By Dharmendra Jha
It was the last and final match of the ACC Men's Premier Cup taking place between host Nepal and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Tribhuvan University Cricket Ground in Kirtipur was jam-packed with the home crowd. Nepal had already played 30 overs and Gulshan Jha and Bhim Sarki were in the batting crease.
Nepal had scored 111 runs for the loss of three wickets and was heading towards the victory target of 118 runs. The fans were all geared up for the final jubilation. They were also praying that rain would not play spoilsport like the previous day. Ayan Khan of the UAE was given the ball to bowl the 31st over. The first ball was a dot leading to silence among the Nepali fans. The second ball went for a six, as Gulshan brought the score to a tie. A wave of happiness spread in the audience gallery as well as across the country as hundreds of thousands of people glued to their television screens.
Gulshan then took a single in the third ball of the over to bring home the ACC Men's Premier Cup. The crowd erupted in joy with their chants going far and beyond the cricket ground. It was indeed a proud moment to witness Nepali cricket's biggest victory so far. And the joy and enthusiasm of the spectators on the ground are hard to be described in words.
For the second straight day, the weather in Kathmandu Valley was not what the spectators wished for. The sky was covered with dark clouds. Rainfall was likely at any moment. But the fans were least bothered by the weather. Like the previous day, they had gone to the TU cricket ground carrying umbrellas.
Earlier, Nepal chose to field first after winning the toss, which proved quite vital. In the match that started amid bad weather, the UAE scored 106 runs for the loss of 9 wickets in 27.3 overs. Despite the adverse conditions, the Nepali team had the back support of the home crowd. They were somehow confident that the outcome of the game would be in their favour. However, they had to wait a day for the deserving victory as the game could not be completed due to repeated downpours and was postponed to the reserve day. On their return the next day, the UAE added 11 more runs for the last wicket to end at 117 runs in 33.1 overs.
In reply, Nepal's batting too did not go well to start with. At the end of eight overs, Nepal had already lost three wickets with only 22 runs on the board. Kushal Bhurtel, Aasif Seikh and captain Rohit Kumar Paudel returned to the pavilion cheaply, before Gulshan Jha and Bhim Sarki took charge of Nepal's innings. A brilliant partnership of 96 runs between the two ensured Nepal's victory. Gulshan proved his selection for the final match right by playing a brilliant inning and steering his team to a famous win. He scored an unbeaten 67 runs. Similarly, Bhim remained not out with a contribution of 36 runs. Gulshan proved himself the man of the final match.
Gulshan, who was limited to the bench in the previous match, was included in the playing eleven by coach Monty Desai in the final match against the UAE. He proved Coach Desai's trust in him right. Although Gulshan usually bats in the lower order, in the final match he was sent to bat at number three. Gulshan is the same player who played an instrumental role in defeating the same team i.e. the UAE in the last match of ICC World Cup League-2, to ensure Nepal's place in the 2023 Cricket World Cup qualifier. Coach Desai was impressed by that performance and gave him a deserved place in the final match as well. Bhim proved to be a handy support for Gulshan. Thanks to the match-winning partnership of this pair, Nepal was ultimately selected for the Asia Cup.
Defeating the UAE by 7 wickets, Nepal not only won the ACC Men's Premier Cup but also qualified for the Asia Cup for the second time. With the win, Nepal has qualified for the Asia Cup to be hosted by Pakistan in September later this year. Now it is certain that Nepal will play against cricketing giants like India and Pakistan. Nepal had made it to the Asia Cup in 2002 as well. However, the tournament could not be held due to differences between Pakistan and India.
"The dream of playing against India and Pakistan has come finally come true", captain of the Nepali national cricket team, Rohit Kumar Paudel, said after winning the Cup. "In the past, we used to watch the match between India and Pakistan, but now we will play against them," Paudel said with a proud smile.
The constant support of Nepali fans has also remained an important factor in the significant strides that Nepali cricket is taking. In some countries that have progressed a lot in cricket, the cricketers are playing without spectators. But in Nepal, the biggest support for the players is their diehard fans. The Nepali cricket team considers the encouragement provided by the fans as a great weapon to win over the opposing teams. "Though it was raining, the fans supported us till the end, the encouragement given to the players is also the reason why we are achieving continuous success," Sandeep Lamichhane, the best player of the ACC Men's Premier Cup, said.
Before qualifying for the Asia Cup, Nepal had managed to secure a berth for the 2023 World Cup cricket qualifier scheduled to be held in Zimbabwe. President of the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) Chatur Bahadur Chand said that both tournaments are important for Nepal. "Nepal has taken a leap forward in cricket, there is no turning back now", he said with immense happiness. He believes that playing with countries like India and Pakistan will strengthen the level of cricket in Nepal. "The more we play with stronger teams, the more we will improve, now our cricket is worthy of praise from around the world", he said.
It may be noted that the Nepali cricket team has achieved three significant successes in the last two months. Nepal has secured its ODI status for the next four years. A place in the 2023 Cricket World Cup Qualifiers has been confirmed and as the winner of the 2023 ACC Men's Premier Cup, Nepal has been selected for the Asia Cup to play against five test-playing countries. "Our dream is not limited to the Asia Cup, which has already come true. The next goal is to participate in the World Cup," says CAN President Chand.
As the regulating body for cricket in the country, the CAN is satisfied that the atmosphere of cricket is improving. New talents continue to emerge from all over the country. This has also been made possible due to the personal dedication and investment of the parents. The government's contribution to producing cricketers is quite minimal. Hence, the federal, provincial and local governments must give due attention towards this end. As it is also certain that cricket will help introduce Nepal to the world through sports tourism. The government at all three levels need to get their acts together to bring it to reality. If it is realized then Nepal will gain international name and fame through cricket. (RSS)