By Joel Dubber
(Reuters) - Cricket's landscape could expand to unexpected horizons as early as next month if a bilateral series between Afghanistan and Zimbabwe goes ahead in the Middle Eastern country of Oman, where the test match format has never been played before.
The itinerary of two tests and three Twenty20 internationals has yet to be finalised and remains uncertain due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
However, the secluded Oman Cricket Academy (OCA) ground in Al Amerat – 15 km southeast of the capital Muscat – is at the ready after meeting standards set by the International Cricket Council (ICC) to host tests having previously hosted limited overs matches.
"ICC accreditation has put us in an elite club of test cricket hosts and we are very proud to have reached that level," Oman Cricket told Reuters.
"Hosting test matches and white-ball cricket on a regular basis will surely lead to more interest in the game of cricket in a football-crazy country."
The Gulf state is not a typical destination for international cricket, with its inhospitable desert and jagged, rocky mountains a far cry from the quaint backdrops that followers of the sport are traditionally accustomed to seeing.
Afghanistan's volatile security situation, however, means that regional neighbours are frequently called upon to stage 'home' matches on their behalf.
In the past, the nomadic team has based themselves out of grounds in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and India but the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on foreign travel has necessitated the addition of Oman to that list.
Oman are relative newcomers to cricket's global stage, with their only appearance at a major tournament coming at the 2016 T20 World Cup in India, where they upset Ireland in their debut outing.
The ability to host high-profile contests now will be another feather in the cap of the country's cricketing fraternity.
The sultanate would become the second non-test playing nation to host the game's longest form after neighbouring UAE, which regularly accommodates Pakistan for home matches.
(Reporting by Joel Dubber Phillips, editing by Mitch Phillips/Christian Radnedge)