In the fourth ball of the last over, with Oman just needing four runs, the orchestrator of this hitherto unthinkable heist, Aamer Ali took a wild swipe at Max Sorensen. The bowler appealed, or begged the umpire for what they reckoned was an edge. After much deliberation, the umpire lifted his index finger skyward. Ireland celebrated wildly, less wildly perhaps than what they were to witness next ball. Ali, whose freewheeling 32 off 17 balls had breathed late life into the match, left reluctantly, almost pleading the umpire to reverse the decision. That was not to be. A gutted Aamer swished his bat in the thin air in disappointment.
But his effort wasn’t wasted. Sorensen, who has been erring his lengths and lines throughout the last over and already leaked 10 runs, flung another waist-high full toss, which beat the batsmen and snuck in through the legs of the ‘keeper O’Brien. Rushed in the entire Omani contingent and broke into wanton celebrations. There was no synchorisation or symmetry to it. Just plain, unbridled celebrations that comes when you achieve something even you might not have dreamt of. There was a certain child-like innocence about it.
Certainly, Oman, the lowest ranked side to enter the World Cup wouldn’t have nursed realistic hopes of stunning the most accomplished of associates, Ireland. The latter’s total of 154 wasn’t by any means steep. But here is a team debuting on the world stage. If the Irish thought they can saunter through without breaking a sweat, they were rudely shocked when Oman openers Zeeshan Ali and Khawar Ali set up a platform of 69 runs in 8.1 overs. But once the openers perished, they unravelled like most other novices. They imploded to 90 for 5. A defeat seemed imminent.
That was when debutant Aamer, spectacled and looking every inch his age of 37, walked in. The Karachi-born cricketer seemed an anachronism in this age of slick-and-sassy cricketers. He seemed the least likeliest of Omani cricketers to furnish a fairy-tale beginning to their World Cup narrative. The third ball he faced, he attempted an almighty heave through leg-side, like the archetypal tail-ender. The next ball was pitched on leg and Aamer just shuffled across and smeared it over mid-wicket, a short that had peculiar Karachi stamp, a shot born somewhere in the crammed bylanes of that city.
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This was just a start to what turned out to be the most positively hilarious phase of the game. The next over, he tucked Paul Stirling behind for another boundary. Ireland were still not exactly worried, like when a tail-ender gets away with a few chancy boundaries. But in the next over, Aamer injected panic into them with his freakishly unorthodox, almost Bohemian batting. He laced three successive boundaries of medium pacer Tim Murtagh to chop down the required rate to ignite their dreams.
And it wasn’t all fluke. Like how he manipulated the field for the first boundary. He dummied the bowler, moved across the stumps and shaped up to hit the ball through the leg-side, but backed away at the last moment and skimmed the ball through the third-man fence. Irish bowlers then lost it in the mind and they just stood stupefied. Brief scores: Ireland 154/5 (GC Wilson 38, W Porterfield 29, M Ansari 3/37); Oman 157 for 8 in 19.4 overs (Z Maqsood 38, A McBrine 2-15)