Nepal made short work of Hong Kong (in the finals) and Malaysia (in the semi-finals) to win the ACC U-19 Eastern Region Tournament in Kuala Lumpur earlier this week and land the last coveted place in the ACC U-19 Asia Cup to be held in Sri Lanka in August/September.
Nepal looked untroubled throughout the tournament. Their spinners dominated every side they came up against, taking 29 wickets in four games. Sagar Dhakal snared 15 of those wickets and for it was named Player of the Tournament. Batting first against Singapore, Rit Gautam hit the tournament’s only ton also guiding Nepal to the tournament’s sole 300+ score.
Runners-up Hong Kong had a successful tournament after a poor ICC U-19 World Cup Qualifiers campaign where they could not make it out of Division 2.
They showed great composure in a three run victory against Malaysia and then demonstrated all-round superiority in a 51 run (D/L) win over Singapore in the semi-finals. In Nasrulla Rana, they appear to have an opener who can hit big from the get go. He may be the darkest of dark-horse selections for the ICC T20 World Cup Qualifier later this year. Captain Adit Gorawara also looks a steady middle order batsman.
What of the rest?
Singapore is always a competitive side, but had limited little opportunity to prove it in this tournament. They played two very different opponents in the group stages and found themselves somewhere in the middle. A truncated semi-final meant an abrupt and likely underwhelming end to the first U-19 tournament for a lot of their squad.
Malaysia’s tournament was anything but underwhelming. They found themselves on opposite ends of two close finishes against Thailand and Hong Kong, and ultimately succumbed meekly to Nepal in their semi-final. Three calamitous batting collapses in four matches is a thing of worry, but it also brought out a fighting spirit that ultimately produced some superlative performances under pressure. Muhammad Amir who batted at three and opened the bowling with his left-arm orthodox spinners looks to be a versatile player who can develop into a solid all-rounder. Vijay Unni also deserves credit for his all-round abilities and captaincy under pressure.
Both Thailand and Bhutan exceeded expectations in this tournament, although neither upset the apple cart. Thailand was more than capable with the ball and excellent in the field, but their inexperience against top-quality bowling under pressure showed against Malaysia and Hong Kong. Bhutan’s resolute batting performance with the bat against Hong Kong was also commendable for a side without access to turf wickets.
For China, another tough tournament that raises more questions than answers about the pace and development strategy being employed across the country and the government’s desire to grow the sport translating into results on the field. More to be analysed and understood in this area no doubt.
One point to make note of is the fact that the group structure, coupled with the absence of play-off matches, and Myanmar’s last minute withdrawal meant the maximum number of matches played was five, and that teams like China left Malaysia with not much more than a day’s worth of cricket under their belt. Indeed Singapore filled the rest day they gained from Myanmar’s withdrawal with a 30 over practice match against Bukit Jalil Sports School.
One thought is perhaps to introduce play-off matches, or league-style tournaments, especially if there are fewer than eight competing teams.