The 2016 World T20 qualifying round will start from March 8. Eight teams, including Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, will lock horns to qualify for the super 10 – the main competition of the tournament. Middle East country Oman are in the group of A with Bangladesh, Ireland and Netherlands.
Oman resembles a mini sub-continent team and for the 15 member team, it is cricket that binds them all.
The Oman team are in India now. They are playing a warm-up match before the preliminary matches start on March 8.
Indian Jatinder Singh and Ajay Lalcheta were seen sharing a light moment with their Pakistan-born teammates Aamir Kaleem and Aamir Ali. They shared some light moment during the training.
It’s like a family for them. “We are here to play cricket and that’s what bring these players close. It is like a family for us and there is nothing bigger than cricket for us. We would see the same kind of cheers for Bollywood songs on the team bus as we would cheer for the Pakistani food brought sometimes by the team members,” says Chef de Mission Madhu Jesrani, who is also the general secretary of Cricket Oman.
Most of the cricketers from India and Pakistan migrated to Oman early in the 2000s, players like Sayeed Amir Ali Siddiqi and Amir Kaleem started playing the sport in Karachi and featured for domestic clubs in Pakistan before shifting to Oman. Playing in Muscat also meant they would spend hours with players like India-born Lalcheta and Munis Ansari.
These players are not professionals. Four players in the current team work in the Khimij Ramdas group, three including Amir Ali and Amir Kaleem work at an Indian restaurant named Passage to India, a place where most of them gather on Thursdays for dinner.
“I played with Shahid Afridi in Karachi in 1999 and 2000 at the first-class level before I moved to Muscat. We had some clubs in Muscat and soon I joined one of them. There we would also meet players from India. As we played together, it was like playing along with other cricketers in Karachi. We understood their language and later I also got a job in Passage to India owned by a person from Kerela,” shared 37-year-old Amir Ali, who has played in 7 T20 Internationals for Oman.
These players got a chance to spend some time with Indian Test specialist Cheteswar Pujara from whom they got some tips.
It was also chance to spend some time for the native of Porbandar born Lalcheta and recount some old memories. “All of them know I belong to Porbandar, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi. And they would ask about Gandhi and people of Gujarat. When we played in Rajkot last month, Pujara, who was my junior at the state level, spent some time with us and gave us tips. Cricket is like a language for all of us and that’s what we believe in,” shared Lalcheta.
They also watched the high-octane India-Pakistan match in the Asia Cup last week, they would not only follow Pakistan’s bowlers but also India’s batsmen. Skipper Sultan Ahmed, who played at the U-19 level in Karachi, keenly follows Mohammad Hafeez, apart from Indian batting sensation Virat Kohli.
“The team watched the match together and even after the match, we were discussing Kohli’s batting and Mohammad Amir’s spell. We are a huge fan of Kohli’s attitude and the same goes for players like Hafeez. But in the end, whichever team wins, the talk is about cricket and all of us celebrate it together,” shared Ahmed.
It is also a time for Ludhiana-born Jatinder Singh would reciprocate his Pakistani friends’ gesture of bringing sweets from Multan.
“Our unity is our strength. We always discuss Pakistani bowlers and Indian batsmen. And that’s what we aspire to do in the qualifiers to bat and bowl like both the teams,” said Singh. Ask them about what they would take home from India. “My family wants me to bring marble replicas of Taj Mahal. When we were in Rajkot, some of the players helped us in buying sarees and I am sure my family and friends in Karachi would like them,” says Ali.
Oman, who qualified for preliminary World Cup competition after playing the grueling qualifier in Scotland and Ireland, will be a team to watch out for among the associate members of ICC. We have to see how the team in red and green will perform.