10 years on from playing on sand and cement, Oman cricket set to welcome the world

Al Amerat venue's capacity to be increased to just over 4,000 for each of its six matches at T20 World Cup

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Ten years ago, there was not a single grass cricket field in Oman.

Even today, there are only two, side by side on a patch of ground next to a wadi, in a small town called Al Amerat, around 18kms from the main city centre of Muscat.

And yet, when ICC and Indian cricket officials breezed into the Oman Cricket Academy earlier this summer, they had no qualms about signing off on staging the opening match of their next World Cup there.

Oman will host six preliminary round matches at the T20 World Cup, spread across three nights on October 17, 19 and 21.

It will be far removed from the days when the only cricket played was on a cement wicket in the middle of some sand or gravel.

The sides who will be vying for the two qualification places from that group – Bangladesh, Scotland, Papua New Guinea, and hosts Oman – will find a well-appointed venue, in a gorgeous setting, awaiting them.

Some of the facilities were there before the World Cup came calling. There is an oval neighbouring the main field which is also ICC-accredited for international cricket, outdoor nets, as well as a seven-lane indoor net area.

Substantial upgrades have been set in motion by the decision to bring the World Cup to the country, too.

Given confirmation only came at the end of June, there has been a race against time to get the ground ready.

“When we first stepped in, the ground was like a clubhouse getting ready for a club tournament,” said Damodar Katti, an architectural design consultant who is one of the two project managers overseeing the upgrades.

“One Saturday morning I got a call saying, ‘This is where you need to work’.

“A document was given to us, which was our briefing, then together we master-planned this whole thing.

“When ICC came in and we presented it, we were so happy to hear from them that 80 per cent of their requirements we could capture in one go.

“The other 20 per cent were small modifications. The only concern we had was how to execute it within a short duration.”

Katti reckons the work required by the project would usually take five months to complete, but “we can actually complete it in 11 weeks, because of the effort which has gone in from all of us”.

New broadcast-standard floodlights have been added to the Oman Cricket Academy ground in Al Amerat, ahead of the arrival of the T20 World Cup. Photo: Oman Cricket

He estimates that, with just under a month until the first ball, more than 75 per cent of the work is already complete.

Although he is an avid cricket fan, Katti has never previously worked on a project related to the sport.

At least his co-project manager, Rupak Udeshi, has some background in the subject, having served a similar role when the turf fields were first installed, back in 2012-13.

“I’ve been involved with cricket in Oman for more than three decades,” said Udeshi, another Indian national, who is the general manager of a Muscat-based construction company.

“The grounds for most of that time were mud grounds. These grounds, with the grass fields, were done by me.”

The wicket table is based on clay imported from Pakistan. The paspalum grass was grown in Barka, a farming town around an hour from Muscat, on the coast road which leads towards UAE.

The first major modification they attended to was to upgrade the floodlights to meet with the broadcast demands of staging the World Cup.

Thanks to the influence of Pankaj Khimji, one of Oman’s leading captains of industry who heads up cricket in the country, fittings for the floodlights were airfreighted in from Bangalore at short notice.

The pylons themselves are manufactured in Muscat. The floodlights now have illumination capacity of 3,100 lux, which far exceeds the minimum standard expected for broadcast at ICC events.

Temporary stands are in the process of being added. Four, holding 672 spectators each, will line the boundary, with a smaller one holding 320 is to be installed next to a DJ booth.

The other new structure is a stand at the northern end of the ground, for media and corporate customers, which is the only permanent stand to be added for the T20 World Cup. It will take the capacity for the matches to around 4,100.

Construction for the new north stand continued throughout the one-day series which have been taking place at the ground in recent weeks.

It meant the workers had to keep their wits about them when Jaskaran Malhotra was hitting six sixes in an over for United States earlier in the month – most in their general direction.

Malhotra’s feat was captured by a three-camera feed for an online stream. When the World Cup starts, there will be 39 cameras on site.

Despite all the challenges, those involved have been thrilled to be part of the project.

“It has been a journey we have cherished a lot,” Katti said.

“It is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we feel very privileged to be part of it.

“We are excited, and want to help everything go smoothly to make it a successful event for Oman.”

Updated: September 22, 2021, 5:50 AM