qualifier and leading the table in League . He is able to extract prodigious swing when conditions suit and possessed of a reliable in-ducking yorker, Bilal is a top-tail bowler par excellence who one expects will be plying his trade in franchise cricket sooner than later.
Rising Star: Ayaan Khan, the newly-qualified left-arm finger-spinner, has been waiting in the wings for Oman for some time. This tournament will be the former Madhya Pradesh all-rounder T20I debut for the hosts, though he has already proved his worth with the ball in the longer format in Oman's recent League 2 fixtures.
Key Question:Khawar Ali was Jatinder Singh's regular opening partner at the Qualifier, but has barely batted since his return to the side. Ali's legspin especially has proved potentially match-winning, but his uncertain role with the bat points to a general lack of clarity as to Oman's best batting card. Repeated reshuffling of the top four, with any of Ilyas, Ali, or Khan potentially dropping down to shore up the middle order, is a puzzle Oman would have hoped to have solved by now.
Strengths:A top order in form, a stand-out seam attack and a versatile selection of slow bowling all-rounders gives Oman plenty of potential ways to win matches, as well as a degree of depth, if not reliable resilience, to come back from early set-backs. Add to that a strong recent white ball record and home advantage, and anything but a top-two finish would be, if not a surprise per se, certainly a disappointment for the hosts.
Weaknesses:Despite (or perhaps because of) plenty of cricket in the lead-up to the tournament, Oman have looked rather ragged in their warm-up games. Their usually sound fielding has been somewhat ropey and a succession of run-outs cost them a win against the Dutch. Add to that still unresolved questions regarding the middle order and a proclivity for spectacular collapses, the hosts have looked more wild-cards than favourites to progress as the main event approaches.
Past Highs and Lows: Oman's very qualification for the previous edition of the tournament back at the 2015 Qualifier in alien North-Atlantic conditions was itself something of a shock, their beating Ireland at the event itself was one of the few memorable moments at the rain-swept First Round in Dharamsala. Being brought back down to earth by Bangladesh after a wash-out against the Netherlands meant their first turn on the global stage was to be no fairy-tale, but the Red Brigade will have a home crowd to impress, and this time round they are far from underdogs.
Oman vs PNG – Al Amerat Cricket Stadium – 14:00, Sunday October 17
Oman vs Bangladesh – Al Amerat Cricket Stadium – 18:00, Tuesday October 19 (D/N)
Oman vs Scotland – Al Amerat Cricket Stadium – 18:00, Thursday October 21 (D/N)