Nepal clinch a dramatic DLS victory to seal Cricket World Cup qualifier spot

What a game! And What a finish to the Cricket World Cup League 2 competition!

The sold-out crowd at the Tribhuvan University International Cricket Ground were treated to a dramatic and controversial CWCL2 finale as Nepal eked out a narrow nine run DLS victory in fading light to break UAE hearts.

The result determined the third and fourth finishing spots of the competition, sending Nepal to the Cricket World Cup Qualifier, and consigning Namibia to the Qualifier Playoff.

Nepal with a victory for the ages

Set 311 for a win and a direct spot in the ODI World Cup qualifier, Nepal were rocked by the early wickets of Aasif Sheikh and Kushal Malla in the first two overs. Captain Rohit Paudel was also unable to repeat his batting heroics from four days ago, falling victim to a Aayan Afzal Khan delivery, with the score on 37.

UAE had the opportunity to put further pressure on Nepal but sloppy fielding saw Kushal Bhurtel dropped off the Hazrat Bilal’s bowling with the score at 56/3. The stylish Bhurtel immediately made the Emiratis pay with a four off the next ball and two sixes in the next Aryan Lakra over. He notched up his half century of 32 balls before falling victim to UAE’s attack leader Junaid Siddique, edging behind to the wicket-keeper.

Bhim Sharki and Aarif Sheikh then steadied the chase by picking up regular singles and the occasional boundary to keep the required run rate in check. The duo batted intelligently, benefiting from more sloppy fielding, combining for a 83 run partnership before Siddique once again secured the crucial breakthrough, trapping Sharki lbw for a well made 67.

Another 44 run partnership between Sheikh and Gulshan Jha kept Nepal in the game but with the required run rate going up, Sheikh went for one big shot too many, holing out to Aravind at deep mid on. More drama followed as Bilal hobbled off injured and Jha belted captain Waseem’s solitary over for twenty runs, hitting one six and three fours in the 42nd over.

Two overs later, the game finished in dramatic and controversial circumstances with umpires calling the game off due to bad light, much to the protestations of Waseem and other UAE players. With Nepal ahead by nine runs on DLS at 269/6 in 44 overs, it handed the Nepalis a dramatic victory and sent the home crowd into a delirium. The victory secured Nepal’s passage to the 2023 Cricket World Cup qualifier, due to be held in Zimbabwe in June and July.

UAE’s whirlwind finish to the innings

Earlier, Muhammad Waseem had elected to bat after winning the toss for the Emiratis, intending to put pressure on the hosts by setting a strong target. The opener then silenced the Tribhuvan University Ground early, hitting a swag of boundaries.

At the other end though, Nepal made their first breakthrough through Lalit Rajbanshi, dismissing Aryan Lakra for just six, bowled playing down the wrong line.

Vriitya Aravind accompanied Waseem, though the latter was eventually brought undone lbw by Sandeep Lamichhane for a spirited 63 off 49 balls, the leg-spinner’s 99th ODI wicket. The wicket turned the tide back towards the hosts, and they looked to turn the screws with a run out of CP Rizwan and a cheap dismissal of Aayan Afzal Khan.

UAE vs Nepal at Kirtipur, Cricket World Cup League 2, 16th March 2023 (Photo: ICC)

At 128/4 after 26.1 overs, the task fell to Aravind and Rohan Mustafa to rebuild UAE’s innings and set up a respectable score. Together the duo made slow and steady progress, before Mustafa (20) fell lbw to Dipendra Singh Airee’s off spinners. What followed was an extraordinary game changing 135 run partnership between Aravind and Asif Khan, of which Asif contributed an astonishing 101 runs off just 42 balls.

Asif Khan broke Kevin O’Brien’s 12 year record to become the fastest Associate ODI centurion (Photo: ICC)

The 33-year-old right hander went berserk from the 46th over mark; unleashing a flurry of powerful hits to propel UAE to a score of 310/6. A total of 89 runs came off the last five overs; the Nepali death bowling came in for heavy punishment, particularly Lamichhane who was smashed for four consecutive sixes in the 49th over.

Asif’s century of 41 balls made him the proud new record holder of the fastest ODI hundred by an Associate player (beating Kevin O’Brien’s previous record of 50 balls), as well as the fourth fastest ODI centurion. It was an amazing achievement for the Lahore born former Pakistan Under-19s player, considering his mediocre ODI record and a paltry strike rate of 64.25, prior to this game. His partner Aravind finished on 94 off 138 balls; out on the last ball of the innings.

UAE’s sloppy fielding gives the game away

Asif Khan’s whirlwind and record breaking innings seemed to have put the game beyond Nepal’s grasp. With 102 runs conceded of the last six overs, it left the Nepalis ruing their poor death bowling which allowed UAE to post a daunting score.

Ultimately, it was UAE’s sloppy fielding which proved to be the difference. They did not help themselves on the field with a shocking fielding display which saw three easy catches dropped and an additional three run out opportunities missed Jha alone survived three run out chances, with UAE also dropping Sheikh, Sharki and Bhurtel at various stages in the match. Jha made the most of his opportunities to rack up a half century off 48 balls, which pushed Nepal above the DLS score and cost UAE the game.

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