Worth the wait, but more to come: Nepal at the Asia Cup

Nepal and India shake hands after their Asia Cup clash (Getty)

It may have ended without a victory, though Nepal grabbed attention despite suffering defeats to two Asian powerhouses.

Their debut Asia Cup campaign kicked off with a massive 238-run defeat at the hands of the host nation, Pakistan, in Multan. However, when Nepal finished their first innings against India, the Pakistan pacers’ earlier dominance was overshadowed by the excitement. Fans had already forgotten about it.

Nepal put up a competitive total of 230 runs while batting first against India. Kushal Bhurtel, with his explosive start, promised something special. He smashed 3 fours and 2 sixes (both hook shots) in his brisk 25-ball 38 before being caught behind by Shardul Thakur. Nepal raced to 65-1 within the initial 10 overs.

Unfortunately, Nepal couldn’t fully capitalise on the solid foundation laid by their openers. The middle-order trio of Bhim Sharki (7), Rohit Paudel (5), and Kushal Malla (2) all fell cheaply, with opener Asif Sheikh holding the innings together until he was outfoxed by Siraj’s slower delivery at 132.

Nepal managed to add another 98 runs before being bowled out for 230 in 48.2 overs. Sompal Kami played a crucial role with a captivating 48 off 56 balls, including one four and two sixes. Young all-rounders Gulshan Jha and Dipendra Airee also made valuable contributions with 23 and 29 runs, respectively. Nepal ultimately fell short by 15-20 runs as the last three wickets tumbled quickly after Sompal’s dismissal, but their performance earned praise from fans, not just in Nepal.

Despite the threat of rain disrupting the match, India defeated Nepal by 10 wickets after a revised target of 145 was set in 23 overs. Although Karan KC troubled the Indian captain in his first over, it wasn’t enough to take a wicket. Lamichhane, who nearly had Sharma caught at deep mid-wicket, conceded 39 runs in his four overs.

The atmosphere in Nepal was festive. Arna Beer, a local beverage company, had announced a reward of Rs 1 lakh (Nepali rupees) for each six hit and every wicket taken by Nepal’s batsmen, along with Rs 25 thousand for every four hit. Several municipalities had even declared a half-day holiday to watch the match. Given India’s status as a cricket powerhouse and a neighbouring country, the match held significant historical importance, as it marked Nepal’s first match against the Indian senior cricket team. People had eagerly awaited this match for a long time.

What happened against Pakistan?

Nepal made an impressive start against the hosts in the tournament’s opening match. They had Pakistan at 25-2 in the seventh over, including a fantastic run-out by skipper Rohit Paudel. Nepal’s disciplined bowling kept Pakistan from scoring freely, and the top-ranked team was only at 139-4 after 30 overs, raising hopes of restricting them to below 300.

However, events took a different turn after the 30-over mark. The partnership of Babar Azam and Iftikhar Ahmed displayed their class and experience, while Nepal’s death bowling struggles became evident in the remaining 20 overs. Pakistan amassed 342/6, scoring over 200 runs in the final 20 overs, as Nepali bowlers struggled with their line and length.

The story didn’t end there. Pakistan’s pacers then dismantled Nepal for just 104 runs. Yet, there is a hidden narrative in that total. Sompal Kami, who batted at number 5, formed a solid 59-run partnership with Aarif Sheikh. Just when things were looking promising for Nepal, Aarif Sheikh’s dismissal triggered a collapse. Nepal, who were relatively comfortable at 74-3, suddenly found themselves bowled out for a mere 104 runs in just 9 overs.

Despite the margin of defeat in both matches, Nepal had their moments. They showcased glimpses of their potential in both batting and bowling against both teams. While the scorecard against Pakistan may suggest a one-sided contest, those who watched the match would argue otherwise. The first-ever Asia Cup was truly memorable, and the long wait for those matches was entirely justified.

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