Muscat: Oman Cricket’s decision to discard long serving wicketkeeper/batsman Sultan Ahmed ahead of the Sultanate squad’s participation in the ICC World Cricket League Division 5 has come as a shock to many.
But the man himself, unable to openly express his disappointment, has taken the cricket body’s decision in his stride with the genial captain of Oman preferring to wish the team all the success under his successor Ajay Lalcheta.
It should be stressed though that Karachi-born Sultan, who served the Sultanate’s cricket for over a decade with sincerity and dedication, has been dealt with an unkindest cut.
Consider this: Only weeks ago he was good enough to lead the national team at the ICC World T20 in India, where Oman along with Afghanistan struck a blow for the ICC Associate teams with their commendable performances. And Oman’s stellar show included a sensational victory over Ireland.
Rewind to July of 2015 when Oman’s historic journey to World T20 began. It was under Sultan’s captaincy, at the Ireland/Scotland Qualifier, that Oman beat teams like Canada, the Netherlands and Namibia.
And they even beat Afghanistan — in a match that is remembered as much for Sultan’s four catches as it is for Jatinder Singh’s batting (40 runs) and the bowling of Zeeshan Maqsood and Mehran Khan, both of whom claimed four wickets each — before clinching one of the six available berths in World T20.
And remember as captain Sultan also had to lead a team that had as many as six players making their T20 debut during that Qualifier.
Fast forward to November 2015 when Oman achieved another milestone — with Sultan at the helm, the team played their first ever T20 bilateral series against Hong Kong during their tour of neighbouring United Arab Emirates.
The result: A 2-1 series triumph beginning with a thrilling victory in which the skipper contributed a valuable unbeaten 37 and also took two catches. In the series-clinching second match too, Sultan stood out with his good work behind stumps taking two catches.
Then came the subcontinent sojourn — first to Bangladesh for the Asia Cup group stage matches and to north Indian hill station of Dharamsala for World T20 preliminary rounds.
Though they could not make it to Asia Cup proper, Oman did start their campaign with a deserving victory over Hong Kong with skipper Sultan effecting two brilliant stumpings and taking a crucial catch.
In the World T20 preliminary round too Sultan’s Oman made a good beginning with a win over Ireland. But then the rain ruined their chances against the Netherlands before they came up against formidable Bangladesh.
To recall Oman’s historic journey had actually began back in January 2015 when they emerged champions at the ACC T20 Cup in the UAE. There is no denying the fact that Sultan contributed immensely to that title triumph both as captain and as a player, from behind the stumps and with the bat, scoring valuable runs. That victory paved the way for Oman’s qualification for the World T20 Qualifier and culminating in their participation in the World T20 in India.
So it definitely came as a rude shock when Oman Cricket released a list of 18 probables for the training camp ahead of the team's participation in the World Cricket League Division 5 competition to be organised in Jersey in May.
The selection committee found the 39-year-old captain not suitable even to be included among the probables. Probably the selectors had taken that very factor — age — into the account while taking such a drastic step.
Other than that it is difficult to understand what the real reasons were behind Sultan's omission.
Even coach Duleep Mendis, who is also the Chief Development Officer of Oman Cricket, was not forthcoming when Times Sport queried the Sri Lankan great on the issue.
"We had a talk with Sultan and we have conveyed our message to him," he said before echoing the sentiment expressed in an earlier press statement issued by Oman Cricket, 'extremely grateful to Sultan Ahmed who captained the team over the last few years and oversaw the team to new heights'.
Sultan, on his part, stopped short of expressing his shock while also refusing to criticise or question the selectors' decision.
All he preferred to say was: "I have served Oman cricket for long, with dedication and commitment. And I would like to thank both Oman Cricket and my team Raha CT for the opportunities they gave over the years."
"I have been performing to the best of my abilities, both as the captain and as a player, for the country as well as Raha," he added.
Certainly very restrained comments from a player who represented Oman in 13 T20 Internationals besides playing 27 T20 matches.
At the same time, showing no animosity towards none, Sultan also wished Ajay Lalcheta and team all success in the future events.
"Ajay Lalcheta is a very experienced player and he also has a good rapport with all the players. He will definitely make a good captain. I wish him all success and to the team as well."
No one like him
Meanwhile, Oman Cricket's General Secretary Madhu Jesrani paid rich tributes to Sultan Ahmed saying it is difficult to replace a wicketkeeper of his calibre and the eligibility criteria to play for Oman.
"First of all Oman Cricket would like to thank Sultan for his great contribution for the Sultanate's cricket. He took us to the (ICC T20) World Cup which is by no means an easy task," he said.
"But now we are entering a new stage and so we needed to make changes keeping in mind the challenges that are ahead of the team. We also need to build and prepare the team for the future," he added.
Former captain Hemal Mehta also spoke highly of the player.
"With age unfortunately not on his side, Oman Cricket probably would have thought it's time to move on," he said.
"But for me Sultan has been a good role model — a good batsman and good wicketkeeper and he has always worked hard to maintain his fitness. To top it all he has been a very aggressive player and very aggressive captain, which is a plus for any team," he added.
But its Pankaj Khimji's words which will not only provide succour to the disappointed Sultan but also encourage him to continue with his contribution to the Sultanate's game.
The Oman Cricket board member simply heaped praise on Sultan describing him as a 'great captain', who has been the 'leader of the team during the renaissance of Oman cricket.'
On a lighter vein, Pankaj said: "I wish we had the magic potion to keep him young and keep him going."
But quickly turned serious to say: "There comes a time when every player has to hang his shoes. And in his case, at 39, it is time for him to hang his gloves."
"He made immense contribution to Oman Cricket both as a player and a captain. He has been instrumental in Oman's success, especially in the last one and a half years. He led the team at the (T20) World Cup," he added.
"It's time for him to sit back and enjoy the laurels he won for the country and himself."
"But I wish he continues with his contributions to Oman Cricket. There's a lot in store for Oman Cricket and I sincerely hope he will be part of us in future as well," he added.