On the final day of the World Cricket League Division Five in Jersey last May, a promotion berth was at stake between Oman and Guernsey, who had a chance to cause an upset.
After scratching their way to 141 for 8, Guernsey had reduced Oman to 13 for 4. The tension at the ground was immense as a group of schoolkids on their way to football practice, totally oblivious to cricket etiquette, started walking near the sightscreen, distracting the Oman batsmen at the crease. The bench was stirred up like a hornet’s nest, but a wise board member, standing behind the boundary rope at long-off, knew that any bee can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
“Hey kids!” he shouted out while approaching them. “If you want to cross the sightscreen that’s fine, but I need you to do me a favour first. Our boys out there really need your support right now, so on the count of three, I need you to shout, ‘O – MAN! O – MAN!'” The kids giggled at first, then after the next ball was bowled, obliged, following the middle-aged gentleman’s lead. An enthusiastic thank you to the kids followed. The Oman bench grinned at a man who is their friend, father, brother, boss and biggest fan: Pankaj Khimji.
Over the course of the last decade, Afghanistan have been a shining example of the merit-based value of the World Cricket League structure, vaulting from Division Five in 2008 to Division One by the middle of 2009. For every Afghanistan, though, there has to be a team going in the opposite direction to keep promotion and relegation in balance. Argentina, who were in Division Two in 2007, experienced five straight relegations, eventually being banished back to regional qualifying, the feeder into Division Five.
Oman has experienced both sides of the coin. After gaining admission as an Affiliate nation in 2000, they reached the 2005 ICC Trophy in Ireland, and were again a de facto Division One team, appearing at the 2009 ICC World Cup Qualifier in South Africa. A series of relegations, concluding with a bottom-two finish at 2014 WCL Division Four, saw them slide all the way back to Division Five.
“Khimji Ramdas is like family for us. We are always connected with them. Whenever we have a problem, they are always ready to help us, especially Pankaj bhai, even at the local league”
Oman fast bowler Rajesh Ranpura
Almost at rock-bottom, the side’s stunning resurgence began at the 2015 World T20 Qualifier in Scotland and Ireland, where wins over Afghanistan, Netherlands and Canada preceded a knockout win over Namibia to reach the 2016 World T20. A stunning win over Ireland in Dharamsala helped spark a rejuvenation in 50-over cricket as well, and by the end of the year the team had…