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From nearly giving up cricket to scripting history, Aqib Ilyas leads the way for Oman

Last updated on 30 Nov 2023 | 11:59 AM
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From nearly giving up cricket to scripting history, Aqib Ilyas leads the way for Oman

The Oman all-rounder, who has played a pivotal role in their qualification to yet another T20 World Cup, shares his ups and downs in a chat with

Yet another T20 World Cup beckons for Oman as they make it to the 20-team event in the USA and West Indies next year. They have qualified for the mega tournament on the back of an impressive performance in the Qualifiers in Nepal, which saw them beat the hosts in a thrilling final that went into a Super Over in front of 40,000-odd supporters.

Also Read: Nepal, Oman book berth for 2024 men’s T20 World Cup

Oman’s rise over the years has been admirable. From playing in Division Five a little over a decade ago to now qualifying for their third T20 World Cup in just seven years is nothing short of commendable.

Aqib Ilyas, who moved to Oman when he was just three months old, is one of the key figures behind this resurrection. However, things could have been a lot different had Ilyas, a stylish batter and a spinner, given up the sport in 2016 after being dropped from the squad during the T20 World Cup.

“My health wasn't good and I got a call from the management and they said that, 'Sorry, you have been replaced by one of the players. You have to move out of the squad.' I was watching the whole World Cup, but I couldn't stay with the team,” Ilyas said in a chat with

“On social media, everyone was posting, 'You don't deserve to play there, You are just a local cricketer, you can't compete at that level,' and many negative things I had to go through that I don't want to share. So, I felt staying in my own business was a better option than playing cricket and listening to all the people. I wasn't into cricket for a year.”

It was at that point that his brother and idol Adnan Ilyas, another star cricketer who represented Oman for many years, talked him into getting back to the game and not letting his talent go to waste.

“He [Adnan] came up to me and told me not to waste my talent. ‘I have seen a lot of talent in you. You come back to the field, this is where you belong,’ he said.  After one year, when I stepped onto the field, I started working hard and became more disciplined,” Ilyas recalled a moment that changed his career.

“Now I am among the top-scorers...I am the one who got man of the series in this tournament where Oman has qualified for the World Cup. Any time when things go wrong for me, I go up to him and I ask him. He just says to be positive and play your natural game before all the matches. Back your instincts. If you feel like hitting the bowler, just go for it, but be sensible. “Keep pushing yourself, stay fit and be more focused on your cricket,” is what my brother told me, and he is one of the best things to have happened to me.”

That is not the only challenge Ilyas faced during his career. In fact, in 2021, he developed a tumour on his leg, which could have further derailed his cricket career.

“In 2021, I got injured. I had this tumour issue. I showed it to my physio. He said that the bone was getting swollen, and I had to go through an X-ray. The doctors said that you have a tumour inside and you have to get it operated. After the operation, I had to be out of cricket for a year and a half,” Ilyas said.

“Then, when I got back again, I increased my weight. My health is all better, all thanks to our chairman, Pankaj (Khimji) [Oman Cricket chairman] sir, who helped me throughout. He said you want to go anywhere in the world for treatment, you just go there and take care of yourself. Then I planned to visit Pakistan and get myself treated there. Then when I came back, my physios and trainers looked after me.

“And now, thanks to God, I am competing. Though I still feel pain in my leg...there are issues after operation, things are not the same. I am coping, and I am doing really well. It took time, but sometimes the coach says that you are a natural talent. Even if you play after years, it doesn't feel like you are out of the squad. When I came back, runs started coming and I am back to my same position, maybe better than before.”

Ilyas scored 106 runs at a strike-rate of 153.62 in the recent Qualifiers, batting up the order. However, this time around, his bowling proved to be vital. He finished with 10 wickets – just one behind the leading wicket-taker, Bilal Khan – conceding at under six an over. Ilyas’ skill of bowling off-spin to left-handers and leg-spin to right-handers worked perfectly for him and the team.

Ilyas puts that down to hours of practice in the nets and being mentally prepared during the match otherwise, you would be on the receiving front. But as a batter, Ilyas has stunned many with his strokeplay.

“Our coach Champaka [Ramanayake], who has been with Sri Lanka national team when he came in, said, ‘I am shocked to see how good shots you play, especially when the spinners bowl a bit short,” It's not short, but you make it short and hit it over mid-wicket. The pull shot you play against the fast bowlers, the cut shot, you have all the good shots...also the short-arm jab to the fast bowlers.”

“He said all these shots are what the Test-playing nations have, the top quality players have. He said you are not far away from big things so just keep working on yourself.”

Ilyas recently led his side in Afghanistan A’s tour of Oman in the absence of regular skipper Zeeshan Maqsood. Maqsood is among the top all-rounders in white-ball cricket, and Ilyas feels that as a captain, he is right up there with some of the best in world cricket.

Also read - Zeeshan Maqsood: Qualifying for World Cup will make locals in Oman proud

“I feel Zeeshan is one of the best players to have in the side. Not just his captaincy, even his batting, bowling - he is one of the top all-rounders in ODI cricket, in T20 cricket,” Ilyas, who did his civil engineering from Manipal University, Dubai, reckons.

“As a leader, he is too good. He keeps thinking about what is the best. He has been playing in the domestic circuit for a long time. He is our opponent and he never lets us win. There have been rare times we have won because his captaincy has been too good.

“For 6-7 years, he was the champion even in domestic cricket also. He had the national bowlers in his side. He now knows what the bowlers can do and what their capabilities are. He is a great leader and we are proud to have him on our side.”

2016, 2021 and now 2024 – Oman have yet another chance to script history. They may have just shown the world a glimpse of what they can do in those tournaments, but they are stronger than ever at the moment.

With sound batters, reliable all-rounders and threatening fast bowlers at their disposal, they are certainly not heading halfway across the world just to make up the numbers. 

All of this may not have been possible if Ilyas had given up on the sport in 2016 or 2021. 

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