WT20 : Ireland V Oman, World T20 Preview
History will be made when Oman sets foot on the ground at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association stadium in Dharamsala on Wednesday (March 9) for its ICC World Twenty20 first-round Group A match. It will be its first ever appearance in an International Cricket Council event.
Its opponent on the historic occasion, Ireland, has been there, done that. It has been a regular at ICC events since 2007 and has become the face of Associate cricket over the years. A number of its players from the World Cup 2007 are still around nine years later, and Ireland will know exactly how excited, and perhaps nervous, Oman will be on Wednesday.
Oman is certainly the underdog, but a quick glance at its recent history shows it is no pushover.
Oman finds itself here after a great run in the ICC World T20 Qualifier last year. It entered the tournament ranked 29, but progressed by defeating more fancied teams like Canada, the Netherlands, Afghanistan and Namibia. It also did fairly well in the Asia Cup qualifiers, beating Hong Kong and falling narrowly against Afghanistan, and continued its impressive run with victory against Scotland in an ICC World T20 2016 warm-up match in Mohali last week.
A team filled with expats from India and Pakistan, Oman’s strength is its experience: eight of the 15 players are over 30, with the captain, Sultan Ahmed, the oldest at 38. Adnan Ilyas, Jatinder Singh and Zeeshan Maqsood are the batting mainstays while the side also has good variety in the bowling attack. Amir Kaleem and Zeeshan Siddiqui form the spin options, but the pacers – Bilal Khan and Mehran Khan – will have a lot to do in helpful conditions in Dharamsala.
Another factor that has contributed to Oman’s rise in recent times is a backroom staff filled with established players from the subcontinent. While Duleep Mendis dons the role of head coach, Sunil Joshi helps out both in bowling and playing spin.
Ireland has suffered some setbacks – relative to the standards it set for itself – in recent times. It has stunned many sides in 50-over World Cups, but has somehow not been able to do the same in World T20s. It had a 21-match unbeaten streak in ICC World T20 qualifiers, but that too was broken last year when it lost to Papua New Guinea and failed to qualify for the final.
John Bracewell, the coach, admitted that the gap between Associate nations was rapidly reducing, but despite all that, Ireland will consider itself a favourite.
One of the reasons for Ireland’s success over the years is that its core team has been the same. William Porterfield, the captain, Paul Stirling, Gary Wilson and the O’Brien brothers Kevin and Niall form a strong batting unit while Tim Murtagh, George Dockrell andMax Sorensen form the bowling unit. Allrounders like Kevin and Stirling also make Porterfield’s job easier.
Ireland will also be strengthened by the return of Boyd Rankin, who had a homecoming after shifting to England for a brief while. It also has some major subcontinent experience in the form of Chaminda Vaas, the bowling coach, among its backroom staff.
In many ways, Wednesday’s clash is a battle of the experienced v the newbies. But what it certainly is not is David v Goliath. If Oman can overcome the nerves and anxiety that come along with making history, it could be an interesting clash to watch out for.
Oman: Sultan Ahmed (capt, wk), Aamir Kaleem (vice-capt), Amir Ali, Munis Ansari, Jatinder Singh, Ajay Lalcheta, Mehran Khan, Rajeshkumar Ranpura, Sufyan Mehmood, Aaqib Sulehri, Vaibhav Wategaonkar, Zeeshan Siddiqui, Zeeshan Maqsood, Bilal Khan, Adnan Ilyas.
Ireland: William Porterfield (capt), Andrew Balbirnie, Gary Wilson, George Dockrell, Andy McBrine, Tim Murtagh, Kevin O’Brien, Niall O’Brien, Andrew Poynter, Stuart Poynter, Boyd Rankin, Max Sorensen, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Craig Young.