“Chelsea or Leicester City?” quizzed the beaming security guard as the MCC tour party arrived in Bahrain early Tuesday morning.
This brief stopover allowed the team to change planes for the initial leg in Muscat, Oman before returning for three fixtures in Bahrain next week.
The power of 'brand football' and in particular the English Premier League was obvious, and the squad will relish the opportunity to promote our game when we return next week. There is evidently much work to do.
A competitive squad, including current professional cricketers Oliver Hannon-Dalby (Warwickshire) and Shiv Thakor (Leicestershire) enjoyed a few hours acclimatising after touching down in Muscat.
With temperatures hovering around 25 degrees, the heat was akin to those few dreamy days we enjoy each summer in the UK. In Oman, however, this was still Winter. From April, with the cricket season over for another year, Muscat is transformed into a furnace. Scorching temperatures regularly touch 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
An official function on Tuesday evening at Pankaj Khimji's residence provided the opportunity to experience Omani hospitality at first hand. Pankaj, who is an international businessman of some repute, was schooled in England and is an MCC member. He proved an exceptional host.
As chairman of the Board, his insatiable passion for cricket in Oman shone through and it is not difficult to see why the country has made such progress in recent years - illustrated by their inaugural qualification for the World Twenty20 taking place next month.
A practice session on Wednesday morning gave the players a first sight of the Oman National Ground. Set amongst rugged scenery, it is a setting that looks more Wild West than Middle East.
It proved a fitting backdrop later that day when the tour 'proper' started as MCC took on top club side Assarain CC, who included two Internationals, and a number of Oman squad players amongst their ranks.
A gritty performance with the bat saw the MCC reach 197-8 after winning the toss in this day/night 50 over match. Alex Martin top scored with 48 not out, hitting the first six of the tour in the final over. Shiv Thakor also chipped in with a patient 39.
Assarain would have fancied their chances on a ground where a total of 210 was widely-regarded as par. They reckoned without a brilliant opening spell from Ricky Anderson, the former Essex and Northants seam bowler.
A wicket with his second delivery, neatly caught at slip by captain Clint Perren set the tone, and he went on to record figures of 4-15 from seven overs. He received good support from fellow quicks Oliver Hannon-Dalby and Shiv Thakor, before the spin bowlers came on to close the game out. MCC eventually recording a hard-earned 64 run victory.
With a specially commissioned coaching session on Thursday for 60 Omani school children, followed by three games in four days, Perrin's men will certainly be kept busy in the Gulf. All eyes are on Monday's Twenty20 match versus the Oman National Team, providing the country with one final stiff test before they fly out to India. It should be a cracking game.