Muscat: When the Oman Under-16 cricket team embark on a trip to Malaysia later this month it will mark the start of a new era for cricket in the Sultanate.
The Malaysian sojourn, where the Oman juniors will participate in the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Under-16 Premier tournament in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur from August 13 to 20, will provide the game's governing body, the Oman Cricket (OC), a fresh perspective vis-a-vis the future of the game in the country.
Keeping that very aspect - the future - in mind the Oman Cricket has tried to give exposure to as many young Omani talents as possible, right from the selections trials to the final team selection.
And as a result there are a total of six Omani talents included in the final 14-member team chosen for the Malaysian assignment.
Interestingly, the governing body also decided to hand over the reins of the team to young and dynamic Desmond Berhardt, a former player who will be on his first international coaching assignment.
The OC's bold decision, to attract as many Omanis as possible to play cricket and eventually represent the country, comes close on the heels of the Sultanate being given the Associate membership by the International Cricket Council (ICC).
Five in playing XI
"The Oman Cricket board's idea is to provide exposure to maximum number of Omani boys," OC board member Dad Mohammed Al Balushi explained.
Dad Mohammed, who will be travelling with the squad as team manager, said the team has been selected after extensive training which started in June.
"Initially we have selected 35 probables from which we have selected 24 boys. The training started in the middle of June and we continued the sessions even during the Eid holidays.
"We have finalised 18 players for the tournament. We will be taking 14 to Malaysian event and the four players will be reserves," he said.
Speaking about the final composition of the team, he said: "We have six Omani boys in the team. This is first time that six Omanis will be representing the country in an international cricket tournament."
"And remember we will be playing five matches in Kuala Lumpur and in each match there will be five Omani boys in the playing eleven," informed Dad Mohammed.
The six Omanis selected for the team are vice-captain Ahmed Al Balushi, Muhannad Al Balushi, Ziyad Al Balushi, Suhail Al Balushi, Zuhair Al Balushi and Maher Yousuf.
The team will be led by captail Wasim Ali and also comprises Ivan Manjila, Hemil Ganatra, Indunil Palihawadana, Ubaidullah, Sanat Sasikumar and Mayukh Misra.
The four standby players are Varun Anand, Niraj Dipak Asher, Brijesh Jitesh Gandhi and Rohan Solomon Koshy.
Asked what can be expected from the team in a tournament that also serves as the qualifying event for the ACC Under-16 Elite tournament, he said: "As I mentioned this is a new team and with the exception of a couple of players like captain Wasim (Ali) and Hemil (Ganatra), for all others it will be a new experience. So it will not be fair on anybody's part to put pressure of expectations on these boys.
"But being the under-16s they are a fresh lot. They are also talented and very enthusiastic, and capable of doing the unexpected."
Camp in Colombo
However, the OC official lamented the lack of practice matches during the training camp and ahead of the tournament.
"We were unable to arrange practice matches due to various reasons including schools exams and Ramadhan. But hope we will be able to make up for that during our stay in Sri Lanka," Dad Mohammed informed.
The squad will leave for the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo on August 7 for a five-day training camp, during which they will also play a couple of practice matches with local teams, before heading for Malaysia on August 12.
In the six-team Kuala Lumpur tournament, which will be played on the single round-robin format, Oman will start their campaign against Singapore on August 14.
They are scheduled to play hosts Malaysia on August 15, then take on Nepal on August 17 and Thailand the following day before completing their engagements on August 20 with a match
Squad: Wasim Ali (captain), Ahmed Al Balushi, Muhannad Al Balushi, Ziyad Al Balushi, Suhail Al Balushi, Zuhair Al Balushi, Maher Yousuf, Paritosh Bhatt, Ivan Manjila, Hemil Ganatra, Indunil Palihawadana, Ubaidullah, Sanat Sasikumar, Mayukh Misra. Coach: Desmond Berhardt. Assistant coach: Parvez Al Balushi. Manager: Dad Al Balushi. Physio/Trainer: Dr. M. V. Manjunath.
Fixtures: Aug. 14: Malaysia vs Bahrain; Oman vs Singapore; Nepal vs Thailand. Aug. 15: Nepal vs Singapore; Bahrain vs Thailand; Malaysia vs Oman. Aug. 17: Bahrain vs Singapore; Nepal vs Oman; Malaysia vs Thailand. Aug. 18: Malaysia vs Singapore; Oman vs Thailand; Bahrain vs Nepal. Aug. 20: Bahrain vs Oman; Malaysia vs Nepal; Singapore vs Thailand.
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