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Oman stay cool in face of Hayat's hot bat

Oman are ecstatic after their 40-run win against Afghanistan ICC/Donald MacLeod

It was well past midnight, but the Oman team manager Jameel Zaidi said his phone was buzzing off the hook. "I got more than 600 messages in half an hour. The people back home are really happy. You wouldn't believe it, but there had been a concert happening while the match was on and they announced our result in the middle of it."

Over the last eight months, the team has secured a place in the ICC T20I rankings, the chance to play the World T20 next month in India and now a hair-raising victory over Hong Kong that showcased them as a team trusting in newfound batting depth - they lost two wickets in three balls during the 11th over and yet from the 13th onwards they were scoring in double-digits - and an invaluable capability to ignore pressure and execute the basics in crunch time.

Having leaked 27 runs to Babar Hayat in the 18th over to reduce the equation to 18 needed off 12, left-arm seamer Bilal Khan - who earlier smacked by Hayat for three boundaries in the third over - gave away only three runs off the penultimate over. Left-arm spinner Ajay Lalcheta wrapped it up by defending 14 off the final one.

Until then, Hayat had been in the process of justifying why his coach Simon Cook rated him "the best batsman in Hong Kong." Simple numbers say he struck 122 off 60 balls. The record books have his name down against the highest score made by a batsman from an Associate nation in T20Is. A more telling statistic could be that the next best contributor to a chase of 181 was Aizaz Khan with 15.

Babar was the only man standing against UAE and he stood breathtakingly firm. His strokes did not want for power. He can pepper the cover boundary with an orthodox loft as easily as the one at cow corner with a fearsome slog. Out of his first 17 balls, eight of them were sent to the boundary. It must be noted that they were pulled in, but not everyone can exploit that to the tune Babar did. He had nine fours and seven sixes when he was finally dismissed with two balls left in the chase.

Besides the clean ball-striking, the right-handed No. 3 batsman seemed unperturbed by any obstacle in front of him. It can't have been from the weight of runs he had in T20Is prior to tonight - 248 in 14 matches at an average of 24.80 - but it may have stemmed from the form he's struck in 2015-16: 624 runs in 12 innings across formats at an average of 54.

It's a stunning improvement. Is there a secret behind it? Yes. He has batted at No. 3 in every one of those 12 innings.

"I used to bat No. 5 or 6, but I talked to Simon Cook and he said you are going to move up. I'm really happy batting at this position," he had told the media in November 2015, when he became Hong Kong's maiden first-class centurion and led them to victory over UAE.

A part of his success up the order boils down to his temperament too. He was quite content to be pulled into the middle in the very first over, endured the mankading of Mark Chapman by Aamir Kaleem and pummeled four sixes in five balls off left-arm spinner Zeeshan Maqsood to reach a maiden T20 century at a strike-rate of 203.33.

"I've never done that before," Hayat said referring to the six sequence. "I did target the bowler, and at that stage we had no choice but to go for it. I thought from there we deserved to win."

Most teams would have thought the same. After all, he had reduced an equation that read 46 runs off 18 balls to 18 off 12. But Oman had steel beyond their limited big-match experience and were inventive too. They punted on a player on only his second tour with the team.

"Even though they have not played [much] at the highest level, they are all experienced players who have been in the circuit for a long time. So I would say, they know exactly how to tackle [match situations]." Oman coach Duleep Mendis

Bilal was not with Oman when they qualified for the World T20 in July 2015. He made his T20 debut in November on a tour to the UAE and finished as joint leading wicket-taker. He only took one tonight, but his changes of pace kept the batsmen to only three runs in the 19th over.

By the end of it, even the rampaging Hayat was hoodwinked into forgetting about his strength. After thumping most of his runs in front of the wicket, Bilal's accuracy in line and unpredictability in pace and length forced him to resort to dinky little lap sweeps. On a flat deck with true bounce, it was a fantastic effort not to get lined up, especially by a batsman who had been on 117 at the time.

They went to their trusted weapon, left-arm spin, for the final over. They have three exponents of it - Maqsood, Kaleem, Lalcheta - and with Maqsood bowled out, the choice was between Kaleem and Lalcheta who had one over each remaining. Lalcheta stepped forward. He had 14 runs to defend and Hayat on strike with a strike-rate of 208.77. But the pressure on the batsman, even one hitting the ball sweetly, at the closing stages of an innings can be a bowler's best friend.

In this case, for example, none of Hayat's previous boundaries mattered. Hayat knew he needed to hit a couple now or his team would lose and his efforts would be in vain. Lalcheta sensed that anxiety, put two men back on the straight boundary and threw the ball up. Jatinder Singh, Oman's most consistent batsman since the World T20 Qualifier, took the catch at long-off and a win most Full Member teams would be proud of was achieved.

"Even though they have not played [much] at the highest level, they are all experienced players who have been in the circuit for a long time," Oman coach Duleep Mendis said. "So I would say, they know exactly how to tackle [match situations]. Sometimes it goes out, sometimes it comes back. That is the game."

Mendis had been Sri Lanka captain when they were moving up the ladder as an Associate team in the 1980s and is now just as integral to Oman's success. He was appointed in 2012-13 and has been heavily invested in growing cricket in the country. From keeping an eye on grassroot cricket, ensuring a youth development programme was put in place, helping the seniors gain central contracts in 2015 and lining up tours to keep the team match fit, his influence has been considerable.

Can Mendis and Oman add a maiden Asia Cup appearance to their growing resume? An opening-day win over Hong Kong was a big first step in that direction.