On the 29th of March 2014, Kushal Bhurtel posted a Facebook status that read, ‘Yahoo!!!! Got selected for the district senior team, very happy. Still need to work hard and reach the national cricket team’. He was just 17 years old then, with utmost passion in puing a career in this beautiful game with the full determination of playing at the highest level.
Seven years after he posted this on to his virtual ‘wall’, it went viral in Nepalese social media as he finally made his debut in Nepal’s senior national team, against the Netherlands, on Saturday. On Saturday, Bhurtel did not just have his international debut, in fact, he played one of the finest innings that Nepal cricket fans shall remember for years to come.
Just a day before they started this most awaited home T20I series, Nepal received a huge blow as their cricketing hero, the former captain Paras Khadka confirmed his shoulder injury via social media and his unavailability for the entire series. His absence raised doubts upon his potential replacement for the tournament as there were none as good as Paras, for Nepal. Young cricketer Sandeep Jora was given a place in the squad. The absence of Paras also resulted in a change in the opening pair of Nepal than what it was actually planned to be.
Nepal saw two youngsters Kushal Bhurtel and Aasif Sheikh as the openers and skipper Gyanendra Malla took over his responsibility stepping a position down the order to play at number 3. Since Nepal starting playing men’s T20 International matches in 2014, Nepalese fans and stakeholders always wished for stability in the opening pair and wanted a fearless approach to capitalise on their full potential in the powerplay.
The two youthful debutants Kushal and Aasif did exactly what everyone wished from the Nepalese openers. They added a record-breaking partnership of 116 runs for Nepal in T20Is and the defensive approaches in the past were curtailed by the ‘high risks higher the reward’ strategy getting into play. And it seemed, the strategy paid off very well.
Of course, the approach was risky as Nepal almost lost Kushal Bhurtel for a duck, had Vivian Kingma not overstepped on the third ball of the second innings. But the rewards were high as Bhurtel started dealing the runs in higher currencies, later after that No-ball. The free hit ball, Kingma bowled a full toss outside the off stump and Bhurtel punished it for four towards the point. He opened the innings for both, the team and himself.
On the opponent’s side, Aryan Dutt, the 17-year-old was having his debut for the Oranjes. Bhurtel tried to dominate him right from the first as he sailed the ball towards the long-on, into the crowd, for a six. NEPAAAL!!! NEPAAL!!! Thousands of spectators roared then. The pressure for the debutant rose afresh as Bhurtel glided his fourth ball over the fence for another six and Aasif, a four in the last ball towards the fine leg.
Bhurtel even assaulted Paul van Meekeran who was three wickets away from his half-century milestone in T20Is. From the fifth ball of the third over, Bhurtel, making some room for himself, slammed a flat six over the point and the last ball, he flicked the ball towards the deep square leg adding four runs on the board.
The cheer from almost ten thousand fans in the TU Ground went crazy as it would always be. Also, the crowd did not forget showering love to Paras Khadka chanting ‘Paras dai, We miss you’, ‘Paras dai, We miss you’ during the opener of this most awaited T20I Tri-Series. At the end of the powerplay, the openers-duo took the score to 66 chasing 137 runs. Bhurtel raced to his maiden T20I half-century scoring 44 off 24 while Aasif was rotating the strike well scoring 14 off 13. Aasif made sure that he provided Kushal – who was connecting with the ball exquisitely – as much strike as possible.
The confidence and stroke play of Kushal Bhurtel betrayed the fact he was in his debut game in front of the thousands of roaring home fans. He was hitting the balls in his zones and respecting the bowlers on their good balls. He was exactly doing what an ideal opener needed to in the T20 format of the game.
On the last ball of the eighth over, Kushal sprinted for a run which went towards short third, reaching his half-century in his senior T20I debut. As he raised his bat, thousands of fans from the crowd along with the entire team in the dugout stood up from their place to celebrate one of the fearless, and finest innings from a young and an opening debutant.
After 10 overs, Nepal who was chasing a target of 137 were 93 for 0, Bhurtel 59(40), and Aasif 26(21). As Bhurtel completed his half-century, Aasif started changing gear. The first ball of the eleventh over bowled by Julian de Mey, Aasif smashed it over long-on for a six. He got lucky on the next ball as his catch got dropped by opposing captain Pieter Seelaar, who was positioned at extra cover.
The opening duo put on 100 runs from 10.3 overs as they marched to break the highest T20I opening partnership record of 108 runs for Nepal, of Paras Khadka, and Gyanendra Malla. Next over, Aasif crunched two boundaries off Paul Van Meekeren, one into the deep fine leg and next towards the mid-wicket racing towards his half-century. Nepal’s record for the highest opening partnership in T20I was broken.
On the third ball of thirteenth over, the flighted delivery off fellow debutant de Mey that pitched middle at the good length found a leading-edge off Bhurtel’s bat. It was an easy catch for the Dutch skipper Pieter Seelaar and it was the end of the fascinating story for debutant Kushal Bhurtel. On his magnificent innings of 62 off 46 on debut, five each of the fours and sixes were included.
As soon as his departure towards the pavilion, his Facebook status which was updated seven years ago, became a ‘mantra’ for every Nepalese cricket fan. After the Kushal’s return, Aasif 42(30) took the charge and flicked Boissevain’s ball that pitched leg towards a deep square leg for a four. His half-century came off in style striking the flighted delivery over the mid-wicket for a six.
Aasif completed his half-century off 36 balls, on the fourth ball of the thirteenth over as Nepal’s score turned 127/1 needing ten runs to win off 38 balls. Kushal and Aasif had their dream T20I debut playing two of the finest innings in Nepalese T20I. Skipper Gyanendra Malla smashed the final ball of De Mey’s spell, straight down the ground for a six, finishing the match before 30 balls and winning by nine wickets.
In the first innings, Bas De Leede scored 41 off 49, Scott Edwards 30 off 32, and Pieter Seelaar and Staal remained not out on 23 and 20 respectively. Nepalese bowlers bowled very well, hitting the decks perfectly while restricting the Dutch sides for 136/5 at 20 overs.
Except for debutante Shahab Alam who ended his spell 1-45, Sandeep Lamichhane picked 2-22 while Karan KC 1-13, Sompal Kami 0-22, and Abinash Bohara 0-26 had their good day. But despite all efforts, all records or anything the debutantes Kushal Bhurtel and Aasif Sheikh were the highlights of the show with Kushal Bhurtel receiving his man of the match award on his dream debut.
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