South Africa narrowly avoids one of the greatest upsets in T20 World Cup history

Gulshan Jha and Sompal Kami in despair as South Africa pull off a stunning one run win in the final over (Photo: ICC)
Gulshan Jha and Sompal Kami in despair as South Africa pull off a stunning one run win in the final over (Photo: ICC)

In an intense, nail-biting match, South Africa narrowly secured a 1-run victory over Nepal, snatching triumph from the jaws of defeat. This was another thrilling performance by the Proteas, finishing off their group stage with four wins out of four. On the other hand, Nepal, who were comfortably in the driver’s seat, squandered an easy win and a first ever victory against a Test-playing nation.

In Nepal’s first ever meeting with the South African senior side, captain Rohit Paudel won the toss and elected to bowl first. The Proteas had their best start of the tournament, scoring 38 runs in the first powerplay while losing only a single wicket, that of Quinton de Kock. However, they couldn’t capitalise on their good start with the Nepali spinners taking control of the game through disciplined bowling. Nepal’s spin maestro, Sandeep Lamichhane put a tight brake on the runs, conceding just four runs from his first two overs. The Proteas batters kept losing wickets from the other end.

In the end, South Africa could only manage 115 runs from their 20 overs. Kushal Bhurtel registered the best figures for a Nepali bowler in a World Cup, 4-0-19-4. Dipendra Singh Airee also added 3 wickets to his name conceding just 21 runs. Reeza Hendricks was the top scorer for the Proteas, scoring 43 runs off 49 balls, while Tristan Stubbs’ 27 runs off 18 balls added some much needed impetus at the end to push the score over 110.

Nepal could have restricted South Africa to a lower score, but sloppy fielding and dropped catches potentially gave away an extra 10 runs.

Nepal choke with victory in sight

In response, Nepal had a good batting powerplay, scoring 32 runs without losing a wicket. However, player of the match, Tabraiz Shamsi picked up two wickets in the eight over to bring the Proteas roaring back into the contest. Aasif Sheikh, who was dropped by Kagiso Rabada in the second over of the chase, top-scored for Nepal with 42 runs off 49 balls. He had a brilliant 50-run partnership with Anil Sah off 35 balls.

It was Nepal’s game to lose as they needed 34 runs off 42 balls with 8 wickets in hand. However, they couldn’t handle the pressure, resulting in a heart wrenching defeat. Shamsi picked up another two crucial wickets in the 18th over, those of power hitter Airee (6) and set batter Sheikh. Airee was dismissed gloving a catch to De Kock in an attempted sweep shot, while Sheikh was beaten by the turn to be clean bowled. These breakthroughs were the turning point of the game.

With 16 runs needed off the last two overs, Anrich Nortje bowled brilliantly in the penultimate over, conceding no runs in the first four balls and taking the wicket of dangerous batter Malla. Nepal’s most experienced player, Sompal Kami, then hit a six and followed it with a couple of runs off the last two balls, bringing Nepal closer to a historic victory.

In the final over, the equation was 8 runs required off 6 balls, with new batter Gulshan Jha on strike. Ottneil Baartman, who has been a revelation in the SA20 league for the last two years, bowled a couple of brilliant dot balls to make it 8 runs needed from 4 balls. Jha then struck a boundary followed by a double off the third and fourth ball, reducing the equation to 2 runs off 2 balls. However, the wily Baartman held his nerve and executed brilliantly in the final moments, bowling two consecutive bouncers to Jha who couldn’t connect on both occasions.

The batters attempted a bye off the last ball to send the game to a super over. But nervous running meant that Jha was caught short of the crease. De Kock’s throw hit him on the back and was fortuitously deflected straight to Heinrich Klaasen. Jha, momentarily distracted by the impact, turned back to locate the ball. In a split-second decision, Klaasen swiftly threw the ball towards the stumps, hitting them accurately with the batter caught inches short of the crease. This ended Nepal’s hopes and clinched a narrow victory for South Africa.

This loss will surely hurt Team Nepal and their fans. At one point, it seemed like the game would never reach the final overs. This win would have kept their hopes alive for the Super Eight and marked their first victory against a Test-playing nation. However, the more experienced South Africans held their nerves and avoided what would have been the greatest upset in T20 World Cup history.

Nepal still has their final game against Bangladesh on the 17th of June, where they will be playing for pride. Meanwhile, Bangladesh needs a win to secure their place in the Super Eight. This will be another exciting contest to watch out for.

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