GAME PLAN: Oman wins one for the also-rans

Jaideep Ghosh

Dharamshala:  Oman batsman Aamer Ali plays a shot against Ireland during their ICC T20 World cup match in Dharamshala on Wednesday. PTI Photo

Dharamsala: Oman batsman Aamer Ali plays a shot against Ireland during their ICC T20 World cup match in Dharamshala on Wednesday. PTI Photo

Aamer Ali doesn’t look like a cricketer, not by a mile. He resembles a timid middle-school maths teacher. If you really want to stretch your imagination and associate him with cricket, he would look like one of those computer geeks who pore into the screens and analyse stuff.

You wouldn’t associate the portly, bespectacled Aamer Ali with scoring 32 runs off 17 balls in a World Cup match, against an Ireland attack that was definitely way stronger than anything the batsman or his side, Oman, would play on a normal day.

But this was a landmark day for Oman and also for Dharamshala, the venue for this World Cup qualifying contest.

For long, the qualifying events of the ICC tournaments have been sources for much cynicism and little else. Teams like Holland or the United Arab Emirates would emerge in one edition, and be replaced by Papua New Guinea or Hong Kong in the other.

The sum total of these matches was to increase the number of matches and maybe some advertisement revenues and precious little else.

Ireland is another team that defies comprehension. They have been close to the fringes for as long as the associate members have been allowed to play. All they have managed is to get into the main draw on occasion and then vanish.

It is the strange vagaries of sporting affiliations that allow the British Islands the chance to field four teams – England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland — when the situation demands, or as one United Kingdom (as they do in the Olympics).

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Dharamsala: Oman players celebrate after victory over Ireland during their ICC T20 World cup match in Dharamshala on Wednesday. PTI Photo

It is only here that Ireland and Scotland compete in ICC tournaments as different entities. Scotland, by the way, haven’t won even one match in any ICC tournament so far.

The flip side is the constitution of the teams coming from the Middle East or the likes of Hong Kong.

The Oman team is made primarily of Pakistani nationals, with a smattering of Indians. Same is the case with the United Arab Emirates, which also appears on the cricketing horizon on occasion, only to vanish.

Same is the case with Hong Kong, the United States of America or most other such sides.

So the cynicism was largely justified.

But that said, there is no taking away from the zeal of these part-time cricketers that represent countries like Oman. Playing these matches after being allowed special leave by their companies, these part-timers did sensationally well in the World Cup qualifying tournament in Ireland, beating much higher rated Afghanistan on their quest for a World Cup slot.

So their enthusiasm needs to be appreciated till they vanish from the scene again.

The irony of the whole thing is that we see Bangladesh playing these qualifying rounds too. The ICC rankings have put them below Afghanistan as far as T20s are concerned, so they too are at Dharamsala, trying to ensure their newly-cultivated form and reputation.

India-Pakistan crisis

The India-Pakistan World Cup contest being shifted to Kolkata was something of a situation that India as a nation could have done without.
ind-pak2In one shot, the one-upmanship in Indian politics has largely affected the nation’s image, at least in the cricketing fraternity.

The state government’s stand about the security situation and associated issues gave Pakistan the golden opportunity to show India down, sending in a security panel, making the BCCI stress and then finally deciding that Dharamsala won’t do at all.

Rather strange, given that Pakistan have played in Dharamsala before. The security situation wasn’t much different then.

But Pakistan isn’t done yet. They will play this card to the hilt, making the ICC and BCCI sweat till the last moment before they arrive.

It would be inevitable, I suppose, that politics would intervene in sports at times. It would be desirable that this didn’t happen, especially since the same political party that was exhorting ‘security’ in Himachal Pradesh, and just a month ago hosted hundred of Pakistani athletes in the South Asian Games.

But then, this is the kind of stuff that sporting events are made of. Even worldwide, there is politics being played with Russia hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup, or Rio de Janeiro being host to the next Olympics.

But ultimately, it all falls in place, as will the Pakistan match. Dharamshala’s loss is Kolkata’s gain, though a lot of hopefuls in North India who wanted to chug up to the Himalayan venue will be sorely disappointed.

But such is life.