LOCAL CRICKET Najeeb, Rao steer Al Mada to victory
Oman coach Pim Verbeek is looking nothing less than a victory as his team tackles hosts Bhutan at Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu in the penultimate game of the Group D, despite qualification for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, already being secured. The match kicks-off at 4pm, Oman time.
Speaking at a pre-match conference on the eve of the match on Monday, Verbeek said, “We will go all out for a win and we hope to close the gap on Palestine at the top of the table.”
Oman hosts table-topper Palestine in the final Group D game in March, where the Dutchman will hope to avenge June’s 1-2 away loss to Palestine.
However, Verbeek’s immediate task will be to ensure that his team picks up three points against Bhutan in tricky conditions. With temperatures hovering between 5-10°C, and the venue situated at a high altitude of 2,600m, conditions are cer- tainly challenging for the visiting Red Warriors despite Bhutan not able to pick up a point in the final round of qualifiers.
“We are not taking Bhutan lightly even if we have qualified,” said Verbeek on Monday. “Bhutan is a different team at home and we are looking forward to an exciting game.”
Oman team manager Maqbool al Balushi said, “We prepared for the match with a domestic camp. We didn’t play any friendly matches because of the Omantel League schedule. The remaining two matches are very important and we should give our best.”
“Our main aim is to finish on top of the group and this means that we should win the next two matches,” he said.
Bhutan began the final round with a 0-14 defeat in Muscat, and will be looking for a marked improvement in front of its own fans in its last home game.
“We will be playing for pride and we have prepared strongly for our home game,” said Bhutan coach Pema Dorji.
Also in the other match of the group, Palestine coach Abdel Nasser Barakat insisted that he has no intention of relaxing in Tuesday’s meeting with the Maldives despite securing qualification for the Asian Cup.
The penultimate outing in Group D will allow Palestine to celebrate its second consecutive Asian Cup appearance with its fans at Arab American University Stadium in West Bank.
Ahead of Tuesday’s games, Palestine holds a three-point lead over Oman. Shaheer Najeeb slammed a half-century and captain Suraj Rao struck an unbeaten 43 to steer Al Mada Engineering to a three-wicket win over White Lotus International in an Oman Cricket B Division game at Al Amerat on Friday.
Batting first, White Lotus was bowled out for 212 in 30 overs. Muhammed Nadeem Ashaq (73) and Shoaib al Balushi (60 off 48) were the notable scorers. Guru Prasad, Deepak Bhandari and Nishanth Menon took two wickets each.
In reply, Al Mada was struggling at 64-4 before knocks from Najeeb, Rao and Bhandari saw their team home with 19 balls to spare.
Brief scores: White Lotus International 212 all out in 30 overs (Ashaq 73, Balushi 60; Prasad 2-29, Bhandari 2-36, Menon 2-58) lost to Al Mada Engineering 213-7 in 26.5 overs (Najeeb 64, Rao 43 n.o., Bhandari 21 n.o.). Other results: E Division: MCCC-A 124-5 in 20 overs (Piyush Aniruddha 48, Jayesh Anil 40) lost to Oasis Water 127-3 in 12.5 overs (Anoo Kizhakke 31, Vineet Kumar 25). F Division: Majees CT 135-5 in 20 overs (Aneeq Jassom 41, Haris Aboobacker 35) lost to Ahli Bank 136-3 in 13.2 overs (Imran Syed 65 n.o., Issa al Balushi 39).
G Division: OCT Al Hail-B 116 all out in 18.5 overs (Nusrat Allah 21; Irtaza Hussain 4-12, Haja Hussain 3-29) lost to Unique Elegant 117-3 in 13.4 overs (Sohail Khan 66 n.o.).
Oman players train on the eve of their match against hosts Bhutan in Thimpu on Monday Shaheer Najeeb (left) and Deepak Bhandari of Al Mada Engineering
Oman coach Pim Verbeek (left) and his assistant Muhanna Said al Adawi watch the team’s training session on Monday