Oman brace for T20 World Cup clash against Australia

Sports Wednesday 05/June/2024 09:25 AM
By: Ashok Purohit
Oman brace for T20 World Cup clash against Australia
file photo

Bridgetown, Barbados: In every sport, the thrill of witnessing an underdog triumph over a heavyweight always evokes a sense of pure elation - John Madden, American sports commentator.

In cricket, especially within the annals of T20 World Cup history, such moments of unexpected victory have been plentiful across various editions. From Namibia's stunning victory over Sri Lanka to Scotland's triumph against West Indies during the ICC T20 World Cup in 2022, these results continue to resonate over the years.

It may be early to expect such upsets early in the ongoing ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in West Indies and the USA, but the stories of shock victories and David versus Goliath tales within the T20 World Cup form a backdrop ahead of Oman’s Group B clash against defending Test and ODI World Cup champions Australia at the Kensington Oval on Wednesday, 8.30pm (Thursday morning, 4.30am, Oman time).

It will be a historic encounter for Duleep Mendis’ Men in Red as they clash with cricketing behemoth Australia for the first time.

Australia begin their campaign in the T20 World Cup as favourites as they eye a treble after winning the World Cup titles in the other two formats.

The T20 format has undeniably fostered a culture of disrupting the established hierarchy, and whether this year's tournament will bear witness to such an upset remains to be seen. Oman’s skipper Aqib Ilyas didn’t show any nerves at the pre-match press conference on Tuesday and said: “It will be a great experience to play at this stage against Australia that boasts of some of the biggest names in modern-day cricket.”

Ilyas said: "Though we've never encountered such formidable opposition in any ICC tournaments before, we approach this match with a positive mindset and utmost respect for our opponents. We are certainly not overawed to play them at this stage.”

Acknowledging the magnitude of the challenge ahead, Ilyas emphasised, "Our coach, Duleep Mendis, has instilled in us the importance of playing with courage and heart. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain from giving our best effort against a world-class side like Australia."

Reflecting on the significance of the match, Ilyas remarked, "If we perform well tomorrow, we could very well find ourselves making headlines.”

"When you come up against the top sides, that is when you get highlighted all over the world. The boys have a lot of opportunity. Every time there is a World Cup, there is an upset… the weather, how it is behaving, anything can happen.”

Ilyas added: “We are aware of the experience and the class of Australia. We will try to take a cue from their mindset that has led them to become world champions.”

Drawing inspiration from their previous match against Namibia, Ilyas expressed pride in his team's resilience after going down in a Super Over.

"The fightback of our boys after falling short by 20-30 runs is commendable. To defend a modest total of 109 required unity and determination until the very end."

Addressing concerns about key players, particularly pace spearhead Bilal Khan, who was off-colour in the Super Over, Ilyas offered his unwavering support.

"Bilal is our strike bowler, and while he faced challenges in the previous match, we stand behind him. Every cricketer encounters off-days, but I'm confident he will bounce back stronger."

He added: “We qualified to this World Cup in a thrilling Super Over win over Nepal in Nepal. It was Bilal who led us to the win as we defended 21 runs.”

Incidentally, against Namibia, Bilal went for 21 in the Super Over.

As anticipation mounts for the showdown, Ilyas hinted at possible lineup adjustments while expressing the team's readiness to adapt to pitch conditions.

"The opening game defeat highlighted the importance of assessing pitch conditions, but against Australia, we're better prepared to tackle any challenges that may arise."

In the grand scheme of the tournament, a victory for Oman against Australia would reverberate as a seismic shock throughout the cricketing world.

"While Australia may be heavily favoured, cricket is a game of uncertainties," said Ilyas.

"We enter this match with determination and a belief in our ability to defy the odds."

On the eve of one of Oman's biggest ever matches, Ilyas believes the spin attack of his side will be a bit handy for the Aussies to tackle, citing the example of how Papua New Guinea threatened to against West Indies two days ago on a slow pitch in Guyana.

He said that weather conditions and slower pitch may work in their favour. "With the Australian team, they used to have a few players with good techniques in the past like Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne. But I don't think they have many now. They look to hit big. They only try to go for sixes," Ilyas told reporters.

"But every day is not the same day, and if we get the same wicket (as the one against Namibia) maybe it could be a problem for them.

"Just like the way you saw how difficult it was for the West Indies against PNG. They struggled to chase 130-odd despite them having some of the biggest hitters in the side.

"On a slower track with good quality spinners, the only thing we need to do is play with a big heart and put the ball in the right areas, because the ball doesn't know how big (a reputation) the batter (has). If it turns a bit or it stays low, the batter is in trouble."

This will be Oman's third T20 World Cup (after 2016 and 2021) but their first go in the main stage, with the previously used qualifying round for the lower-ranked nations scrapped for this edition.

Australia would be heavily favoured to win against Oman, given their experience and the powerful line-up, with most of the World Cup squad coming from the recently concluded IPL, where players like Travis Head, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Jake Fraser-McGurk, Marcus Stoinis, Cameron Green and Glenn Maxwell had notable contributions for their respective franchises.

But then, David vs Goliath is a timeless tale of courage and bravery and belief beyond normal, and when David does triumph, it makes the world notice. One would have to wait and watch on Thursday morning, Oman time, to see how the story ends.

Squad: Oman: Aqib Ilyas (c), Zeeshan Maqsood, Ayaan Khan, Kashyap Prajapati, Shoaib Khan, Mohammad Nadeem, Pratik Athavale, Naseem Khushi, Khalid Kail, Mehran Khan, Bilal Khan, Kaleemullah, Fayyaz Butt, Shakeel Ahmad, Rafiullah.