MUSCAT: Oman cricketers seem to love making history in the shortest format of the game, in particular, when it comes to the inaugural edition.
Nearly 16 years after Oman had won the inaugural Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Twenty20 Cup in Kuwait, their first major title as Oman were adjudged joint winners with Afghanistan following a washout, the Men in Red have done it again.
On Saturday, Oman were crowned champions of the inaugural Gulf T20I Cricket Championship that concluded in Doha, Qatar.
In a thrilling final, Oman led by Aqib Ilyas, defeated UAE by five wickets with four balls to spare.
Having won the inaugural ACC T20 Cup, and then again in 2015 the latest trophy of the inaugural Gulf T20I Championship is a “massive” achievement in the words of the team’s head coach Duleep Mendis.
Mendis, the former Sri Lankan captain, is the architect of Oman’s rise in the T20 format and he continues to deliver with his men since joining the team in September 2012. Under Mendis, Oman have qualified twice to the ICC T20 World Cup (2016 and 2021) and have won the ACC T20 in UAE.
The latest title assumes significance as this is the first edition of the Gulf T20I Championship and the regional cricket associations are hopeful that this tournament will be an annual affair and played across all the six GCC countries – Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait.
Skippered by Aqib Ilyas, the all-rounder led from the front at the Doha tournament, where the come-from-behind spirit was displayed in abundance by the team.
In his remarks after the title win, Mendis said: “I am very happy with the result. It was a show of character and grit by the boys to have come back strongly to claim the title after two defeats in the group stage.
“The bowlers did a fantastic job throughout the tournament. We had few issues in the top order during the early matches but the lower order rose to the occasion to save us in a few games.”
Mendis added: “The best part of this highly competitive tournament was that our players peaked at the right time as we won the last two matches in the league stage [against Saudi Arabia and Kuwait] to head into the final high on confidence.”
The head coach also gave full marks to the captaincy of Aqib Ilyas, who displayed his class with batting and bowling and was also all praise for Ayaan Khan and the bowlers.
“There were so many contributions from the rest and it was heartening to see that the fielding came out good,” he added.
Mendis said: “I am really impressed by the team’s fighting qualities and the way they made a comeback in this tournament was just fantastic. To achieve this sort of success shows the team’s character and strength and I hope they continue with this mentality ahead. It was a victory that will be remembered for long for the way the boys made a comeback.”
Mendis added: “The win had a lot to do with the strong support we received from the OC chairman, Pankaj Khimji, Madhu Jesrani (OC secretary), Alkesh Joshi (treasurer) and other board members and support staff.
Chasing a victory target of 164 after restricting UAE to 163/5, Oman rode on Ilyas' knock of 67 and an unbeaten 53 from Ayaan to reach the target.
Shoaib Khan contributed vital 22 after the team was reduced to 11 for two. A 66-run stand between Ilyas and Shoaib put the team back on course.
Earlier, Bilal Khan and Ilyas picked up two wickets apiece to restrict the UAE to 163.Skipper Muhammad Waseem top scored with 46.
Began with a defeat
Earlier in the tournament, Oman reached the final despite two defeats in the round-robin format.
Oman lost their opening match to UAE by 22 runs but exacted revenge for the trophy.
Oman bounced back to defeat the hosts Qatar by 19 runs but lost to Bahrain in one of the most thrilling games as Mendis' men went down by one run.
Oman then demolished Saudi Arabia by 47 runs and booked a place in the final with a massive 68-run win over Kuwait on Friday.
Leading from the front
Skipper Aqib Ilyas emerged as the tournament’s highest scorer with 90, scored in the opener against the UAE.
His 52-ball innings was studded with ten boundaries and four maximums. Ilyas also scored a valuable half-century in the title clash against the UAE and was the tournament’s second highest run-getter with 205 runs in five innings. He ended with an average of 41. His all-round effort in the final (67 and 2/24) earned him the player of the final award.
Ilyas was given good support by Ayaan Khan, who finished the tournament with a total of 182 runs at an average of 36.4. Ayaan was the only other Omani cricketer to win the player of the match award as he was selected for his all-round display against Saudi Arabia with 34 runs and 2/16.
Besides Ilyas and Ayaan, the only other batter who scored a fifty for Oman was wicketkeeper Naseem Khushi, who hammered 67 against Saudi Arabia.
Khushi also set another record with the most dismissals in the tournament with seven that included three stumpings and four catches.
His excellent display behind the stumps led him past former Oman skipper and wicketkeeper Sultan Ahmed for the most dismissals in T20Is with 18, out of which seven were recorded in the first Gulf T20I Championship. Sultan had held the record of 17 dismissals.
The bowling attack that was lauded by Mendis was led by pacer Bilal Khan, who emerged as tournament’s second highest wicket-taker with 10 wickets, just one behind the tournament’s best of 11 by Ali Naseen of the UAE.
Fayyaz Butt picked a total of nine while the best bowling spell by an Oman at the tournament was from Mehran Khan with 3/17 against Qatar. Fayyaz Butt’s 3-29 against Bahrain was another fruitful spell.
Oman’s best performers
Aqib Ilyas: 5 innings, 205 runs, SR – 158+, 50’s – 2
Ayaan Khan: 6 innings, 182 runs, SR – 127, 50’s – 1
(SR: strike rate)
Bilal Khan: 6 inn, 10 wickets, Overs – 23.0, Eco – 6.39
Fayyaz Butt: 6 inn , 9 wickets, Overs – 21.0, Eco – 6.33
Aqib Ilyas: 90 (52) vs UAE in the opening league match
Mehran Khan: 3/17 in 4 overs vs Qatar
Naseem Khushi: 64 (45) vs Saudi Arabia as opener
Final: Aqib Ilyas 67 (33) and Ayaan Khan 53 (38)
Naseem Khushi 7 [4 catches, 3 stumpings]
Jatinder Singh and Aqib Ilyas vs UAE
93 runs for the second wicket