An inspiring story of how the ICC’s new Associate Member Director worked with the global body to avert a ‘humanitarian’ crisis ©Cricket Oman
If Pankaj Khimji beat a strong field to win an election as an associate member of the International Cricket Council (ICC), it’s not for nothing. His election may have been a collective recognition by the world cricket community of an effort that saved them from a major ‘humanitarian’ crisis.
Khimji, 60, the manager of Oman Cricket (OC), had come to the rescue of more than 100 players and officials when the ICC abandoned Women’s World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe last November. As the Omicron wave wreaked havoc in African countries, leading to the cancellation of all flights, participating teams were stranded in Harare. The ICC were desperate to get the players out of Zimbabwe by air and no flights were readily available.
Khimji, a fifth-generation businessman in Oman and one of the Gulf nation’s Big Five industrialists, leveraged his influence in the Sultanate and rushed an Oman Air flight to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, from where players from the West Indies, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the United States and Thailand were practically airlifted. One of the survivors was an Indian, Lalchand Rajput, then head coach of Zimbabwe.
“I will reserve my comments as it was for a humanitarian cause,” Khimji told Cricbuzz on Sunday (July 24). But Rajput remembered the trauma. “We were stuck in Harare. With the Covid virus spreading rapidly, we were looking to relocate. At that point we were flown first to Namibia and then to Muscat from where we all dispersed in the respective countries,” recalled the former India coach. .
It was a joint operation between the ICC Events team and Oman Cricket. Khimji managed clearances from all international and national agencies to fly the Oman Air plane to Namibia on short notice. He even arranged visas for players from the West Indies who needed to stay in Muscat for over a week before they could return home to the Caribbean.
Oman’s men’s team were also stuck in Windhoek, where they had gone to play a tri-nation ODI tournament involving the United Arab Emirates and Namibia, and it became imperative for Khimji to activate his government’s resources. But the goal was not to bring back his players alone, but all those who were stuck. He organized a jumbo jet that could accommodate all the teams and officials except Sri Lanka, who had to stay behind due to a surge in Covid cases in their camp.
Qualification for the Women’s World Cup, from which three teams had to qualify, has always been a bewitched tournament having been postponed twice before – once in July 2020 and then again in July 2021 – before the ICC reschedule it in Zimbabwe from November 21 to December 5. But the new wave of Covid variants has upended the calendar, forcing the ICC to decide the qualification process for the World Cup in New Zealand (in March-April 2022) based on the rankings.
While announcing the postponement, the ICC had said: “With the emergence of the latest variant of Covid-19 in South Africa and the introduction of travel restrictions from a number of African countries, including the host country, Zimbabwe, the ICC has decided to cancel the event, with qualifying slots decided by team standings, subject to tournament playing conditions.” Chris Tetley, its events manager, added: “We have explored a number of options to enable us to complete the event but it is not feasible and we will be transporting the teams out of Zimbabwe as soon as possible.”
A source, involved in the operation, shed more light. “The ICC should be grateful to Oman Cricket for their support at a difficult time. The reasons are three-fold. First, Pankaj’s contacts in Oman reduced red tape; second, the Oman men’s team was also stuck in Africa so that the ICC can work collectively; and thirdly, Oman has been one of the slowest countries to shut down, which means we have had more time to work there.”
As simple as it sounds, the rescue mission succeeded thanks to the alert authorities in Dubai and a cricketing Good Samaritan in Muscat.