by Alan Gardner in Chittagong (ESPN): For the first time in five years, an Associate nation has won a game at the World T20. Okay, so that was a given, as Hong Kong and Nepal contested the maiden encounter between two second-tier sides in the tournament’s history, but Nepal’s achievement, on their World T20 debut, was no less memorable for that.
Paras Khadka, Nepal’s statesmanlike captain and the man who has been so visible in their remarkable rise through the echelons of world cricket, struck a belligerent 41 and Gyanendra Malla 48 to set up a resounding 80-run win. Hong Kong, bristling with confidence before the game, crumbled in pursuit of 150, dismissed with three overs left unbowled as only three batsmen made double figures. Playing in front of the TV cameras, if not a packed-out stadium, perhaps exacerbated their nerves.
Having worked hard to get back into the match after an 80-run stand between Khadka and Malla, Hong Kong slipped quickly back into the red by losing two wickets in the first two overs. Babar Hayat and Waqas Barkat got through the Powerplay before Shakti Gauchan claimed the first of his three wickets and when Mark Chapman was bowled by Basant Regmi – the first of two in two balls for Nepal’s slow left-armer – it precipitated a calamitous collapse.
Gauchan struck twice in the next over, rattling the stumps for the fourth time in a row, and charged off with his arm pointing to the sky in celebration. This was a night on which Nepal’s passion for cricket was given rich reward.
Khadka had said before the match that the challenge would be for his players to control their emotions and not let the excitement of playing at a global ICC tournament for the first time overwhelm them. That a number of full-blooded mows were dropped – Hong Kong put down at least three clear chances – or did not go to hand suggests they were only partially successful in that aim but their vim was much appreciated by a partisan crowd, the vocal majority of which seemed to be Nepali.
It was at the 2009 tournament, when Ireland overcame Bangladesh, that an Associate last experienced victory at the ICC’s global T20 showpiece. Hong Kong had hinted at their own giant-killing credentials during warm-up wins over Zimbabwe and Netherlands but here was a foe of similar proportions – and one that had beaten them twice previously, including at the World T20 Qualifier last year when Nepal clinched their place in Bangladesh.
Jamie Atkinson, who won the toss, inserted Nepal, hoping for his bowlers to inflict psychological blows on a Nepal team bowled out for 95 by UAE earlier in the week. The possibility of dew making the ball harder to grip later in the evening may also have played a part in his thinking but, by then, there was no chance of Nepal letting go.
With chants of “Nepal! Nepal!” ringing out from one side of the ground and the fielding restrictions in place, openers Subash Khakurel and Sagar Pun began making merry. Khakurel on-drove the first boundary of the match from the fifth ball and Pun then tucked into Najeeb Amar’s first over, twice lofting the spinner down the ground.
Having changed ends, former Pakistan U-19 seamer Haseeb Amjad, had Pun caught at extra cover, again trying to carve the ball to the boundary, ending a stand of 36 in the fifth over. Khakurel followed three deliveries later, trying and failing to clear the ring at mid-on, giving Hong Kong’s attack something of a handle on proceedings for the first time.
A lull ensued, as seamers Aizaz Khan and Irfan Ahmed bowled with discipline, but Khadka struck the first boundary in five overs when the left-armer Najeeb returned. Next delivery, Khadka chipped the ball down straight down the throat of long-on only for Tanwir Afzal to drop a clanger. The 42-year-old Najeeb, who came out of retirement for this tournament, must have been wondering whether this was the sort of TV exposure he had been promised.
“Paras Khadka, chhaka padka” [Paras Khadka, hit a six] implored the Nepal support and this was the only facet of their evening in which they were to be disappointed. On social media, pictures were posted of crowds gathered in front of specially erected big screens in towns and cities in Nepal. Much has been made of this World T20 extending cricket’s global reach; in Khadka, who later took a wicket with his first ball, Nepal has an impressive ambassador.
Having been 60 for 2 at halfway, Khadka and Malla accelerated through the gears. They had added a further 56 in 37 balls before Khadka was eventually caught in the deep, off Najeeb, having been given another life the ball before and Najeeb missed another skier, this time off Malla, from his own bowling later in the same over.
Malla continued to play steadily and at the start of the final over crashed a six over long-on – the only one of the match – to take him to within sight of fifty. But two balls later, on 48, he top-edged a pull back to the bowler, Haseeb, who managed to keep Nepal below 150 by taking two wickets, to go with two run-outs, from his final four deliveries. That dramatic end suggested at a change in momentum but Nepal’s scriptwriter, as ever, knew better.
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