T20 World Cup: Carpenter’s son ready to thrive in spotlight of global stage with Oman

Jatinder Singh is an effervescent presence at the top of the batting order for the hosts

Oman versus Papua New Guinea, playing in a small town at the foot of the Hajar Mountains, might represent a low-key start to a World Cup for those tuning in from cricket’s mainstream.

Clearly, these players are less recognisable than those who will begin at the Super 12 stage a week later.

But there are plenty of players in Round 1 of the T20 World Cup who will thrive amid the extra attention, given the chance.

Jatinder Singh, the son of a carpenter, works in the administrative department of a business conglomerate in Muscat, when he is not opening the batting for Oman.

His celebrity may be minor as yet, but give it a few days. The 32-year-old Punjab-born, Muscat-raised batsman is about as effervescent a figure as there is in the competition when on song.

He has a penchant for switch hits. He celebrates milestones with a “thigh-five”, a la Shikhar Dhawan. And he has a beaming smile to go with.

In the happy afterglow of scoring his maiden one-day international century last month, Jatinder stopped and chatted to just about every member of the crowd to say thanks for the support.

If he achieves something notable when Oman face PNG on Sunday in Al Amerat, he might be minded to do the same thing.

If so, it will certainly take a lot longer. Back then, the ground was still gearing up for the arrival of the World Cup.

Workers were hammering metal sheets into place in the new permanent structure at the southern end of the ground. Concrete mixers were whirring. Maintenance staff were riveting together the temporary stands.

Sunday’s opening day of fixtures are a sell-out, meaning a crowd of around 3,000.

“I have grown up here, I have gone through the whole system,” Jatinder said.

“It’s not like I have come in from outside. I have grown up here, so people recognise me. And I love to talk to people. I have a good connection with the people.”

Although Jatinder was born in India in 1989, his father – Gurmail – has worked in Muscat since 1975, as a carpenter for the Royal Oman Police.

After alternating between living in Muscat and India in childhood, Jatinder settled in Oman for good from the age of 14.

He had started playing cricket informally in India, inspired by his elder brother Amandeep, but the cricket they found on return to Muscat was very different. Until 2012, the country did not have a grass cricket field.

“It was not so competitive, but a cricketer just wants to play cricket,” Jatinder said.

“In those days, we had cement wickets and brown grounds. I have no background of playing on turf through an academy system, as I started cricket in Oman. [When the grass arrived] it was a dream come true. We couldn’t ask for more than that. It was an unbelievable thing to get.”

Tricky to get to grips with, too, though. “Initially, it was tough to get the hang of it,” he said.

“The ball would do a lot. On cement, the ball would come nicely onto the bat and you could do exactly what you want to do. Here, you have to be really watchful initially, and after that the game is all yours.”

His promise in the game as a teenager earned him employment in the company of Pankaj Khimji, the businessman who is now chairman of Oman Cricket.

“When he graduated from school and became a national team player after captaining Oman under 19, we said, ‘Come on, get working’,” Khimji said.

“He didn’t want to go to college. He had wanted to play cricket all his life. That is when we hired him.”

Jatinder has repaid the faith shown in him many times over, but most significantly with the innings which sent Oman through to this World Cup.

Oman were the last team to qualify, and did so when a half-century by Jatinder salvaged a match which had seemed lost against Hong Kong.

As a result, they will have the chance to play in front of a global audience in a home World Cup, and Zeeshan Maqsood, Oman’s captain, is hoping Jatinder can carry on where he left off.

“Right now, he is the best player we have in the side,” Maqsood said.

“We want him to perform as that will help us to make it to the next round. If you are a key player, you have to perform for your team, and to make your country proud.”

Updated: October 16th 2021, 11:17 AM