KATHMANDU, Dec 20: Teenage batsman Kushal Malla shared a winning partnership of unbeaten 51 runs with national cricket team member Rohit Kumar Paudel to rescue Bhairahawa Gladiators from a tricky position of 91 runs for the loss of six wickets at 14.2 overs, chasing the target of 140 runs against Chitwan Tigers at the eliminator match of Everest Premier League at Kirtipur on Wednesday.
Gladiators had lost the wickets of skipper Sharad Vesawkar and Pradeep Airee for 29 and 42 runs respectively, leaving youngsters Malla and Paudel at the crease to get 48 runs from remaining 34 deliveries.
With Tigers looking huge favorite at that moment, Malla produced an array of well-timed and placed shots racing to unbeaten 27 runs from 13 deliveries which included two fours and two sixes. Similarly, Poudel, a player capable of doing similar things, played a perfect second fiddle scoring unbeaten 24 runs from 14 deliveries including two fours and a six.
Earlier, Vesawkar and Pradeep has shared a partnership of 56 runs to steady the dwindling ship after losing the key wickets of Ravi Inder Singh for four runs and Ryan ten Doeschate for two-ball duck. Skipper Vesawkar scored patient 29 runs from 27 deliveries which included three boundaries whereas Pradeep held an end with 38-ball 42 including six boundaries.
Kamal Singh Airee, the birthday boy, was the enforcer with the ball for Tigers picking up three key wickets of Singh, ten Doeschate, and top-scorer Pradeep. Similarly, Lalit Singh Bhandari and Dipendra Singh Airee shared a wicket each to keep upper-hand during the defense before Malla and Paudel took the match away.
Earlier, Gladiators had won the toss and invited Tigers to bat first. With no changes in both teams from their respective last matches, Tigers was soon reduced to 24 runs for the loss of three wickets.
Skipper Prithu Baskota was dismissed by United Arab Emirates' primary pace bowler Muhammad Naveed for a record 11-ball duck in the franchise league. Naveed further had dismissed Paul Stirling for 14 runs and later came on to take the important wicket of Dipendra.
National cricket team's middle-order batsman Dipendra once again top-scored for Tigers with 56 runs from 45-deliveries including six fours and a six.
Naveed was supported by the immaculate pace bowling of Avinash Bohora who conceded 13 runs from his four overs and picked up the wickets of Bhim Sarki and George Scott for nine runs each. Bhuvan Karki, Krishna Karki, and ten Doeschate shared a wicket each to limit Tigers for 139 runs at the end of 20 overs for the loss of eight wickets.
Gladiators skipper Vesawkar credited young batsmen Malla and Poudel for doing a professional job with the bat. "I think Kushal (Malla) played an amazing inning and we all know how Rohit (Paudel) can pull this kind of inning when needed. Rohit did not get chances in previous games but he delivered this time. I am really happy after the win."
On the other hand, Tigers skipper Baskota rued a below par total for the loss. "We were 15/20 runs short at the end. Fielding could have been better," said Baskota after the match.
He further added that other factors apart from cricket could have been better regarding the EPL. "The cricket was good throughout the tournament, but there were inconsistencies with the decision-making by umpires and few off-field things could have been done better."
Pradeep Airee was adjudged player-of-the-match. Gladiators will face Kathmandu Kings XI on Thursday to determine the second finalist for the third season of marquee cricket event.
Kings XI was defeated by Lalitpur Patriots on Tuesday but by the virtue of playing the first qualifier, it will get second chance against the Gladiators on Thursday. Patriots and Kings XI had finished on first and second places during the group stage followed by Gladiators and Tigers at third and fourth respectively.
The second qualifier match between Kings XI and Gladiators has been moved ahead for 11:30AM start instead of usual 12:45PM, on Thursday, due to technical issues as informed by the Everest Premier League technical team.