Van der Merwe has the last word

What had for the most part been an unremitting slugfest at the Tribhuvan University ground on Wednesday was redeemed by a final over of quite remarkable tension, as Roelof van der Merwe had the final word for the bowlers and earned the Netherlands a two-run victory over Nepal.

No fewer than 33 fours and ten sixes had already been struck and nine of the twelve bowlers used had gone for northwards of nine an over as Dipendra Singh Airee, on 52 from 30 deliveries, prepared to face the left-armer’s final six with 14 needed for a remarkable Nepalese victory.

He drove the first for four to the extra cover boundary, and sliced the next for a six in the same direction, and the home crowd celebrated with just four more required.

The next went straighter, to Timm van der Gugten in the deep, and a smart return beat Karan KC home as he pushed for a second in order to keep Airee on strike.

That one run made it three from three with Airee still in business, but he danced down the wicket to the fourth ball looking to hit the winning blow through the leg side, missed and was bowled for an outstanding 63, bringing Pratis GC to the crease with three still required.

But the wily Van der Merwe was equal to the occasion, and a dot and a leg-bye were the best Pratis could conjure, giving the Dutch what had become an improbable win.

Earlier, they had put themselves in an apparently strong position with the bat, running up an imposing 184 for four, thanks to Michael Levitt’s 36-ball 54 before he was stumped chasing a Kushal Malla wide, Sybrand Engelbrecht’s unbeaten 49 from 38 deliveries, and brisk knocks of 33 from Scott Edwards and 31 from Teja Nidamanuru, both of whom were run out by smart fielding from Airee and Sundeep Jora respectively.

Airee was the unquestionable pick of the Nepalese bowlers, his four overs going for just 20 runs, but everyone else in the home side’s attack suffered in the onslaught.

Although danger-man Kushal Bhurtel fell in Viv Kingma’s opening over, caught by Edwards for a duck, Aasif Sheikh and skipper Rohit Paudel were undaunted by the challenge, putting on 65 for the second wicket from 47 deliveries, and at the halfway point Nepal were on 81 for two.

Engelbrecht swung things back the Netherlands’ way by removing Malla and Paudel in the same over, Paudel’s 50 having come from 36 balls, and now it was Airee who took over the pursuit, despite the loss of two more wickets at the other end.

With four overs left the asking rate had crept up above 14 an over, but with great support from Karan KC, Airee continued to punish the bowlers, reaching his half-century from just 28 balls and setting up that dramatic final over.

It was a match which illustrated the strengths and weaknesses of the T20 format: powerful, sometimes creative hitting, impassioned fielding and tremendous crowd involvement on the one hand, but on the other, when even mishits fly for six and the bowlers are reduced to little more than bowling machines you have to ask whether the balance in favour of the batters has not reached a point where the contest between bat and ball which is the point of the game has not been eliminated almost entirely.

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