Oman’s Cricket heroes return home to a triumphal welcome

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Photo Credit: Oman Cricket

The national cricket team, champions of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier Final in Nepal, received an exuberant welcome upon their return to Muscat International Airport

Oman’s senior cricket team’s remarkable achievement in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier Final stirred the enthusiasm of many, drawing fans, families, Oman Cricket board members, and officials from the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Youth to Muscat International Airport well past midnight on Monday. They were there to greet the champions of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier Final.

In a thrilling final match held at the TU ground in Kirtipur on Sunday, Oman triumphed over the host nation, Nepal, in a super over, winning the T20 World Cup 2024 qualifier with a perfect record in front of nearly 35,000 local fans.

The title victory, along with securing qualification for the T20 World Cup for the third time under the leadership of head coach Duleep Mendis, ignited a strong sense of national pride and jubilation. This was evident on Monday night when the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Youth organised a reception for the national heroes at the VIP lounge, a space typically reserved for foreign dignitaries.

Leading the welcome party at the airport was Hisham Al Sinani, the director-general at the sports ministry, along with Oman Cricket (OC) vice-chairman Paul Sheridan, OC secretary Madhu Jesrani, OC treasurer Alkesh Joshi, OC board members Kiran Asher and Syed Anwar Ahsan, along with numerous fans and family members.

Mendis, the legendary Sri Lankan cricketer, expressed his immense satisfaction and pride upon his arrival at the airport.

He said, “This is a monumental achievement. Qualifying for the T20 World Cup with an undefeated record in such a highly competitive qualifier fills me with joy. The players poured their hearts into the games, and defeating the host nation Nepal, not once but twice, in front of a cheering crowd of nearly 30,000-40,000 locals, underscores the tremendous progress Oman Cricket has made over the years under the adept leadership of H.E. Pankaj Khimji, the Oman Cricket chairman.”

Mendis has led Oman to all three T20 World Cups, an achievement that only a few coaches can boast of. He previously steered the Men in Red to their maiden T20 World Cup win in 2016 in India and repeated the feat in 2021 when Oman co-hosted the event with the UAE.

Oman’s captain, Zeeshan Maqsood, who currently holds the World No.7 spot in the ICC ODI all-rounders list, shared his happiness at their qualification and the remarkable unbeaten journey to claim the trophy. He commended his exceptional team, which secured victories over Nepal, all in front of an appreciative crowd numbering in the thousands.

For Maqsood it will also be the third T20 World Cup, having been part of the national team in the previous T20 World Cup in 2016 and 2021.

Maqsood said: “Aqib Ilyas was adjudged the Player of the Tournament and Bilal Khan named the best bowler of the Asia Qualifier Final. Their recognitions were like an icing on the cake. It underlines the consistency in the team and each player owed up their responsibilities and played a role in the success. The title win is a result of all-round work for the past many months of players, coach Mendis, assistant coaches, bowling coach, support staff, and Oman Cricket board members. I also would like to express my deep appreciation to our fans here in Oman and also in Nepal, who cheered us during the matches.”

Oman Cricket (OC) chairman Pankaj Khimji was delighted with the team’s success and said: “The team has made the country proud once again. The final was a thriller and the best I’ve witnessed in a long time. It was truly a deserving final and the large Nepal crowd added a different dimension to the final. Oman are worthy champions and the players and the support staff deserve the credit.”

The Oman Cricket boss, who is also the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) vice-chairman and ICC director, added: “His Highness Sayyid Theyazin bin Haitham Al Said, the Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth, has been a tremendous support throughout our Asia Qualifier Final. The title triumph and qualification to the T20 World Cup for the third time is a tribute to the nation and our people. Above all, it is a tribute to our patron-in-chief His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik.”

The success story of Oman’s vice-captain and Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the Asia Qualifier Final, Aqib Ilyas, reflects resilience and determination.

Ilyas, who made a remarkable comeback to competitive cricket after an injury hiatus of nearly one and a half years, expressed his elation at qualifying for the World Cup.

He said: “It is the best feeling to make it to the World Cup. It is a dream to qualify for any player to play in the World Cup. And this time with the ICC expanding the 2024 tournament to 20 teams, we will play in the main round with the big teams as there will be four groups of five teams each. We have worked hard for the past seven-eight months. I came back after injury and had to get to the level of my team-mates. I also led Oman to the inaugural T20 Gulf Cup win in the absence of regular captain Zeeshan Maqsood. I have been consistently scoring since our ICC ODI Qualifier in Zimbabwe in June where I got three fifties.

“The confidence was growing since then and I also received the backing of my coach Mendis. It is a great feeling to get player of the series in back-to-back tournaments, first Oman D20 and now in Nepal. I know the team relies on me a lot and it gives me great satisfaction when I am able to deliver and produce favourable results. Now we will work hard to make an impact at the 2024 World Cup.”

Long-serving OC secretary Madhu Jesrani celebrated the incredible achievement of the team, expressing his pride in their performance. He looked ahead to the team’s preparations for the upcoming year, expressing the hope that they would compete with the world’s best in the 2024 T20 World Cup in the USA and the West Indies.

OC treasurer Alkesh Joshi attributed the success to the team’s collective efforts over the past 14 months. He highlighted the strategic changes that were made to elevate the team’s performance and success. Joshi pointed out their remarkable journey, including reaching the Super Six stage at the ICC ODI World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe, winning the Gulf Cup T20 title, and clinching qualification to the 2024 T20 World Cup for the third time. He credited head coach Duleep Mendis, the coaching staff, and the entire OC administration, emphasising that reaching this stage would not have been possible without the relentless support of the sports ministry and the strong backing of H.H. Sayyid Theyazin bin Haitham.

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