February 6, 2020 12:02 PM NPT
By: Rajan Shah
Photo Courtesy: Bishwash Thapa Nepal's Sushan Bhari (third right) celebrates with his teammates after taking a wicket of Oman during the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2 one-day international cricket match at the TU Cricket Ground in Kirtipur on Wednesday.
KATHMANDU, Feb 6: Nepal embarked on its journey to the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 with a narrow defeat against Oman in the first ODI match of the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2 played at TU Cricket Ground in Kirtipur on Wednesday.
Nepal played its first ODI in 13 months to debut in League 2 with a historic home ODI series as batting woes succumb the national cricket team to a 18-run defeat in front of 10,000 spectators. Meanwhile, it was Oman’s seventh ODI match in the league and it rose to the second position in the group table.
Nepal bowled well despite star bowler Sandeep Lamichhane going wicket-less but the batting failed to capitalize on bowler’s hard-work. There were multiple moments during the chase, Nepal looked comfortable and all set to register its debut ODI win in home soil but batsmen kept committing mistakes.
Captain Zeeshan Maqsood inspired Oman with the ball and smart captaincy to register its fifth win in seven matches in the League 2. Nepal was dismissed for 179 runs in 46.5 overs chasing the total of 198 runs. This was the first ever ODI match played in Nepal and the host team’s first match in the League 2 series for the ICC World Cup Qualifiers 2023.
Nepal’s opening batting experiment didn’t last long as both, new opening batsman, Paras Khadka and captain Gyanendra Malla were back in the dressing room within four runs on the board. Malla scored a run before holding out to Mohammad Nadeem off Kaleemullah and Khadka edged to keeper Suraj Kumar on a run. Vice-captain Dipendra Singh Airee shared a 62 runs partnership with Sharad Vesawkar for third wicket. Airee looked good for his 36 runs off 57 deliveries which included five boundaries and a six before missing an in-swinger from Nadeem.
Nepal further lost the wickets of Aarif Sheikh and Rohit Kumar Paudel cheaply to be reduced to 73 runs for the loss of five wickets in the 24th over. Sheikh scored six runs before horribly mistiming a sweep shot to give Oman captain Zeeshan Maqsood a simple caught-and-bowled wicket. Paudel was dismissed first ball to leave Maqsood on a hat-trick which was denied by Binod Bhandari.
Bhandari stayed for 25 deliveries at the crease sharing a crucial partnership of 43 runs with Vesawkar who was holding an end with a gritty performance. Nepal’s wicket-keeper batsman looked good for 26 runs off 25 deliveries which included two boundaries and six before hitting straight to Sandeep Goud in covers. His wicket was followed by Karan KC’s 8-ball duck.
Nepal’s last charge for the chase came with 38 runs partnership between Vesawkar and Sandeep Lamichhane. The leg-spinner played his shots around with a 27-ball 28 runs which included three fours and six. The partnership and Nepal’s hopes of winning the match was ended with Vesawakar’s wicket.
In a master-stroke pulled by Oman captain, Aqib Ilyas was introduced late in the innings resulting in Vesawkar being bowled around leg-stump. The middle-order Nepali veteran batsman carried the hopes of seeing the chase through with a patient 108-ball 55 runs which included five boundaries. Vesawkar brought up his first Nepal’s sixth half-century (50+) in ODI cricket.
Captain Maqsood was best bowler of the innings registering immaculate bowling figures of three wickets off his 10 overs conceding 30 runs. He was supported by opening bowlers Bilal Khan and Kaleemullah sharing two wickets each. Similarly, Nadeem, Khawar Ali and Ilyas shared a wicket each to give Oman the fifth win of League 2.
Earlier, Nepal won the toss and elected to bowl first. Abinash Bohara and Sushan Bhari were handed ODI debuts for Nepal whereas Oman introduced Badal Singh in the match.
Oman had a turbulent start as Karan KC removed both the openers within 19 runs of the board. The visiting team’s most proficient batsman Jatinder Singh was clean-bowled by KC on four runs off six deliveries whereas his batting partners Khawar Ali was caught-behind for five runs off 15 deliveries. The run-out of captain Zeeshan Maqsood imposed by Airee further pushed Oman in back-foot giving Nepal a dream start.
Oman kept losing wickets in regular intervals as Nepal bowlers were accurate and delivering asking lengths for most part of the innings. Maqsood was adjudged LBW on 20 runs off Sushan Bhari who delivered a miserly spell. The Oman captain smashed four boundaries during his 400-ball stay. Bhari’s further two wickets in the spell supported by KC’s two wickets in the second spell reduced Oman to 124 runs for the loss of seven wickets in 41.4 over stage.
The veteran all-rounder Mohammad Nadeem kept scoring runs at one end. He remained unbeaten on 69 runs off 96 deliveries which included five boundaries and two sixes. He shared a 60 runs partnership with Sandeep Goud for the sixth wickets to steady the innings. Goud was dismissed stumped by Bhandari off Bhari to end his resistance. Goud scored gritty 33 runs off 72 deliveries which included three boundaries and a six. Similarly, Nadeem farmed another important partnership of 42 runs with Naseem Khushi for the eighth wicket. Khushi dominated the partnership with 18-ball 28 runs which included two fours and sixes each. Nadeem’s runs were momentous in the total of 197 runs Oman managed at the end of first innings for the loss of nine wickets.
KC was pick of the bowlers for registering four wickets. It was his best bowling figures in ODI cricket. Likewise, Bhari enjoyed a dream debut of three wickets in his 10 overs conceding 14 runs off it. Airee was the other wicket-taker of the innings with two Oman batsmen including the crucial dismissal of Aqib Illyas were caught short of the crease.
Nepal captain Malla rued the flurry of wickets in the middle overs costing the match. Similarly, he believed Vesawkar’s wicket was crucial as well.
“The three wickets we lost including Airee during the middle of the innings changed the momentum of the match. Vesawakar’s wicket was crucial too. We thought we could have won with that partnership with Lamichhane. Bhari bowled really well as the conditions suited him,” said Malla in the post-match presentation.
Likewise, Oman captain Maqsood appreciated his players who contributed in crucial moments to deliver the win.
“The players deserve all the credit. The batsmen and bowlers stood up when needed. Ilyas has always delivered in crucial moments. I am thankful to him for doing the same (dismissing Vesawkar) once again. We would like to thank fans too who were applauding us.”
Both captain and player-of-the-match Nadeem thanked the Nepali crowd for cheering both the teams during good cricket moments. Similarly, Nadeem revealed that the plan was to bat full 50 overs after fall of early wickets.
“The pitch was spinning and spinners were bowling in right areas. We had the target to bat full 50 overs. I would like to thank to Nepali crowd. They are very supportive.”
Bhari’s Gauchan-esque performance
Sushan Bhari notched up a debut to remember as he conceded 14 runs in his 10 overs picking up three wickets of Oman captain Zeeshan Maqsood, Suraj Kumar and Sandeep Goud. His economy rate was the seventh best bowling figures in ODI cricket to have taken minimum three wickets and second best by an associate bowler. He is often compared to Shakti Gauchan, the Nepali cricket legend who retired from all forms of cricket in 2018, and is also a product of the cricket academy the latter operates in Butwal. Gauchan, the batsman turned bowler later in his career, is known for delivering miserly spells. His 10-8-2-3 against Malaysia in World Cricket League Division Four 2012 is still a record in limited over internationals.
The failed experiment
Opening the batting has been a matter of strong concern in Nepali cricket. After several failed experiments at top of the innings, captain Gyanendra Malla and his predecessor Paras Khadka took the mettle to face the brand new cherry for the current ODI series in front of home crowds. Fans, observers, and experts were aware of the risk to expose Nepal’s two of the most consistent batsmen, more suited to middle-order, to a new ball. The result in the first match did not help either. Malla and Khadka were both caught attacking by Oman’s new ball bowlers Kaleemullah and Bilal Khan respectively. Malla could only score a run in 12 deliveries whereas Khadka attempted a heave on the offside in a 14-ball three run innings. The opening partnership lasted for four runs. On same score, Nepal lost second wicket too as rest of the batsmen had to rebuild the innings chasing a paltry 198.
Karan KC’s missing over
Karan KC had an onus to lead the attack in the absence of Sompal Kami, Nepal’s most successful pace bowler. The all-rounder stood with flying colors registering his best bowling figures in ODI cricket. KC swung the ball, mixed his line and lengths, kept the batsmen guessing through-out his spell. His opening spell removing both the openers immediately put Nepal in a position to dominate the match. Later, he came back to remove dangerous looking Naseem Khushi and Kaleemullah. However, he failed to complete his quota of 10 overs and was limited to nine overs in the match. Fifth bowling options, Paras Khadka and Dipendra Singh Airee bowled seven and five overs respectively in the match as captain Gyanendra Malla opted to finish his fifth bowling quota ahead of regular bowlers. Oman, despite struggling throughout the innings, was not pushed by introducing KC for another odd spell before the death overs. Oman was 124 for 7 at 42nd over stage but went to score 73 runs in last eight overs.
In a pitch where batting was not easy, Nepal’s Sharad Vesawkar held an end together with a gritty innings of 108-ball 55 runs. He was evidently not fully fit during the second half of his innings but he didn’t throw his wicket in haste. He farmed well compiled partnerships with Dipendra Singh Airee, Binod Bhandari and Sandeep Lamichhane to keep Nepal’s hopes alive till his stayed at the crease. It took a change in plan for Oman captain Zeeshan Maqsood to break his defense as an experienced Aqib Ilyas intelligently dismissed Vesawkar round his leg. Vesawkar had resisted everything thrown at him by Oman bowlers till then. Questions have been raised on his inclusion in the squad in recent times but this innings shall be a benchmark that a proven match-winner still has more to contribute to Nepal cricket.