November 26 2011
With the help of Abbas AlBalushi, the voice of Omanicricket.com, I get my first taste of cricket in the Sultanate. The nice guy, late of Coventry Uni and Leicester offered to pick me up and take me to a T20 league match..and this is what I saw..
SINHA Cricket v A.T.E T20 @ The Airport Ground Seeb Sultante of Oman Friday 25 November 2011
The weather is a little like a warmish but breezy summers day in Taunton as we arrive at one of the total of three cricket grounds in the Sultanate available for League games. The pitch is across from the international airport for Muscat at the side of a huge building project for the Omani government. You would be forgiven for assuming that the area you are driving into was a building site..because basically it is. The guys have lost one of their pitches because the builders have located a huge government office portico on it!! There are plans to provide two new turf pitches for the games but unfortunately they will be located some 45 minutes from the capital - not a great prospect for the amateurs of the Omani Cricket League.
Meanwhile we arrive to greet Abbas's Sri Lankan partners (this is one of the two sides he plays for)...all are amateurs and 'Abs' is their resident Omani player (you have to have an Omani in your side to play in the league). Today they are playing the Indian side from ATE (Turnkey Total Engineering) a conglomerate with its own side.
A game is ending as we arrive, the pitch caters for 3 games a day (starting at 6:45 in the morning). We are the last one on at 1:45 and there is a crowd of about 50 to watch the game sitting in the 'bleachers' under the canopy that I will call the 'pavilion' from now on.
It's 82 degrees and cloudy with the possibility of rain later in the afternoon as Sinha lose the toss and are put in to bat. This is a 20 over game with the red ball on a sand outfield and matting strip. The officials are Omani Cricket registered umpires and the scorers are based on a large desk at one end of the pavilion next to which I place my chair and settle down amid curious looks from the predominently Indian crowd who seem confused as to why an English bloke in a Somerset one day shirt is here. One gentleman in a yellow shirt introduces himself as a supporter of the ATE side and we exchange pleasantries about the prospects of the two teams as people settle.
The Sinha opening batsmen stride out to the middle to the first calls of 'Shabash' from the guys in the seats. It's about this time that I realise that the man in the yellow shirt is the manager/boss of the Indian side as he starts shouting orders to his side from ball one. The pace man who starts the attack from the 'Mountain End' looks good but the Sinha opener seems up to the task as he straight drives the second ball to the boundary for the first four of the afternoon. The over operates on that basis, good ball, boundary, good ball and ends with 8 on the board (It looks like the one they used to have at Bath but on a much smaller scale). Abbas assures me that a par score on this wicket is about 170!!
The Scoreboard (but it works!!)
The bowler who starts from the 'Road' End is also a paceman and better, he worries the batsman on more than one occasion and finally tempts one of them to try and go over the outfield only to be caught at long off and Sinha are 8 for 1. The crowd are ecstatic at this and the 'Shabash's come thick and fast. I now find out that nearly everyone watching is part of the ATE organisation. There are 2 other sides from the company watching the game along with coaches and officials. At 10 for 1 after 12 balls it looks like a long afternoon for the Sri Lankans.
The new man at the crease is a wristy player and he takes the pacemen for 7 off the third before ATE introduce the first slow man of the game for the fourth. This lefthander has the Sinha men in trouble bowling a full length and getting impressive bounce off the pitch. He has his boss near to heart failure but gets his reward as he catches the neck of the bat with ball 4 and the keeper takes the catch. 21 for 2 becomes 23 for 2 at the end of the over.
One opener is keeping this innings together and with his new man he takes his side to 33 off 6 against some good slow bowling, expecially from the 'Mountain End'. In the 7th a young looking guy called Jaysh takes over at the 'Road' and has the opener beaten by the bounce and caught behind at 34. He's quick for a spinner but gives it some fizz, despite two no balls in his first 2 overs. It's 42 after 8. The new batsman announces his intention with a solid boundary off the third ball he faces, unfortunately he tries the same thing with the fourth and is neatly stumped by the keeper as he steps forward to complete the stroke and it is 47 for 4.
Sinha reach 55 by the halfway stage and are a long way from a 170 score with only just over half their wickets remaining. The eleventh over offers some hope though as a number of longhops are punished to push the score to 70. This prompts another change of bowler and although the new guy starts with a wide, he takes a good caught and bowled chance with his second delivery bringing Abbas to the crease with only 71 to his side and 8 overs to go to get a defendable score. Unfortunately he sees an opportunity with the second ball, tries to pull it but gets nothing on it. The umpire seems to think that being hit halfway up the thigh by a rising ball constitutes LBW and gives the allrounder out - the first very poor decision of the day. More importantly, Sinha are down to the bowlers with a low score.
Despite some solid defensive work by the last 4 men Sinha finish just before the end of the 20th with 102 to their names and the ATE machine seems well pleased with the first half of the game.
A good day at the other office for the man from ATE
Talking about this with the Omani member of this game I find myself wondering whether this is good or not for the game in this country. It seems that the gentleman operating as manager is the man with the money. The ATE setup involves bringing a number of young players of Ranji Trophy level ability into Oman to play cricket for the company. They are employed as professionals in an amateur league and work at their game during the week where the majority of other players arrange their practice etc around full time working and the short days of the Omani 'winter' (there are no lights here). They have two Omani players in their sides but the rest of the teams are Indian 'ringers' who operate two sides in the A league and one side in the B league. There is no prize money for this competition, just a trophy for the winners. This side won it last year and have only lost to their own companion side in the matches this year.
How is this good for Omani cricket? Why doesn't the ATE organisation invest some of their money in bringing on Omani youngsters and allowing them the possibility of working at their game by paying them to work on technique in the nets? What is the purpose of a professional Indian setup taking over the top league of the Omani national organisation? The sides would be more competitive and the firm would be putting some of their cricketing know how into a country desperate for that level of involvement. At the moment it seems they just want to win at all costs by using money to buy in a side that will find it difficult to lose because of their level of skills and their ability to work on those skills without worrying about earning a living.
Abbas reckons Sinha have 3 good bowlers and will struggle to defend the low score with the others. The two openers for ATE make the scale of the problem clear as the first ball is dispatched to the boundary with a precise drive through the covers. They do lose their first wicket in the same over however and finish it with only 10 to their name. Nevertheless, they are going to punish anything loose or short and after 23 off the second the batsmen show their different class with a sublime on drive to one boundary followed by a delicate leg glance on the other side to send the next ball for four as well. The third over goes for 17 and this looks like a short game as they finish the fourth on 49.
The Sinha slow men come on for 5 and 6 and the game changes its nature. The fifth from the 'Mountain' End is a maiden and has the batsman facing difficulty with nearly every ball one of which he nearly pulls on. The 6th goes for 4 and the these two men bowling in tandem only give away 14 runs from the 5th to the 8th over. Excellent work from the pair but eventually they have to give way and although the replacement at the 'Mountain' keeps the 9th down to 6 with variations of pace, a strange action and run up, the score is not really defendable and the pair at the crease are now in and taking runs. 72 at 10, 83 at 11 and 93 at 12. One of the batsmen sweeps early in the 13th to bring up his 50 then dispatches the ball for a single to level the scores followed by a straight drive to finish the game giving ATE an easy victory while Sinha can look back on the middle over 'press' and its effectiveness as a small victory in a one way game from the end of the 3rd over.
Enjoyable as it was and as enthusiastic as the crowd were over the win I really have to ask myself whether an amateur league should accept semi professinal outfits whose only aim seems to be to play 'Big Club' cricket against sides with nowhere near the resources. What the point of ATE overstocking their sides with players who are well above of this league while the league itself looks to promote cricket to Omani players is beyond me. If it is going to allow this then why is the Omani quota only 1 player? Surely it shoud be three or four or more... I'm not sure it would stop the Indian side competing but it would allow other sides to play meaningful games against better players while not being steamrollered by them.
I saw a pleasant game of cricket in Oman... I've yet to see much Omani cricket. Nevertheless thanks to my hosts, especially Abbas for the lift and the pleasant banter with the sub continental gentlemen enjoying some 'religious' fun in the sun. I'll bring you more during the winter and some photos when I can download them onto the page.
The end of the game...the rain didn't save Sinha unfortunately
...Took your advice LoL and contacted Wisden, expect to hear nothing by return