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The rise of Nepal cricket

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Nepal_CricketICC match referee Dev Govindjee started the post-match presentation saying, "If you didn't believe in miracles before, you might start after today."

Nepal needed 8 runs off 6 balls to win the ICC World Cricket League (WCL) Division Two match against Canada and qualify for the Cricket Word Cup 2018 Qualifiers.

Karan KC is on strike.

49.1 - dot ball.

49.2 - dot ball.

49.3 - dot ball.

49.4 - dot ball.

Since there was no telecast of the match and it was an all-Associate game, not many followed it. The handful of cricket enthusiasts who had their eyes on the scorecard were at the edge of their seats.

49.5 - Karan smashes a SIX.

49.6 - Canada's Pervez bowls a wide. Scores level.

With every passing moment, viewers thought, "I wish there was a live telecast."

49.6 - one run. NEPAL IS GOING TO ZIMBABWE TO PLAY IN THE WC QUALIFIERS.

There was no telecast. There were only a few journalists who had been sharing updates from the stadium. According to their tweets, just after Karan ran the final run and successfully turned an impossibility into reality, Canada’s players dropped to their knees. And why not? They were in shock. The entire cricket fraternity was in shock. When Canada's Nikhil Dutta claimed Nepal's ninth wicket, he went off doing an Ashish Nehra/Rashid Khan-like airplane celebration. From there, Nepal needed 51 runs off 47 balls with one wicket left. With Aarif Sheikh's dismissal, Nepal had lost their last recognized batsmen too. Only a miracle could save them here.

Windhoek's Wanderers Stadium went on to witness one of the greatest endings to an ICC match at any level. Nepal had Karan and 16-year-old Sandeep Lamichhane at the crease. Prior to the match, Karan had scores of 0*, 4 and 3 in the tournament. In the first innings, Lamichhane had sustained a knee injury and had not been able to bowl his full quota of overs. Karan registered an unbeaten 42 off 31 balls, including seven off the final two balls, and sealed one of the greatest victories in Nepal's cricketing history.

This was not the first time Nepal featured in a nail-biting finish. In fact, it was Nepal's third heart-stopping finish in the WCL Division Two. Nepal kick-started the tournament with an edge-of-their-seats encounter against hosts Namibia, which ended with a one-wicket victory for Nepal. Teenage spinner Lamichhane was again the last batsman. He joined Basant Regmi when Nepal needed 18 runs from 20 balls, which came down to seven runs from the final over. With four balls remaining, Nepal won the match. Later, they needed two runs off the last ball to defeat Kenya.

And when it mattered the most, Nepal stepped up yet again. The match against Canada was a direct knockout - the winner would enter the World Cup Qualifiers. Hence the nerves were more, the pressure was unbelievable and the team which could overcome both nerves & pressure would be the one to go ahead. After a week of intense cricket, the fate of the teams was decided on the penultimate ball. While the Canada-Nepal match was going down to the wire, at a nearby ground, UAE had defeated Namibia and their loud celebrations were heard in the Wanderers. After a few minutes, it was Nepal who joined in the celebrations and will fly to Zimbabwe with the UAE.

Nepal's skipper Paras Khadka has been their most important player for a long time. When Cecil Pervez dismissed Khadka for a duck, not many expected Nepal to go through. The bulk of the Nepal players, apart from Khadka, were short and thin but athletic. The one who stood out was Karan; although he was short, he had a broad chest and powerful arms, and he made a difference. Out of his four sixes in his innings, one went into the Wanderers car park, showing the batsman’s big-hitting abilities.

Psychologically, the match certainly would have done wonders for the Associate side. They pulled off a miraculous win without a contribution from their skipper. It was the moment when the side would have realized that they aren't totally dependent on Khadka and other players could play major roles too.

 

The qualification for the World Cup Qualifiers is the great news for Nepal. In 2016, the ICC banned their cricket association due to government interference in the board. This tough step meant Nepal would not receive funds from the ICC anymore. Nevertheless, Nepal has been allowed to participate in top ICC events. Since the judgment, the ICC has been working closely with the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) to draft a new constitution. However, CAN recently refused to adopt the constitution the ICC proposed.

 

The tug of war between CAN and ICC has had negative effects on the development of the Nepal cricket team. But, slowly and steadily, Nepal managed to make ends meet and made their presence felt en route to higher-level cricket. In the 2018 Indian Premier League (IPL 2018) auction, teenager Sandeep Lamichhane became the first cricketer from his country to be picked by an IPL franchise. By entering the cash-rich league, Lamichhane has opened doors for other players in Nepal.

He has become the face of Nepal cricket and will play for Delhi Daredevils, coached by legendary Australian cricketer Ricky Ponting, and will share the dressing room with the likes of Glenn Maxwell, Colin Munro, Chris Morris, Mohammed Shami, Trent Boult and many other international faces.

 

Nepal's team has plenty of talent. They only lack the required training, infrastructure and guidance. With Lamichhane's big step into the IPL, and if he manages to deliver on the massive platform of the IPL, there might be a chance for various leagues to take notice of the other Nepal players too.

 

The national board themselves have been putting an effort towards bettering the side. Prior to the WCL Division Two tournament, CAN had appointed former Mumbai wicketkeeper Sulakshan Kulkarni as their batting coach. With him, they had a successful stint at the tournament in Namibia but found themselves at the brink of loss too often. To improve their batting, it was necessary to bring in a new face. As Kulkarni's contract was restricted only till the end of the WCL tournament, CAN has now replaced him with another Mumbai coach, Umesh Patwal. The latter was roped in with the World Cup qualifiers in mind.

Patwal, who was the batting coach of Afghanistan during the World T20 in Bangladesh and the Asia Cup in 2014, was praised for his work with the Afghan national side, with top players like Mohammad Shahzad and Mohammad Nabi crediting him for their success. Since the Greater Noida Sports Complex Ground became Afghanistan's adopted home venue, they trained a lot in India. During those times, Nabi, Shahzad and more had flown down to Mumbai to train with Patwal.

Patwal and Nepal have a huge task ahead of them. At present, Nepal are living a fairy-tale turn of events which they would hope to continue. The all-important World Cup Qualifiers 2018 are due to begin in Zimbabwe. The 10 countries have been divided into two groups and Nepal is a part of Group B, with competitive sides like the hosts, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Scotland.

Nepal are going to make their proper ODI debut in the Qualifiers. The road to the final will not be anything close to easy.

 

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