Which Irish-born player made the highest T20 international score in 2022? It’s not Paul Stirling, Harry Tector or Andy Balbirnie. Nor Gaby Lewis or Orla Prendergast.

No, step forward and take a bow, Omar Rasool, who scored 99 not out for Bulgaria in their win over Serbia last summer.

Omar was born in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal in 1997, to parents Sohail, a doctor, and Geraldine (née McAnenny) a champion swimmer from Strabane, and his cricketing journey began when the family moved to Portlaoise in 2001.

“I’ve enjoyed cricket since I was a wee lad and myself and my father would play on the green in front of our house in Portlaoise,” Omar told CricketEurope.

“One day as I was tonking my father for six, club legend/president/chairman/coach Roland Bradley pulled up in his car and asked would I be interested in joining Laois? I was six years old at the time and I’ve been involved with the club ever since.”

Omar showed natural talent and played for all the Laois underage teams, travelling the country to get as much cricket as possible.

Thanks to the persuasive efforts of Roland, Laois had an array of top coaches stopping by, most notably Brîan O’Rourke, but also Irish internationals Jeremy Bray, Allan Eastwood and Kenny Carroll.

“I was invited into the Leinster development system, where I was selected as a leg-spin bowler but to be consistent at such a young age in the art of wrist spin is incredibly tough,” said Omar.

“I played a couple of youth interpros, and I was in the same development squad as Lorcan’s brother Fiachra Tucker, and Harry Tector, but due to lack of game time in the higher divisions things didn’t work out for me at the Leinster academy. 

Omar switched his focus back to Laois, and helping to develop the Midlands club.

Carroll, a member of the 2007 Ireland World Cup squad, remembers Omar as both a player and pivotal member of the club.

“Omar was a promising young leg-spinner and attacking batsman – a real all-rounder. He was a very active volunteer at the club and one of the driving forces behind their success a few years back.

“He showed great coaching and leadership qualities as he progressed through their ranks," added Carroll.

Omar made a total of 124 appearances at all levels for the club, scoring centuries against Ashbourne and Malahide. He helped the club reach the Irish National Cup final and clinch the Senior Two Cup.

Off the field he became a Level 2 coach as well as being the club secretary for two years, before leaving Ireland to continue his medical education in Bulgaria.

“One of the main reasons I picked Bulgaria was I knew some cricketing colleagues who played club cricket there,” he said.

“After arriving in Sofia I quickly got acquainted with the clubs in the area. Cricket is slowly but surely growing in Bulgaria with three teams in Sofia and about nine men’s teams nationally, mostly consisting of foreign students like myself.

“We have introduced cricket into the curriculum in some schools, and have a small team of volunteers helping to progress this further as well as a women’s team and structure.”

After four years in Bulgaria Omar received his residency and qualified to play for the national team. He made his debut in 2021 against Luxembourg, and to date has won 20 caps, making three half centuries, including that unbeaten 99 against Serbia.

Bulgaria, who hold the recod for the highest successful T20I chase, reached the ICC Europe T20 qualifiers in Finland last year, where they enlisted the help of Irish-based coach Andrew McCulloch, but their dream of World Cup qualification ended when Italy emerged victorious from the 20 participants.

As well as Finland, Omar has played internationals in Romania, Serbia, Greece, and Malta twice. They have planned tours to Serbia, Romania and Malta again this year as well as featuring in the European Cricket League at the Cartama Oval in Spain.

While the 25 year-old has returned to Ireland this month ahead of his final exams, his brother Ali is following the same path, studying medicine in Sofia, and hopefully joining him in the national team when he qualifies next year.

“In the future I plan to bring the guys on tour here to play a few games against my home club as well as a few others.

“As for now I have returned to Lovely Laois to play a full season of cricket and enjoy the experience of finally playing my first game on their new ground of ‘The Abbey’.

There is more than one string to Omar’s international bow. As well as cricket, he has made three rugby international appearances for Bulgaria in friendlies. He also plays hockey to a high standard and could make it a representative hat-trick!