26 July 2015
The Pringle hand in Oman’s British success
Side that surprised many in World Twenty20 Qualifers is capable of springing a few surprises in India, says its technical adviser
What worked for Oman was not cramming the heads of the players with too much data and letting them be themselves.
Something of an under-achiever, with bat and ball, he faded away after the 1992 World Cup, but was back in the mix soon after as a cricket writer, with The Independent first and then the Daily Telegraph. A journalist he remained until a few months ago when he was, in his own words, “made redundant” by the newspaper.
Cricket journalism’s loss was, happily, Oman's gain – it called him and signed him up as technical adviser for the team for its ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers. There started a chain of fortunate incidents that culminated in the Oman team – little known in the cricket circuit and only slightly better known in its own country – qualifying for the 2016 World T20, to be played in India, ahead of more pedigreed teams.
“I am a freelancer now, so I have to look at all opportunities offered to me, so why not, I thought,” says Pringle to Wisden India, referring to the time Pankaj Khimji, director of Oman Cricket Club, called him up in February this year.
It didn’t start promisingly. Pringle says, “I tried to do my research (on cricket in Oman), but couldn’t find out much”. Then things went quiet for a few months, and Pringle thought “nothing was going to come of it”, till a call came again, informing him about a training camp in Ireland, and would he please come on board – “but I had no idea about the team or their cricket”.
That was shortly before the start of the tournament. Then Oman began by losing to Kenya by seven runs, and went on, as the qualifiers wore on, to beat the Netherlands and stun Afghanistan – the big boys at this level – by 40 runs, before sealing the deal with the win over Namibia. History!
Pictures of the Omani team after the win over Afghanistan, and then over Namibia, would have gladdened even the most stonehearted. They are the sort of images that make sport what it is.
In charge of the team is Duleep Mendis, the former Sri Lanka captain. Once in a Test match and twice in One-Day Internationals, Mendis and Pringle had faced off against each other. All old history, of course. More than anything, the two had something in common, a shared lack of experience of playing T20 cricket.
“Duleep Mendis is a fine man and a perfect coach for a team like Oman,” says Pringle. “He is very calm and doesn’t get carried away. He is a very experienced international player himself. Although Duleep and I have never played T20, I have seen plenty of T20 cricket and spoken to a lot of cricketers and coaches who have been part of T20s. I enjoyed working with Duleep. He isn’t very critical at all and is very supportive of his players. They want to play for him. That’s an important thing.”
And Mendis’s calm, it appears, is much needed. “These guys are very excitable, if you’ve seen the way they celebrate when they win. They go absolutely crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it. But Duleep is a very calm influence,” says Pringle.
What about his own role; what exactly did the technical adviser – “my job description is a bit vague” – have to do? “As Khimji put it, Oman had been in qualifiers before but had not progressed because they had fallen foul of overseas conditions,” explains Pringle. “They are pretty competitive in subcontinent conditions, but whenever they go somewhere different, they find it tough. So they wanted someone who could give some advice about how to play and how to prosper in what were British conditions, because we were playing in Ireland and Scotland.
“I just try and mentor the players and discuss things with them, how they did certain things in the previous match, just put things in their mind really, make them think about things. T20 is all about playing smart cricket. You can’t be risk averse in T20s, but you must have good risk assessment. So it’s not so much about taking catches and fielding practice. We have an assistant coach and Duleep’s there to do that.”
As such, Pringle admits, the other teams at the World T20 Qualifier appear more organised and professional, with computer analysts and the other paraphernalia one associates with modern-day cricket teams. What worked for Oman, therefore, was not cramming the heads of the players with too much data and letting them be themselves.
Pringle cites the example of Zeeshan Siddiqui, who played such a brilliant innings – 51 not out in 32 balls – in the win over Namibia, the result that helped Oman book its tickets to India. “I’ve seen great players in run chases, and Siddiqui was so calm. It was one of the best I have seen. Calm and considered – that’s how I like to see a batsman play,” he says.
“If they make improvements from what they have done in this tournament, I don’t see why they can’t compete favourably in India against some of the lesser teams. You never know – Twenty20, in a short game, you can spring a surprise on even the best teams.
“They are up against it (in terms of a pool of players to pick from) a little bit though, because not many Arabs play the game. I have never been to Oman, so I don’t know much. But it is an uphill battle. But I think this success will put them on the map in their own country.”
Pringle isn’t quite clear about whether he is going to play a part in the Indian sojourn. “I have no idea. We haven’t had a discussion. I was brought in specifically with regard to the conditions here (in Ireland and Scotland). India obviously presents a different set of conditions – pitches and weather, etc. I’ve played in India, but I am not an expert as I am in British conditions. So if it’s not me and it’s someone else, I don’t mind.”
The next few days are sure to be exciting for the cricketers from Pringle’s team. And seeing how the association has gone in the first leg, maybe Pringle’s presence can do more good for the ragtag bunch of boys from Oman.