The amazing Nepal turnaround with Kushal Bhurtel

With thoughts from opening batter Kushal Bhurtel, we relive the amazing Nepal run to third in Cricket World Cup League 2.

One of the most discussed matches played by Nepal at home in recent years will be last week’s game against the UAE.

The hosts were in great form, having won 10 out of their last 11 matches, and the match was crucial for securing their spot in the direct World Cup qualifier. Although Nepal had already retained ODI status, they required a victory to guarantee their place in the direct World Cup Qualifier. If they lost, they would have to participate in the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier Playoff in Namibia.

Despite having previous experience in playing World Cup Qualifiers, Nepal’s victory in the recent match against UAE generated a lot of excitement in the country. In just one month, Nepal managed to climb up the League 2 points table, overtaking Namibia to claim the third-place spot. Their hard-fought 9-run win over UAE, which was determined by the DLS method, ensured their qualification for the upcoming Qualifier to be held in Zimbabwe in June and July.

Kushal Bhurtel set the run-chase alive with a quick-fire half-century against the UAE, and spoke to Emerging Cricket after his innings.

Photo: CAN

Often criticized for inconsistency, Kushal also set the tone in the team’s run, smashing his maiden ODI century in the first game of the tri-series against Namibia last month.

Q: What were you feeling when you walk out to chase 311? Did you feel nervous after you lose Aasif on the first over and the next three wickets quickly?

Kushal Bhurtel: “It was a big match and we never got a bigger total (to chase) before but we had a belief that we can chase it down. We always used to say if we are to become the No.1 Associate team we have to chase down these totals. So, everyone is clear that we can chase down the total.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t have a start we would have liked. However, we know whoever stays till the end can win the match. So, I and Bhim carried on after losing the 3rd wicket quickly.”

Q: How much did the crowd impact the win and the last eight wins at home?

KB: “The crowd has been always like the 12th man for us. When they come out to support in every match. It boosts not only confidence but also the whole team’s morale. So, another benefit of playing on the home ground is the crowd.”

Q: Do you think Nepal could have bowled better at the back end, especially in the last six overs?

KB: “Yeah, the bowlers had a tough day. Asif Khan played an extraordinary innings and credit goes to him as well. Yeah, we could have done better but Asif was brilliant on that day.”

Q. Did you know this is the first time four Nepali batters struck fifty in the same match for Nepal?

KB: “Yes, I know that was the first time that four batters hit 50+ scores in the same match. And that’s a very good sign who are thinking to become the number one Associate team.”

How the run happened

Monty Desai: The saviour

Monty Desai, the former batting coach of the West Indies, played a crucial role in Nepal’s success. He was appointed as Nepal’s fifth coach in four years, highlighting the instability in the team.

Desai’s task was to help Nepal retain their ODI status with the newly-appointed captain, Rohit Paudel. In the first three matches, Nepal performed exceptionally well, chasing down three tough totals in successive matches, an unprecedented feat in both their ODI or List A history. With the help of Desai’s coaching and Paudel’s captaincy, Nepal won 11 of their last 12 matches, which allowed them to qualify for the 2023 World Cup Qualifier.

Photo: CAN

The three victories came as a surprise to Nepali supporters since the team usually found it challenging to chase a total even below 200. The reason behind this success was a combination of factors, including the appointment of a new coach who boosted the morale of the young batsmen, the comeback of Sandeep Lamichhane, and the favourable pitches at the TU ground. However, what made their triumph praiseworthy was their ability to overcome challenging situations repeatedly. Despite being in tight spots, Nepal managed to escape and secure the win.

A New chapter under Desai

Nepal secured a thrilling two-wicket win against Namibia, thanks to Karan KC’s five-wicket haul on Valentine’s day, and opener Kushal Bhurtel’s century. Nepal displayed great confidence while chasing 275 in the second match, despite losing five wickets for only 77 runs. In the second match, young Kushal Malla played a counter-attacking innings, and Dipendra Airee’s sensible batting saw Nepal through.

In the third match, the hosts chased down 274 in the 48th over with solid contributions from their top order. Though there was some drama at the end, with Nepal losing four wickets for 13 runs in the middle. The hosts clinched their fourth win by beating Scotland in another tense run-chase, mainly due to Rohit Paudel’s unbeaten 95 on a tricky pitch chasing 213.

UAE Tour

Nepal embarked on their penultimate series by traveling to the UAE. After winning their first match against PNG easily, Nepal faced a setback when UAE defended 208 and handed them a loss, raising doubts about their form once again. Nepal, however, bounced back and won their next two matches, including a hard-fought victory over the hosts, marking their first win over the UAE in League 2.

With a win in their final match of the UAE series, Nepal required two more wins to secure ODI status and four more wins to finish in the top three of League 2 at home. The first three matches were won effortlessly, but the last match demonstrated Nepal’s commitment and hard work over the past month.

The ebbs and flows of the last match

The game, which was highly anticipated, drew over 30,000 spectators to the TU Ground. Fans from all corners of the country came to show their support for the Nepal team. The match was of such significance that people began queuing outside the ground as early as 7am. Although opener Mohammad Waseem silenced the crowd with his aggressive 63 off 49 balls in the first 15 overs, Asif Khan shattered the Nepalese bowling attack in the final six overs by scoring a record-breaking century off just 41 balls.

With 311 runs on the board, Nepal’s chances were not looking great despite brilliant recent form. Their shaky start (37/3) made such fans leave early just to come back later. While the previous team would be bogged down under pressure, the new looked Nepalese team was refusing to lose without a fight. The opener Kushal Bhurtel kept the hosts in the hunt with a solid fifty. The middle-order trio of Bhim Sharki, Aarif Sheikh and Gulshan Jha all notched fifty as well. It was the first time that as many as four Nepali batters struck fifty in the same ODI.

Any match involving Nepal wasn’t ending without drama and it was also no different. With the threat of rain looming around, the hosts were behind the DLS method for most of their run-chase after losing three early wickets. At end of the 41st over, the UAE were 11 runs ahead of Nepal in the DLS method. Then next over turned the tide in Nepal’s favor as Gulshan Jha tonked Muhammad Waseem for a 20-run over to race from 25 to 45. Nepal found themsleves 269/6 in 44 overs which was enough to earn them a 9-run win on the DLS method.

After the bails were taken off citing bad lights, UAE players soon protested in front of umpires Buddhi Pradhan and Raveendra Wimalasiri. As soon as the umpire’s signal was seen, exuberant Nepali players ran into the field, and over 30,000 crowds erupted in joy upon knowing the result. UAE took almost four hours to bowl 44 overs, including 40 minutes to bowl the final 6 overs, and their tactics to slow down the game backfired in the end.

People from all over the country had come to witness the historic match at T.U ground, and the festive mode was evident.

As soon as Nepal won the match, the occasion reached its zenith, and players were greeted with five musical instruments known as “Panche Baja.”

Just a month ago, they appeared to be out of the running, with a record of only eight victories in 24 matches, and were not even considered to be among the top five, let alone the top three, in League 2.

Nepal’s transformation in a short period of time should be considered one of the most remarkable comebacks in cricket history.

The Jubilant Nepal team’s next big assignment is the ACC Men’s Premier Cup where the winner will get the opportunity to feature in the upcoming Asia Cup. Given the current form of Nepal, especially at the home, they will fancy their chance to play the maiden Asia Cup. The 10-team tournament kicks off on April 24 at both the TU Ground and the Mulpani ground.

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