Co-hosts Oman are eager to make the most of better fitness standards, both physical and mental, to improve on their T20 World Cup 2016 success.
In their first game of the ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2016, on tournament debut and as the lowest ranked side of the 16 teams in the competition, Oman made history. Chasing 155 for a win against Ireland, they survived a late stutter to complete a thrilling two-wicket win with two balls to spare.
"Perhaps their greatest moment, their proudest moment in their short cricketing history," boomed Ian Bishop's voice on commentary. On the ground, the team and the support staff were ecstatic.
Although they could not add to their wins that year, that sense of jubilation continued through their time in the tournament – and during these past five years. In 2019, the team defended 134 in a must-win game against Hong Kong to seal a top six finish in the Qualifiers and make it to the T20 World Cup. The exuberant celebrations were out again.
Now, with part of that same ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2021 happening at home, Oman's confidence and ambitions are amplified. They believe they can not only be ambassadors for their country, but also perform well in the tournament.
"Our team is much stronger than the one that played in 2016," Aaqib Ilyas said ahead of their crucial tournament opener against PNG on Sunday, 17 October. "The guys are young, they are fit.
"There is a huge difference now [from 2016]," he added. "Most of the players have gelled properly. They have been with the team for the last 4-5 years. We understand each other, there is a lot of unity."
Ilyas credited the support staff with helping develop a new mindset. "Our fitness has improved," he explained. "Over the year, with our coach Duleep Mendis, we have mentally been very strong."
"The batsmen have done well, and our bowling coaches have done really well with the bowlers. You can see at the Associate level that our bar has been raised very high."
In 2016, the team were ranked 29 in the world. Today, they are No.18 on the MRF Tyres ICC T20I Team Rankings. Besides, playing the warm-up games against higher-ranked teams such as Sri Lanka has taught them how to take the game deep and bounce back even after setbacks.
"There was a time when bowling was the only strength of the Oman team," Ilyas added, describing Oman as a more complete team now. "The fast bowlers, everyone knows they were the best. But now even the batsmen are doing really well. Some of them are in the ODI rankings. Our fielding has improved a lot."
Like in 2016, Oman are keen to start their campaign with a win on Sunday, giving the home fans something to cheer for.
Added Ilyas, "For the players, this will be the best thing to have the tournament on home soil."