Exclusive: Big achievement to play T20 World Cup at home, says Oman coach Duleep Mendis
Duleep Mendis targets Super 12 stage in UAE
Millennials who grew up admiring Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene may not have heard of Duleep Mendis, but the Oman national coach is a legendary figure in Sri Lankan cricket.
Mendis’ heroics against India in the 1979 World Cup, which eventually helped the island nation earn Test status, still reverberate in Sri Lanka.
As captain, he led Sri Lanka to their first Test series win in 1985 before serving the Lankan board as CEO and chairman of the selection committee.
An aggressive batsman who could put the best of attacks to the sword on his day, Mendis was also the manager of the Sri Lankan team that famously won the 1996 World Cup.
Having played a major role in Sri Lanka’s rise in the cricketing world, Mendis arrived in Oman in 2011 to coach their national team.
Now 10 years later, Mendis is about to reach a new landmark in his glorious journey as Oman gear up to play the T20 World Cup (October 17-November 14) on home soil.
The football-obsessed country was not scheduled to host one of cricket’s biggest tournaments.
But Oman, having qualified for their second straight T20 World Cup under the guidance of Mendis, will now co-host the tournament with UAE after the pandemic forced India to bring the showpiece event to the Middle East.
In an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, the 69-year-old Mendis says Oman is relishing the chance to play the preliminary round of the T20 World Cup on home soil.
Oman’s progress in cricket, having qualified for their second straight T20 World Cup, is remarkable. And now due to the extraordinary situation, this year’s World Cup will be co-hosted by Oman. It must be a very proud moment for the Oman cricket team...
First and foremost, I have to thank the Oman Cricket Board for giving us all the encouragement and the backing whenever we needed it. In this, I have to mention two people who have been behind us right through the journey. The present chairman of the cricket board, Mr Pankaj Khimji, and Mr Madhu Singh Jesrani who is the secretary. These two gentlemen have been the pillars of Oman cricket. So my sincere thanks to these two gentlemen for being with the team and for giving encouragement, not only in good times but even in bad times.
What’s the key to Oman’s success? You have qualified for your second straight T20 World Cup. At the 2016 World Cup, Oman beat even Ireland...
The start (of this journey) was difficult. It’s not an easy task to build a team and then go forward. But the team gelled together. And we started climbing up the ladder, but of course, we had the setbacks as well. We had our ups and downs. Then we qualified for the 2016 T20 World Cup in India where we beat one of the Test-playing nations which is Ireland. That was a big achievement at that time. And then after that, we started this 50 overs tournament (League 2) amongst the high-performance countries. And all together, we have seven countries — Oman, USA, Papua New Guinea, UAE Nepal, Scotland and Namibia. Each country has 36 one-day games. Unfortunately, last year we could not play due to the pandemic, but now again we are starting and the first one we are starting in September in Oman. We have played about 10 ODIs (in this tournament) until now. Currently, Oman is heading the table. So we have about another 26 matches to go and we are hopeful that we will get into the top three when it ends in early 2023. By that time, if you are in the top three, then you qualify for the 2023 World Cup which will be hosted by India.
The team must be training hard for the T20 World Cup at home...
We are happy that we have qualified for the T20 World Cup and on top of that, it’s a big achievement to host this and play on home soil. And a lot of effort has been put in by the members of the board. If you see the ground now, so much development has taken place, the lights have been improved as per the ICC standard. We are fully prepared for the event and the team is training really well.
Can the team reach the Super 12 stage which will be held in UAE?
The team is geared up, expecting to perform well. We will have to play Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and Scotland. We played Papua New Guinea and Scotland in the past and we have beaten them. So the boys are confident that they will do well. And, as you know, in the 20 overs game, anything can happen to any side. The one who performs well on that particular day wins the match. We are all hopeful and we have the home advantage. We are all prepared for the big event.
Your cricket journey from Sri Lanka to Oman has been remarkable...
I have done everything in Sri Lankan cricket. I was the chairman of selectors, I was also the CEO of Sri Lankan cricket. In the 1996 World Cup, I was the manager of the team when Sri Lanka won the World Cup. It was the golden era of Sri Lankan cricket. I have served Sri Lankan in every capacity. After that when Pankaj Khimji called me and asked if I could help them out, very willingly I said okay because at that time, Oman was playing but they were not among the top (associate) teams. It was a challenge for me at that time. Now I am here for almost 10 years and I have seen Oman and right through their journey, I have been with them. I must say one thing, the Oman Cricket Board officials have done a fantastic job. Now I think it will be a big achievement if we can qualify for the next round in the T20 World Cup. We also aim to qualify for the 2022 T20 World Cup. And of course, the big one, the 2023 50 overs World Cup. These are the targets we have.
What are the initiatives the Oman Cricket Board have taken to popularise the game of cricket among the local people in the country?
We have special programmes for the grassroots level. In fact, in our domestic season, we have seven all-Omani teams participating in it. They are funded by Oman Cricket Board. Now the board is also going to schools to encourage local kids to play cricket. As you know, in this whole region, the culture is football. The only way we can make them interested in cricket is by educating them. So we have started our academy and we are coaching all the Omani boys free of charge. We want to see the Omani boys representing the national team. That’s our ultimate goal.
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