-  Friday 25 June 2021

Unsung heroes take Nepal to new heights

 KATHMANDU, Feb 25 - After the heartbreaking two-run defeat to Zimbabwe coach Roy Dias had said in the team meeting that Nepal would thereafter start a new mission of winning the Plate Championship in the ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup.

It was always easier said than done. The mission was never going to be easy and if accomplished it would definitely have been the greatest achievement for Nepali cricket. Moreover, the likes of South Africa and New Zealand were obstacles to overcome on the way to the title.

Experienced senior players like skipper Kanishka Chaugai, batsman Sharad Vesawkar and all-rounder Paras Khadka were the trinity of Nepali batting with Gyanendra Malla the upcoming player. If Nepal had to win matches, two out of the three had to fire with the bat.

In the bowling department, the seamers, except for Amrit Bhattarai, disappointed and the onus was upon the spinners like Raj Shrestha, Ratan Rauniyar and Sashi Keshari to take up the challenge. The disappointing performance of Bantu Bataju compelled coach Roy Dias to start with two seamers with Paras Khadka able to switch to spin when required. Nepal had one of the most flexible and varied bowling attacks in the whole tournament.

It takes bowling, batting and fielding to win matches and Nepal's ground fielding, if not the catching, was absolutely world class. Gyanendra Malla, Prem Chaudhary and Basanta Regmi led Nepali fielding inside the 30-yard circle. There were quite a few run outs that Nepal affected.

When it mattered the most it was Basanta who came up as the hero in the semifinal and final wins. Nobody had ever thought that unsung heroes like Basanta and Ratan would guide Nepal to an unbelievable one-wicket win over New Zealand in the final.

“I still can't believe that we have won the Plate final with Basanta playing a dream innings. I think I am dreaming,” said vice-captain Paras Khadka after Nepal won the Plate title that clearly indicates that nobody at the P Sara Stadium in Colombo had any hopes for Nepal after it was 75 for six in pursuit of 205 for victory.

Basanta, who made the match winning 66 in the final, was definitely the most unexpected of the players to have done it for Nepal. He has always been an under-performer despite being a third timer to the U-19 Cricket World Cup. Even in Nepal's unchallenged ACC U-19 Trophy win in Kathmandu, he was most often the super-sub.

Ratan, who made 26 of 19 balls including the winning four off the third ball of the last over, was the other hero of the final. He shaved off his head the very next morning to keep up his sacred promise after being able to guide Nepal to such an unbelievable victory.

In the semifinal against South Africa, it was the combination of Basanta and Paras that secured a sensational two-run win. Out of the six matches Nepal played, three matches went down to the last. All of them were a tremendous treat for spectators and even the locals became fans of Nepali cricketers mostly due to the Sri Lankan connection of coach Roy Dias.    

In the first group match against England, Nepali spinners showed they were not easy to bat against, restricting the Englishmen to 209/9. Kanishka showed what he was capable of by thrashing the English opening bowlers out of the attack in just six overs but the rest of the batsmen failed. Against Zimbabwe, Nepal was unlucky to have lost by just two runs in the last over. Paras, with the ball, and Kanishka, with the bat, shone for Nepal.

Ireland and Uganda were no match for Nepal, each succumbing to a 60-run loss. The semifinal with South Africa was a thriller as Paras bowled the last over where South Africa required 10 runs for victory. He just gave seven runs including a dot off the last delivery.           

It was a team effort led by some unexpected performances from the unsung heroes of Nepali cricket that gave Nepal the biggest achievement in its one-and-a-half decade long international history.

Hail the brave heroes like Basanta and Ratan who did the country and countrymen proud.


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