Muscat: It's time for the countdown as World T20-bound Oman national cricket team, under the expert guidance of Sri Lankan legend Duleep Mendis, is set for a warm send-off on February 8 at the Ministry of Sports Affairs ground in Al Amerat.
The mood in Oman Cricket is exuberant with top official Pankaj Khimji reflecting on the big event on Monday, which he said will be a grand send-off for the national cricketers in their mission to fly Oman's flag high on the Asian stage as well as the world arena.
"The T20 match against the visiting Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) will be the final work out domestically, before they begin their real build-up in Dharamsala from February 11," said Pankaj Khimji.
"Mind you MCC is coming with a fairly strong line-up and is expected to give our national team a terrific workout and I thank the visitors for being the vital helpline in the progress of the game in Oman," he said.
Pankaj recalled that MCC, since their tie-up with Oman Cricket, 'has done a lot and they, in fact, were instrumental in helping us to get Derek Pringle involved in our qualifying campaign'.
"This time since they had a Bahrain tour line-up, MCC decided to visit Oman as well to provide the much needed match practice for our national team," said Pankaj.
Next Monday will also witness the official unveiling of the new cricket infrastructure at Al Amerat.
Elaborating on it, Pankaj said Oman Cricket's Patron-in-chief His Highness Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq Al Said and Minister of Sports Affairs Sheikh Saad Mohammed Said Al Mardhouf Al Saadi will officially open the facilities at the venue and mark a new beginning for Oman Cricket. Also to be present will be the Wali of Al Amerat and other top dignitaries.
"As you know the ten wickets at the first ground are already put to use and the second ground too has an additional 10 pitches which will come to the picture of action in the near future," said Pankaj.
"The second ground is almost ready and one can see it, but things have to settle down before action begins."
Nursery of cricket
He went on to say that an additional 12 pitches are in the laying process, which is for the practice facilities.
"I can say now that Al Amerat will become the nursery of cricket and with 32 pitches we can boast of an infrastructure that augurs well for the future," said an elated Pankaj.
Apart from the official unveiling the national cricketers will be provided with official jerseys and kits for their ambitious tour.
"As a board we have done the best for the team and now I want them to do it for Oman," said Pankaj.
"The team under the guidance of Duleep Mendis and experts like Rumesh Ratnayake (pace bowling coach) and Sunil Joshi (spin coach) is on the right track and the camp in Rajkot was the most beneficial," said Pankaj.
"If you look at in numbers, our team had lost all the matches, but in practical terms our boys have learnt all the minute aspects by playing Saurashtra, which had (Indian Test star) Cheteshwar Pujara in their ranks," he added.
"The Rajkot camp has also helped in narrowing down the errors in batting and bowling, which are very vital in Twenty20 matches."
"We did not want them to peak early and from now on I am confident that the graph will soar," he opined.
On the right track
Meanwhile, Duleep Mendis confirmed that all preparations are on the right track.
"We will be training at Dharamsala from February 11 and arrangements have been made for practice matches against strong state teams," said the coach and development officer of Oman Cricket.
"We also have a professional video analyst, whose inputs are proving vital in our preparations," he said.
On the main worry of losing early wickets, the Sri Lankan batting exponent said: "Yes it is a worry but we have analysed the draw backs and have instilled in the batsmen's minds to avoid rash strokes in the early part of innings.
"I am confident there will be a distinct change from now on," he confirmed.
"From Dharamsala, we will be travelling to Bangladesh for the Asia Cup, which is another opportunity to hone our performance, said Duleep, adding that bowling experts Sunil Joshi and Rumesh Ratnayake will be now based with the team until the World T20.
After the Asia Cup, Oman team is to camp at Mohali, where they will play two ICC-arranged matches (March 4 and 6) — against Scotland and Afghanistan.
"In case, we progress in Asia Cup, then we might miss one of the two matches in Mohali. But we are fortunate to train at Dharamsala, where our World T20 matches are scheduled," said Duleep.
Oman Cricket's General Secretary Madhu Jesrani, meanwhile, elaborated on the programme for February 8 and said: "We expect a large turnout of spectators to pour wishes to India-bound team and we have made plans to efficiently handle the events. The event will kick off at 6 p.m. with the match scheduled for 7.10 p.m. start)."
The general secretary also revealed that International Cricket Council has provided 150 match tickets for Oman's World T20 games in Dharamsala.
"We will be distributing them on first-cum-first basis. As such we have already received 40 requests," said Madhu Jesrani.
He also said that the Khimji's House of Travel is providing a package for Dharamsala for the interested travellers.
Oman Cricket's Kiran Asher also revealed some of the sponsors for the India-bound team.
"BDM is sponsoring the kits for the team and Samsonite (Khimji) will provide the players with special baggage," said Kiran Asher.
"Ketan Mehta of Synergy Designs will take care of all other logistics like logos, design elements, promotions etc.," he added.
MCC team: Clinton Perren (captain); Marc Reingold; Shivsinh Thakor; Ricaldo Anderson; Alexander Martin; A. Clarke; Gareth Berg; J. Hindson; L. Harvey; Michael Thornely; Greig Hofbaeur; Michael Payne and Kez Ahmed. Matthew Jackson (organiser), Ed McKenna (manager) and Geoff Blackmore (umpire).
Tour schedule: February 4: One-day (50 overs) match against Assarain; February 5: T20 match against National Youth Development Team; February 7: One-day (50 overs) match against Muscat CT; February 8: T20 match against National team.