Once you step into the field, there is no-one bigger than you

Aqib Illyas states that this is a directive issued by his team’s head coach, Duleep Mendis, who is a former captain of the Sri Lankan cricket team. In an effort to prevent his players from feeling overwhelmed by the opportunity to face the renowned Australian side, the coach has implemented a strategy. This will be the first-ever encounter between the two countries at any level.

However, if you had been present at the Kensington Oval on Tuesday (June 4) and had heard Illyas, the captain of Oman, you would have perceived it as a direct command from him. Undoubtedly, he is not retreating himself when confronted with the most significant obstacle in the early stages of his country’s cricketing history.

The press conference conducted by the captain of an Associate nation was notably spirited and assertive. Illyas is not particularly aggressive in terms of trying to create unrealistic expectations on his squad, but rather lacks the proper respect for his highly esteemed opponents.

He is not the inaugural captain of a non-Test playing nation to naturally employ the concept of the ‘they have more to lose than us’ storyline. However, the top hitter from Sialkot, who plays for Oman, displayed a delightful cleverness in the way he achieved it. He displayed a blatant disrespect for social conventions by casually downplaying the importance of the event. However, you couldn’t resist provoking him despite the circumstances. It was evident that he wasn’t merely pretending to be tough. Furthermore, he genuinely expressed his determination to prevent the influence of Australia’s atmosphere from overshadowing his team’s drive to compete, even prior to setting foot on the Oval.

Illyas is familiar with confronting real-life challenges with unwavering confidence. Competing in a cricket match against formidable opponents such as Pat Cummins, David Warner, and Mitchell Marsh is not even considered the most significant obstacle he has faced in his life. According to the narrative, the individual, who is 31 years old, received a diagnosis of a malignant tumor in his left ankle just a few years ago. During that point, he disclosed in interviews that he harbored concerns about the potential end of both his cricket career and his life. Fortunately, Illyas and those in his vicinity were relieved to discover that the tumor was noncancerous. However, he still required surgical intervention, which subsequently led to an extensive 18-month rehabilitation period during which he relied exclusively on crutches. Now, less than two years later, he has become the captain of his national team in a World Cup.

When questioned about the challenge of competing against a formidable Australian side that boasts some of the most renowned figures in international cricket, Illyas openly expressed his expectations on his players’ approach to the match.

“Once you enter the field, there are no prominent individuals, and no one surpasses your significance on the field.” This is another game for us. We anticipate that we will not be engaging in any exceptional gameplay. It is simply a team that is operating at the same level as us. They have accomplished the same task as us – both of us have successfully met the necessary qualifications, and this fact does not significantly impact the situation. “We hold them in high regard, naturally,” he stated.

Although the names of the individuals were not stated or discussed in the dressing room, Illyas did remark that he had spoken to his players about viewing the opportunity to face Mitchell Starc as a chance to get recognition on the global stage, rather than a daunting obstacle to their achievement.

Illyas’s most revealing statement regarding his mindset was when he openly discussed his personal mindset as captain when viewing the Australian squad as opponents. If this were a captain from any of the Test nations, there would have been headlines such as ‘Verbal jabs exchanged as opposing captain criticizes Australian team’. Perhaps others who merely peruse these remarks from Illyas may find them amusing and disregard them as mere exaggeration from a captain who is eager to convince his team that they still have a possibility, even if it is unlikely. The inquiry pertained to his opinion on whether Oman’s predominantly spin-oriented bowling strategy could genuinely endanger the Australian team if the pitch on Wednesday (June 5) resembles the one on which his team suffered defeat against Namibia. Illyas not only acknowledged the prospect of it being a great equalizer for his team, but he also shared his perspective on the composition of the Australian batting line-up, particularly in relation to the absence of certain players.

“You observed the rotational movement of the ball during the previous match.” The ball maintained a low trajectory. In the past, the Australian side had a couple of players, like Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, who possessed exceptional technical skills. However, I believe their current inventory is limited. They aspire to achieve significant success. Their sole objective is to hit sixes. However, he expressed concern that if they were to encounter the same wicket as the one against Namibia, it could pose a difficulty. This statement was met with a combination of humor and bewilderment in the press conference room.

“Similar to the manner in which you observed the arduousness of the West Indies’ match against PNG.” Despite having some of the most powerful batsmen on their team, they have difficulty in pursuing a score of around 130. On a slower track with skilled spinners, the key is to play with determination and deliver the ball accurately, as the ball is oblivious to the batter’s stature and reputation. If the ball spins or remains close to the ground, the hitter is at a disadvantage.

However, Illyas saved his most famous quip for the conclusion. When questioned about if the prohibition on using Australian players’ names in the Oman dressing-room will be relaxed after the match, and if the players would be eager to engage with players such as Starc and Maxwell, the captain responded with a grin that gradually transformed into a smile.

“The outcome is contingent upon the progress of the game.” There is a possibility that they are collecting our names. We hold them in high regard as a team. Prior to the game, it is strategic to avoid being overwhelmed by their presence. Following the game, it is evident that their team boasts exceptional players, from whom we can glean valuable insights. However, it is possible that even they may acquire knowledge from humans.

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