The next three months are going to be busy for the Oman Cricket officials. With the country set to co-host the T20 World Cup, along with the United Arab Emirates, the cricket body has a big job at hand.
And speaking to Sportstar from Muscat on Tuesday, Oman Cricket chief Pankaj Khimji made it clear that it, indeed, is a big moment for the associate member nation.
While a delegation comprising the BCCI and ICC officials are expected to reach Muscat this weekend to finalise the schedule of the qualifying stage, Khimji is hopeful of hosting the most number of matches of the qualifying stage at the picturesque Oman Cricket Academy ground.
Oman will be co-hosting the T20 World Cup for the first time. What are your initial thoughts?
We are ecstatic and are ever grateful to the BCCI for considering us as the co-host. We cannot wait to host the officials and put Oman on the cricket scene globally. We are also playing the qualifiers this time, so playing at the home ground is a final crowning glory for us. Can an associate member nation ever dream of hosting a World T20 and also playing in it! We are having a dream run. This is a dream come true for all of us. What more can we ask for? We had a little pizza celebration, followed by a cake-cutting ceremony by the board members. There is so much to be done and accomplished.
But this will also be a big challenge. What are the areas that you plan to address immediately?
We are upgrading the floodlights in the venues, we are developing our other infrastructure as well. Now, with COVID, we need four dressing rooms, because the second lot of teams coming into the ground will not have much time, so we have to have two more dressing rooms. We have to make sure that everyone is comfortable. But all should be done, there are no hurdles.
The BCCI president Sourav Ganguly told this publication that the qualifying stage will be hosted in Oman. But the ICC says that the qualifying matches will be distributed between Oman and UAE. What has been formally communicated to you so far?
This is left to negotiation. We are expecting the officials from the BCCI and the ICC to visit us over the weekend to negotiate the final details. So there we would discuss whether we can host all the 12 games here and all that before signing up the contract. This weekend, we will sort out all those things. We will try to get as many matches as possible in the qualifying stage.
Pankaj Khimji. – OMAN CRICKET
The tournament starts on October 17, so you hardly have three months to prepare…
If we have got to get everything ready by the first week of October, then we have to deliver the ground by September. So, there are only 12 weeks left, but that won’t be an issue. As things are now, we hope to get everything ready within 10 weeks.
The Oman Cricket Academy ground does not have a spectator facility. So, this being an ICC event, what are the plans to ensure that some spectators come in to watch the games?
We will probably put in about 3,000-5,000 seats for the spectators. That’s reasonable enough for this part of the world and we will have some hospitality tents. We will try and create some sort of local atmosphere there. It’s a picturesque ground, so for everyone, it will be a new experience. We will make everything possible to make this event memorable and that being the host, BCCI should be proud of. Hospitality comes naturally to Omani people, so we are looking forward to hosting the event. For Oman, it is a big high that we will be hosting a sporting event of this magnitude.
With so many teams visiting the country, how much of a challenge will it be to put up a bio-bubble?
The way we are going at the moment, by the end of August, Oman should vaccinate two-third of its population – at least one shot. By September, both the doses should be given to most of its population and everyone who is part of the T20 World Cup committee – officials, volunteers, groundsmen – will be vaccinated. We have shortlisted a huge resort where the teams and all the other stakeholders – the officials, the broadcasters, the media – will be under one bio-bubble. We will ensure that nobody comes in and nobody goes out. It will be a one facility, where we can take up to 650 rooms. We will share the details once we get a nod from the BCCI. But yes, bio-bubble won’t be an issue at all.
Oman will be playing the qualifiers at home. How much will the home advantage help the team?
Being an associate nation, the fact that you made it to the qualifying stage, itself is a big moment. We are the only associate nation in Asia to have made it to the qualifiers and we are playing against heavyweight teams. But previously, we have beaten Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and Ireland, so we are confident. We will now be playing in our home ground and there has to be some sort of home advantage.