Jha-sterstroke: inspired decision the catalyst in Nepal Asia Cup berth

A tactical masterstroke by Nepal has helped them to an ACC Premier Cup victory, and a spot with India and Pakistan at the Asia Cup.

Nepal will meet Pakistan and India at the Asia Cup later in the year thanks to a seven-wicket ACC Premier Cup final victory over UAE in Kathmandu.

Rohit Paudel’s men claimed victory on Tuesday’s final reserve day, thanks in no small part to a flurry of Gulshan Jha, sent up the order by the skipper and coach Monty Desai to counter UAE’s spin threats, and chase down the target of 118.

After stemming the flow of wickets alongside Bhim Sharki, Jha countered with a number of expansive shots down the ground to put the result beyond doubt. His winning runs, a paddle around the corner, meant he finished with 67* in an unbeaten fourth-wicket stand of 96 with Sharki, who finished on 36*.

Rain forced a postponement early on Monday, with UAE reeling at 106/9 thanks to wickets on consecutive deliveries from Lalit Rajbanshi before covers were rushed on to the Tribhuvan University Ground.

The left-arm orthodox spinner missed a chance at taking a never-before-seen hat-trick over two days of a One Day International, though did pick up the final wicket of Junaid Siddique to quash any idea of a UAE batting comeback. Rajbanshi finished with 4/14 from 7.1 overs, with leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichhane taking 2/34 at the other end.

UAE kept their quicks in the holster, instead turning to their spinners, with Rohan Mustafa and 17-year-old Aayan Khan doing the early damage and asking questions of their own. Mustafa claimed Kushal Bhurtel for one as Aayan followed with the wicket of Aasif Sheikh soon after, and Nepal slumped to 22/3 with Rohit Paudel chopping on for just one.

Jha watched wickets two and three at the other end and was measured in his response, though used his long stride and arms to great effect, jumping on overpitched deliveries. He pounced on Karthik Meiyappan missing his lengths, hitting the leg-spinner for 14 runs in the space of just three balls to swing momentum. At one point, a drinks break was called with the ball lost in the crowd packed on the midwicket hill.

The boundaries eased the pressure on the batting side, and turned the volume up on the crowd who had simmered, perhaps a little nervous after the three early wickets lost. The nerves turned into delirium soon after, as Sharki joined Jha in the push to victory.

Zahoor Khan was deployed in a last-ditch effort, though the batting pair sailed to the target to make a dream come true. Jha raised his bat for fifty before launching Aayan for a six down the ground to level the scores, ending proceedings with the next ball, paddling the next ball behind square on the leg-side. Bhim ended up on 36*, and the pair finished with an unbeaten 96-run partnership.

Nepal will take the last spot in Group A, alongside India and Pakistan, with the Asia Cup slated for September.

As the top three place-getters at the Premier Cup, Nepal, UAE and Oman will also feature in the ACC Emerging Teams Asia Cup in July, where they will take on ‘A’ Teams of five Full Members in the region.

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