A debut to remember
The darlings of this World T20 have arrived. They don't have the sculpted bodies of modern athletes. They haven't had planned careers. They don't have rehearsed lines at press conferences. They are winning matches and then winning hearts with their smiles. They are mostly middle-aged men working in a new country because their jobs mainly depend on their cricketing ability in a corporate-dominated domestic cricket structure.
Oman are the ultimate street cricketers of this tournament. They fight with each other out in the middle, they almost hurt the celebrating opposition bowler unwittingly while kicking the ground in disgust upon getting out, they have a bag full of tricks of unorthodox actions and impact batsmen whom they hide just for the big occasion. They mankad without warning batsmen.
A 38-year-old admonishes a 37-year-old in full view of cameras for a run-out. Moments later, the two - the captain and Man of the Match - sit together, smile together, joke together having accomplished a big win in their first match on a world stage. It is difficult to not smile with them, laugh at their jokes.
They started their upset of Ireland with the left-arm spin of Ajay Lalcheta, which never arrives. He takes a long step at the start of his amble towards the wicket, and then pauses, almost as if talking to the ball. Then he takes a few more slow steps, and then lets the ball go late. Facing him can be a bit like facing a bowling machine for the first time. You take around five or six balls to adjust to the time the ball arrives from that machine. In a match situation, you are already through one over, five per cent of your batting allotment.
Ask William Porterfield who played out a maiden at the top of the match from Lalcheta, who went for just 24 in his four overs. Ask Oman - captain Sultan Ahmed, Man-of-the-Match Amir Ali and manager Jameel Zaidi - about Lalcheta's unorthodox action, and they just tell you you haven't seen anything yet. "There are three spinners who didn't even bowl. Just wait and watch."
Then came the catch of the tournament so far. Zeeshan Maqsood flew to his left at extra cover, and so far out of his reach was the ball he completely obstructed the umpire's view with his dive. They had to go to the third umpire to establish the cleanness of a pretty straightforward landing.
Other unorthodox bowlers followed. Aamir Kaleem is a slightly faster version of Lalcheta. If he didn't run with a ball in his left hand, you'd swear Bilal Khan, the left-arm quick, was a right-arm bowler.
And what of Munis Ansari, the Omani Fidel Edwards, who is actually the most known quantity in this bowling attack. The almost bald 29-year-old is hardly the image you have in mind when you think a slinger, but he slung them perfectly when Ireland looked for quick runs in the end. Kevin O'Brien completely failed to pick a straight ball and got bowled when he could have got Ireland 10 more than the 154 they did get.
The story of the day arrived when it looked like Ireland had exhausted the brief spark from the unknowns. How many times have we seen it? The underdog challenger lands a few punches at the heavyweight champion, but as the contest goes longer the champion crushes the spark.
Twenty20 is not long enough. Oman know that. To the rest of the world Amir might have come as a surprise, but they have three to four such batsmen who can come in and hit big right from ball one. Mehran Khan was another, a gamble that didn't work on the night. They are selfless batsmen whose job is to smack that impactful 30 in a tight situation.
Like Ansari, Amir doesn't look the part. He has a round face, he wears spectacles, and talks like he would struggle to hurt a fly. He was born in Karachi. He is now a marketing manager at an Indian restaurant called Passage to India run by a businessman of Kerala origin, KK Mohandas, the owner of the restaurant and a team in the Oman domestic league. After Allah, Amir thanked his boss to give him this chance. He laughed when reminded of his captain's rocket at the run-out. He laughed when reminded of Ireland's response to the great catch earlier in the day.
Amir had pulled Ireland's canniest bowler of the night for what looked like a six over deep midwicket. Gary Wilson reached the edge of the boundary, settled himself there, waited for the ball to sail over him, and then flew to send it back into the field of play with a single instead of a maximum being the result.
"Bahut gussa aaya tha yaar [I got really angry]," Amir, who had decided this was a six, said. For a long time those saved five runs seemed like they would be the difference, but in the end Max Sorensen failed to execute his yorkers with a wet ball.
As the final beamer went for five match-winning no-ball extras to the boundary, they all jumped on to the field, danced in joy, and then lifted their coach Duleep Mendis up on their shoulders. To a visibly distraught HPCA stadium, which earlier lost the India-Pakistan match, it brought consolatory joy. For a moment one could even forget the unfair predicament these non-Full Members find themselves in during this cruel qualifying format.
Thank you Oman for lifting the spirits of what has threatened to be a spiritless tournament.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo