Bilal Khan plies his trade in Oman and is one of the torchbearers of the country’s cricket. Born in Pakistan, Bilal’s is a story of overcoming one’s circumstances. Now he wants to see Test cricket introduced in his country, with one Sri Lankan coach, Duleep Mendes, helping Oman step into greater cricketing horizons. Bilal, who is playing the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) for Chattogram Challengers, talked about his move from Pakistan and into Oman’s cricket during an interview with Abdullah Al Mehdi of The Daily Star. The excerpts of the interview are below:
The Daily Star (DS): How do you find the competitiveness in BPL?
For all latest news, follow The Daily Star’s Google News channel.
Bilal Khan (BK): I have been in Bangladesh before too but it’s my first time playing BPL, and it feels great. There was pressure and excitement but I had been preparing for the last two months, and I got so much exposure here even though I did not get many wickets. So, there was no tension and it’s going well so far.
DS: There were some big players on your team like Mohammad Hasnain. But you got the nod ahead of them. How exciting is it and how much responsibility does it bring on your shoulders?
BK: He’s [Hasnain] an express quick of Pakistan and it’s a matter of pride for me [that I am being selected ahead of him], and it also brings a lot of responsibility. I try to deliver according to that responsibility and it’s been working for me so far. The harder you work, the better output you get in terms of benefits and results. Maybe because of that hard work, the almighty is giving me the opportunity, my team is trusting me, and I am doing well. It’s just fate.
DS: Do you feel it’s fate that you are not playing for Pakistan?
BK: Whatever happens, happens by god’s command. The fact that a Test member of Pakistan did not play but I did — I think it’s a matter of pride for Oman too. Basically, I am from Pakistan’s Peshawar and it’s a proud moment for the board, the nation, and my [Oman] coach Duleep Mendes that I am playing for Oman now and have been able to perform. Secondly, it’s a good preparation for me heading towards the World Cup. The international duties will begin in March and it’s all T20s. So, it’s an apt situation for me.
DS: You play international cricket for Oman. Is there a jump in quality when you play in BPL?
BK: Every cricketer wants to get exposure playing for a good franchise. It’s a boost for me and I receive messages from fans. I feel proud to be competing at such a level but it’s not a matter of pressure for me as I play international cricket and have experienced all kinds of situations with Oman.
DS: What’s been Duleep’s role in building up the Oman side?
BK: Duleep is a development officer and also the head coach of Oman. He has fostered unity as there are Pakistanis, Indians, and even Bengalis on the Oman side. We play in the team as a family. Also, [Oman Cricket] chairman Pankaj Khimji doesn’t bother about where a player comes from and rather focuses on how good he is for the team.
DS: As Duleep is Asian, does it augur well for the team that he gets to work with players from the subcontinent?
BK: Duleep has been staying there [in Oman] for 12 years and understands our language. He may not be able to speak it but he understands and even if he doesn’t understand something then the coordinator helps out. The coordinator Saleem khan stays by our side and knows what the players need. He then hands over everything to Duleep and the chairman and they treat us with love. These guys have brought colour to Oman cricket at the highest level.
DS: What do you think an associate nation needs to do to get more exposure?
BK: As a cricketer — be it of an associate nation or a Test nation — if your players are not hard-working then the team will not flourish. The coaches give us guidelines but the players need to do everything and it depends on the players. I am the highest wicket-taker for an associate nation and for that, I have to work hard for two to three hours or someone else will topple me. It’s that the team that works hard will go forward.
DS: Are Oman getting enough matches as an associate nation?
BK: Yes, PNG is coming and then we go to South Africa and then there is the Asia Cup and the World Cup [in the coming days]. So there are many matches but regardless of the quantity, you will move ahead only if you perform. That’s what it is like for associate nations. You win a tournament, get accolades, and more tournaments follow. If you lose matches, you will stay down.
DS: What is the plan in Oman regarding longer version cricket? Do you play longer version cricket in Oman?
BK: If we do well, it will depend on the ICC when we may get Test status. It’s starting now in Oman this year. Due to the temperature, it’s difficult to play even the 50-over format. But Duleep Mendes has started the program this season as two-day and three-day games will start. We play mostly T20, 50-over, and T10 but now red-ball will begin and since I am from Pakistan, I have played first-class cricket and have the idea of playing red-ball cricket. if the domestic structure becomes even better, then better players will come through.
DS: How many teams are there in Oman’s domestic circuit? Do most players come from overseas?
BK: There are many divisions like A, B, C, and D, and some thousand players play.
DS: Are there Bangladeshis as well?
BK: There are so many, you can’t imagine. They are almost in every team.
DS: You left Pakistan and then were required to stay four years [in Oman] before being granted permission to play. How difficult were those four years?
BK: It was simple. We were working jobs, going in the morning and staying till evening. Then we would practice from 8:00 pm-12:00 am. Sometimes, we practiced in the morning. During the break times, the ones who aspired to be cricketers would hit the gym. Things improved a lot since then as there are a number of academies now.
DS: Where do you want to see Oman in the future?
BK: When I retire, I want to leave Oman very near to Test status. When we got the ODI status, I was the man of the match in that game. The same goes for when we played for the first time in the World Cup and qualifiers. So, I will try to give my 200 percent.
DS: Would things have been different if you had support in Pakistan?
BK: I have performed a lot in Pakistan at the domestic level. But if you don’t have resources or support then it’s very difficult. But it’s changing now. It was difficult back then and [Afghanistan’s] Mohammad Shahzad and I came through from that.
DS: How have Oman’s World Cup preparations been?
BK: It’s going very well and plans have already started. From March 1, PNG will come. Then we go to Uganda to prepare against those who qualified. Then the Asia Cup and we go to England from there and then Scotland. We will then directly go to the West Indies from there where we play all our matches.
DS: If Oman has to make a place in World Cricket, how important is Test cricket and first-class structure?
BK: The people I have talked about like Pankaj, Mendes, and Saleem would be preparing the players according to their work. We have gotten ODI and T20I status and this will be achieved too one day.