Hong Kong torn down by Nepal, likely to miss ACC Premier Cup semi-final

Nepal continue their ACC Premier Cup charge, leaving Hong Kong in their wake.

Kushal Bhurtel and Aasif Sheikh fist bump on the pitch. The two opened Nepal's chase against Hong Kong. Photo credit: Asian Cricket Council

Appealing, flopping, framing – three parallel tactics used in cricket, basketball and baseball.

Each of the three, to their own degree, can manipulate officiating decisions and help a team gain strategic advantages.

And on Sunday at the Oman Cricket Academy ground, on-field umpire Abdul Jabbar heard an unending chorus of appeals from Nepali fielders.

Right-arm fast bowlers Karan KC and Sompal Kami, Nepal’s opening bowlers, erupted in appeal, asking questions after almost every ball they bowled, and although it only led to one wicket – when the former dismissed opener Martin Coetzee – Nepal’s vitality and animation characterised its entire thumping over Hong Kong.

The united cries and applauds heard throughout the field injected the team with heightened energy, each player fighting for and alongside one another.

“They (Nepal) are a happy bunch rallying around each other and growing in each other’s success,” the commentators said. “A very positive dugout, and that’s the greatest mantra.”

And this camaraderie ushered in the spoils of conquest.

In the sixth over of Hong Kong’s innings, captain Nizakat Khan exited his crease and drove the ball to Dipendra Singh Airee at cover. Airee stooped, keeping his eyes cemented to the stumps, pounced on the ball and in a blur of motion unleashed a bullet-like throw.

Snap, snap. Down went Nizakat’s bails.

Airee – who most recently joined Yuvraj Singh and Kieron Pollard as the only three to ever smash six sixes in a T20I over – manifested his panther-like agility and razor-sharp precision with a direct hit to see off Hong Kong’s batsman in form and proved his stature as a world-class fielder as well as batter.

After the Powerplay, Hong Kong was reeling at 38/2. But its true trials were yet to unfold.

Two wicket-less overs progressed – the longest such stretch for the rest of the innings.

Airee’s bullseye strike quickly etched itself into cricket history books – but Nepal unleashed a close second just 2.4 overs later. Anshuman Rath leaned back to punch a ball down backward square leg – where Gulsan Jha met the leather and pitched his own thunderbolt from a 50-yard distance. In Nepal’s second such act of the affair, Jha disassembled Rath’s wickets and the left-hand batsman was back in the dugout for 34 (26).

From there, Hong Kong’s narrative mirrored a familiar script – disintegration ensued after its top order crumbled.

Lalit Rajbanshi outfoxed Babar Hayat just before the 10-over mark, at which stage Hong Kong tallied 70 runs with six wickets in hand. At the start of the 12th over, the left-arm off-spinner claimed his second victim, Aizaz Khan. A doubtlessly plumb delivery triggered Rajbanshi to lift his thumb, index and pinky fingers – denoting a rhino, his trademark celebration.

Hong Kong and Nepal competed in a shortened 18-over bout due to rain. After Aizaz’s ousting, Hong Kong failed to make it fully to the 18-over mark, accumulating just 36 runs alongside five wickets to finish all out.

Nepal’s start with the ball – characterized above as vivacious and cheery – was markedly different to Hong Kong’s. In the first ball of the second over, Aasif Sheikh and Kushal Bhurtel managed to turn what initially looked like a single run into a swift two.

“There you are, one ball sums up the difference between the two teams,” the commentators announced. “That in the first innings would’ve been a single that would’ve been jogged. Turning ones into twos in T20 cricket – it’s massive.”

Perhaps it was dejection carried forward from a sub-par batting effort. But whatever it was, lackluster effort from the field permitted Nepal to blast 72 runs – for just one loss – after the powerplay.

And after Ehsan Khan muted Nepal in the seventh over with the expulsion of Aasif Sheikh, the men in red prohibited any further hiccups.

Sundeep Jora and skipper Rohit Paudel, in a steady 5.3-over partnership, steered Nepal to a convincing defeat of Hong Kong, reaching their grail in 12.2 overs to declare a eight-wicket, grand-slam victory.

With the loss, Nepal has cemented its spot at No.1 in the Group A standings, and forced Hong Kong to beat Malaysia in 14.3 over – or by a margin around 40-50 runs – in Wednesday’s contest.

Essentially, Nepal’s vigor continued unabated from start to finish.

“Nepal cricket is the flavor of Associate and international cricket in the coming years. You’ve got to watch out for them, they’ve made rapid strides, they’ve climbed the ladder, earned the ranks and they’ve deserved this position.”

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