Nepal demolished the Netherlands in the final of the Tri-Nations T20I series in Kathmandu yesterday. It is the first time that Nepal have won an international tournament on home soil for more than a decade.
Few would have expected the 142-run margin of victory, particularly after a week in which the Dutch have scored heavily, including by chasing down 206 runs against Nepal. But a now-typically clinical batting performance from Nepal, coupled with a sub-par batting and bowling performance from the young Dutch side ensured the result.
Dutch cricket aficionados may be quick to remind us that this was far from a full-strength side. In fact, it is a credit to the depth of talent in Netherlands cricket, that they competed so strongly in foreign conditions all week. Yes, Paras Khadka was also unavailable for Nepal. But they clearly did not need him.
Nepal made one change, bringing in Abinash Bohara in place of spinner Sushan Bhari. The impressive Kamal Singh Airee retained his place after picking three wickets on debut against Malaysia. The hosts’ four-pronged seam attack was perhaps a ploy to counter the small boundaries and strong winds, according to Sharad Vesawkar. Netherlands made three changes to their team, with O’Dowd, Edwards, and leg-spinner Boissevain replacing Singh, De Mey, and Dutt.
Pieter Seelaar won the toss and elected to bowl on what looked like a flat deck at the TU International Cricket Ground. Nepal’s opening pair started confidently, as they have all week. Aasif Sheikh swivelled and pulled Van Meekeren for six behind square in the fourth ball of the innings. Both Sheikh and Bhurtel then took 21 runs off Kingma’s first over, setting the tone for the rest of innings.
Seelaar turned to 20-year old Boissevain in the third over. The leg-spinner, operating with a ‘deep-square-leg’ and ‘long-off’ for protection, executed what appeared to be a well-laid plan perfectly. A full, fizzing, dipping leg-break outside off tempted Sheikh to go for a big six over long-off. But he didn’t quite get to the pitch of the turning ball and managed a thick top edge. Van Meekeren sprinted from long-on to take one of the catches of the tournament.
This was probably the high point of the innings and game for the Dutch. Captain Malla and Bhurtel negotiated the next seven overs comfortably, going at a run-rate of just under ten. When Malla fell to Boissevain with the score on 87 in the 10th over, the stage was set for another big finish.
And it was bigger than anyone expected, at times feeling like a highlights reel of big hits. The next ten overs yielded almost 150 runs, the last twenty balls going for 75 runs. Bhurtel (77 off 53 balls) hit his fourth fifty of the tournament, and Kushal Malla (50* off 24 balls) became the youngest player to score a T20I fifty, adding to his ODI record.
Nepal clobbered an astounding 19 fours and 15 sixes in their innings, and not a single batter had a strike-rate below 145. A far cry from the batting struggles of yesteryear. And to think Karan KC did not even bat!
Seelaar, who only bowled two overs for 14 runs, was the most impressive of the bowlers. Beyond him and Boissevain, the rest of the attack was much too predictable and inconsistent. The four quicks went for an economy-rate of ten or more. 14 extras did not help either.
Left with the herculean task of chasing 239 at almost 12 an over, the Dutch capitulated quickly under pressure from a disciplined home side. Nepal’s batting marauders, Sheikh and Bhurtel, turned fielding marauders, running out Visee and Bas De Leede respectively with direct hits. Star bat Ben Cooper and erstwhile centurion Max O’Dowd also fell inside the first six overs. At 36/4, the writing was on the wall.
The tournament’s leading wicket-taker, Sandeep Lamichhane came on after the power play to account for Scott Edwards, and Karan KC accounted for Seelaar. Sebastiaan Braat played a brave hand to take Netherlands close to 100, and a semblance of respectability.
Karan KC was awarded Man-Of-The-Match for a probing spell of seam bowling (3-11), in which he mixed up lines, lengths, and pace to perfection. Unsurprisingly Kushal Bhurtel was awarded Man-Of-The-Series for scoring 278 runs at an average of 69.50, more than a hundred runs ahead of Max O’Dowd (172 runs at an average of 57.22).
Off the field, there was nothing but mutual respect, camaraderie, and genuine happiness at the passage of a historic, positive week in Associate cricket. Emerging Cricket‘s Nepal correspondent, Dipesh Pandit was at the forefront, presenting Dutch captain Seelaar with a traditional ‘Dhaki topi and Khukuri cross.’ Emerging Cricket Ambassador Seelaar obliged and in turn presented Pandit with a Dutch playing shirt.
One for the ages!
For three teams from different corners of the globe to come together in a COVID-safe manner; for them to play tough, competitive, high-quality T20I cricket across a week; and for fans in Nepal and around the world to have access to and embrace it: this is an unbridled win for cricket’s growth!
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