Oman ready to savor 'one in a million' opportunity as host of cricket's T20 World Cup

Oman's Aqib Ilyas plays a shot against Hong Kong during the 2017 Desert T20 Challenge in Abu Dhabi.

(CNN)Think of cricket-playing nations and the likes of India, Australia and England might come to mind. Not so much Oman, a country nestled on the corner of the Arabian Peninsula with limited history when it comes to red or white-ball versions of the game.

But that could be about to change come Sunday as Oman, alongside the neighboring United Arab Emirates, is set to host the T20 World Cup.
Originally scheduled to take place in India, it was decided earlier this year that the tournament would be moved amid the Covid-19 pandemic. So Oman, which only built its first grass cricket pitch 10 years ago, offered its services.
    "It's purely a one in a million years opportunity," Pankaj Khimji, chairman of Oman Cricket, tells CNN Sport.
      "Never has an associate country [on the International Cricket Council] hosted a World Cup. And not just that, has also played in one simultaneously. This is a big high for us in Oman."
        It wasn't so long ago that the idea of hosting an international cricket tournament would have been unthinkable. There were a handful of brown pitches with concrete wickets in the center, one of which was later updated to astroturf.
        The Oman Cricket Academy in Muscat is inaugurated in November 2018.
        Each year, stones and pebbles would be painstakingly removed from the outfield and sand placed on the surface. But that hardly made the prospect of diving for a catch any more appealing.
          "You never dived," explains Khimji. "You could get second, third degree burns from having skin scraped off -- it was vicious earth."
          Needless to say, playing conditions have been dramatically improved ahead of Oman's T20 World Cup opener against Papua New Guinea at the Al-Amerat Cricket Stadium, located 18 kilometers outside the capital of Muscat.
          The stadium's seating -- previously comprising of 52 park benches shaded under trees -- has been upgraded to a 5,000-seat infrastructure; the venue's lighting system has been enhanced and a press box and media center have also been added -- all in the space of 90 days.
          This year marks the seventh edition of the T20 World Cup: 45 matches which run from October 17 to November 14.
          Oman will contest a preliminary group that includes Papua New Guinea, Scotland and Bangladesh, from which the top two teams qualify for the Super 12s -- the later stage of the tournament.
          Backed by 4,000 home fans at each game, Khimji is confident that this Omani team -- "a good vintage" -- can qualify for the next round. He adds, though, that on-field success is just part of the aim.
          Oman's Bilal Khan appeals against Hong Kong at the 2017 Desert T20 Challenge.