Wednesday, June 19, 2024

ICC: James Anderson providing the inspiration for Oman veteran Bilal Khan

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Photo Credit: ICC

As the leader of Oman’s bowling attack, Bilal Khan prides himself on meticulous attention to detail.

From the 5.30am alarm calls and the morning gym sessions to the hours spent studying tapes and devising plans for opposing batters, nothing is left to chance.

But on the eve of Oman’s ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024 campaign, there is one detail he is keen to dismiss: his age.

At 37, Khan is one of the elder statesmen of Oman cricket but that won’t stop him from grabbing the new ball or charging in at the death in their four Group B matches.

Indeed, the tournament in the USA and the West Indies is one he has been working towards throughout his career – ever since he left his home in Pakistan and set off for a new life across Gulf of Oman in 2010.

This will be Khan’s third ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, following appearances in 2016 and 2021, but this is the first time he will bowl at a Test nation other than Bangladesh.

Indeed, he could hardly have wished for a better group, with Australia and England both lying in wait.

Khan admits this will be the biggest test of his career but despite approaching his late 30s, he is more than up for the challenge – and is taking inspiration from another veteran quick.

“My body still feels good,” he said.

“I love playing for Oman and I’m so much more prepared for it now.

“That gives me a confidence when I’m on the field, I know I’ve done all I can. I’m prepared to play well. I believe a lot in hard work, and my skills.

“James Anderson is a perfect example, he is still playing at an elite level for England and I’ve followed his example.

“Age doesn’t matter, it’s what you do on the pitch, and when you have ability, it doesn’t leave you, it’s just about making sure your body is capable of delivering.

“I follow James a lot, and Stuart Broad. These are the legends of fast bowling. I pretty much follow Jimmy’s fitness routine. Age is just a number, it’s one to ignore.”

Indeed, Khan will be impossible to ignore for opposing batters.

He can’t wait to tear into David Warner, in particular, when Oman meet the reigning 50-over world champions on June 5 in Barbados.

It will be a pinch-yourself moment for the man born in Peshawar, who took a leap into the unknown 14 years ago. Khan had a brief first-class career in his native Pakistan but moved to Muscat and began the ICC’s four-year qualification process.

He made his debut in 2015 but did not become a regular presence until 2017, when his impressive pace and sharp in-swing grabbed attention.

“This is the biggest stage of my career, the conditions should suit us,” he added.

“They will be similar to Oman, hot weather and true wickets – or at least that is what I have been planning for.”

“Cricket is such a difficult sport to set expectations for, you can have upsets in T20 cricket, no matter who plays against you. We think we can cause a few surprises and get an upset.

“We are excited for the tournament, it is going to be a big test but then that is what we prepare for.

“We have a couple of really big matches in there against Australia and England, which we are excited for. But we also know how important matches against Scotland and Namibia are as well.

“It is a dream come true for me and the boys to play against a Test nation, it will push our skills to the max, but we are not scared of them. It is a free swing and we will enjoy it. I cannot explain how much it means to us.”

Khan has many responsibilities in the next few weeks, not least opening and closing the bowling.

But it’s the role as the leader of the pack that he relishes most.

“I’m really passionate about helping the younger players and being a leader for this team, I take on a lot of that responsibility,” he said.

“I lead the bowling unit, so whenever anyone in our team comes under pressure, it’s my job to give advice to them, tell them where to bowl and how best to cope with that situation.

“My big thing at the moment is trying to convince the guys to take some pace off the ball – if you bowl too fast, you’ll be hit too far. Bowling slowly is a skill, bowling with variety is a skill.

“Bowling at 150kmph is too fast, we need to be bowling around 130-135. It was a key piece of advice passed down to me and I’m doing the same.”

At 37 and at the peak of his powers, Khan is worth listening to.

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