Cricket’s global dream is finally a reality as Oman hosts this year’s World Cup

Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Ruler of Oman and Cricket Head of Mission for the Sultanate of Oman in Kochi. For most sports followers, the name Shah Rukh Khan may not raise an eyebrow, but…

Cricket's global dream is finally a reality as Oman hosts this year's World Cup

Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Ruler of Oman and Cricket Head of Mission for the Sultanate of Oman in Kochi.

For most sports followers, the name Shah Rukh Khan may not raise an eyebrow, but those who cover cricket or orelooked to Shah Rukh Khan as a chance to watch one of the world’s great attractions for free are sure to be captivated.

There has been a first in the world of cricket and those lucky enough to attend in Kochi on Saturday will experience it live.

Even for those in Oman who may or may not have heard of the global sport, they will be playing in front of a rapturous crowd at a stadium that may provide a primer to becoming a regular fan.

The Kingdom of Oman, an ancient oasis city and a major cargo port along the western coast of the Arabian Peninsula with numerous international airlines a daily service, is set to host cricket’s flagship Twenty20 World Cup, a momentous step in the sport’s growth in the Middle East and North Africa.

“I don’t know how much credit I should get for this, but I’ve talked to different politicians and business people in Oman and it’s just incredible how cricket has developed,” Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the kingdom’s ruler, said after a public ceremony in the cricket stadium built for the occasion in the capital, Muscat.

The stadium, unveiled at Friday’s opening ceremony, can hold up to 17,000 people. Unlike other international events, Oman does not charge fans for attending, thus making sure there is no barrier to entry.

“If we were in the United States, we would charge you in advance, we would need to have more security,” Bin Said said. “Cricket has really taken off in Oman. … It has been inspiring.”

The Prince of Wales International Cricket Ground, as the stadium is officially known, is located in the southern city of Muscat in the capital of Muscat, Oman’s largest city by area. Muscat is about the size of San Francisco but has about half the population of the Californian city. The Indian Ocean coastal city of just under a million is prosperous and tightly held.

Cricket had been in Oman since the 1990s. But the kingdom — which is smaller than Mexico or New Jersey — had never hosted a major cricket event. Bin Said’s estimate that they had seven, maybe eight, indoor stadiums in 2010 because of the sport’s growing popularity in the country.

Two other venues are scheduled to be added: namely, the Sultan Qaboos Sports City Stadium to be constructed in the next few years and the Muscat Cricket Stadium, which is not scheduled to be completed until 2021.

“The first thing we have to do is go and talk to the politicians. And they are very keen on cricket. They think that Oman can be a big cricket country,” bin Said said.

Before he took power in 1971, Qaboos was the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. He stayed on in the UAE until 1978 and then returned to Oman, where he worked for another three decades. He was succeeded by his half brother, Sultan Qaboos bin Said II, who ruled the Gulf Arab nation for 42 years before he died last year.

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Ian James on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ianjamesap

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