T20 World Cup: Jatinder Singh and Zeeshan Maqsood star as Oman throw perfect welcome party

Host nation thrash Papua New Guinea in tournament opener in Al Amerat to thrill new crowd

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If the decision to take the T20 World Cup to Oman was partly supposed to advertise the country to the world, consider that box ticked already.

The Oman Cricket Academy ground in Al Amerat, a small town 20 minutes from the centre of Muscat, was a relatively well-kept secret before this World Cup rolled into town.

Match 1 of the 20-over showpiece showed up everything it has to offer straightaway to a global audience.

Pictures were beamed around the world of this delightful ground, with a craggy jebel behind the second oval, then beyond that the broad sweep of the Hajjar Mountains.

But there is more to it than just showing off the charm of the place to the world.

Just as pertinently, what are the local population going to make of cricket?

As is the case across the border in UAE, cricket is mainly regarded as the pastime of the expatriate community. There is one Omani national in their squad for the World Cup, Sufyan Mehmood.

While matches take place inside the ground in Al Amerat, football matches peopled largely by Omani nationals take place just the other side of the fence, on a rutted, dusty pitch. Crossovers between the two are scarce.

The World Cup has six games across three match days to advertise itself to a new audience in Oman. On the evidence of the opening day, it is already doing so.

As their side set about beating Papua New Guinea, and gaining points that will be crucial if they are to advance to the Super 12 stage in UAE, a multicultural audience was gathered beyond the boundary rope.

Omanis wearing dishdashas and muzzars – the traditional Omani headdress – cheered and waved the national flag whenever a PNG wicket fell.

Others wearing Real Madrid, Manchester United and Oman national team football shirts danced in the temporary stands, and played songs on bagpipes to show their support.

Bangladeshis who were early arrivals for their match in the evening against Scotland also wielded Oman flags. The hearts might be for the country of birth, but there is enough room for their adopted one, too.

It was cricket for everyone. Even before play, the Royal Cavalry all-female marching band performed. The start of the World Cup was coinciding with Omani Women's Day.

And the players representing them could have done little more to provide cheer. The hosts won by a landslide, chasing PNG’s 129-9 with 10 wickets and 38 balls in spare.

They started brilliantly. Bilal Khan and Kaleemullah accounted for two PNG wickets before a run was even on the board.

And they finished in style, too, with a six by one of the most expressive players in the sport – Jatinder Singh, the Muscat-raised opener who made 73 not out in 42 balls in the run chase.

Zeeshan Maqsood, the Oman captain, was named player of the match after taking 4-20 from his four overs.

“Winning matters a lot,” Maqsood said. “It motivates you, and boosts you, especially on such a big platform as this.

“If you are on home soil and hosting the World Cup, winning the first game is a big achievement.”

Oman face Bangladesh, the top-ranked side in their four-team group, next time out on Wednesday.

“We can’t take it easy in any game,” Maqsood said.

“Next time we are playing Bangladesh and, Inshallah, we will do our best. We made mistakes in this game in our fielding, so we know we need to improve.”

Updated: October 17, 2021, 2:27 PM