Nepal qualified for the 2019 World Cup Qualifiers with a thrilling one-wicket victory over Canada in ICC World Cricket League Division Two. It is not for the first time that the country has forced the cricketing world to sit up and take notice.
Fifty one runs and one wicket — that was the difference between elation and anguish for Nepal and Canada respectively in the 13th match of the ongoing ICC World Cricket League Division Two tournament. Both teams needed a victory to secure a berth in the World Cup Qualifiers which are to be played in March in Zimbabwe. Given the fragile situation in which Nepal found themselves – 144/9 while chasing 195 with no recognised batsman at the crease – the odds were in Canada's favour. Even Nepal's captain Paras Khadka had given up hopes.
But the last pair – Karan KC and Sandeep Lamichhane – stitched an invaluable last-wicket stand. One would remember, Lamichhane scripted history last month by becoming the first Nepalese player to be bought in the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction – a watershed moment in the country's cricketing history. Karan had seen Nikhil Dutta dismiss Nepal's last recognised batsman Aarif Sheikh in front of his eyes, but didn't lose courage and shone in extreme pressure. He ended up scoring 42 off 31 balls to take Nepal over the line.
The story of underdogs is always absorbing and Nepal's is no different.
The first World Cup was played in 1975 in England. The next two editions were also hosted in the same country. BCCI president Inderjit Singh Bindra and secretary Jagmohan Dalmiya though ensured that rights of the 1987 World Cup were awarded to the Indian subcontinent. Since then Asian cricket has grown from strength to strength.
In the 1970s and 1980s, cricket fanatics were enthralled to see Sri Lanka cricket evolve and as a result of the promising steps that they had taken, the island nation rose to cricket's pinnacle by winning the 1996 World Cup.
Next in line were Bangladesh, who until 2010, were considered minnows but now are regularly identified as the dark horses in major ICC tournaments and are a dominant force in home conditions. Then came the fairy-tale rise of Afghanistan. Although, Nepal haven't yet achieved as much as the aforementioned nations have, they are taking small but significant steps to attain similar recognition.
To sum up the growth and dominance of Asian cricket, one has to point out only thing: if Nepal and Afghanistan qualify for the 2019 World Cup, six of the 10 teams that will participate would be Asian.
Nepal's journey started in 1988 when they were an affiliate member before becoming an associate member in 1996. Like all the small cricketing nations, even Nepal saw a phase when infrastructure was a huge problem. There was a lack of professionalism and players had to do other jobs to make ends meet and the administration wasn't as strong it should be, but the team kept performing thanks largely to the large fan base and raw passion that it possesses.
There would be many who played a big role in Nepal cricket but the biggest of them, arguably, are Roy Dias and Pubudu Dassanayake. Dias coached the team for almost nine years while the team played under Dassanayake's reign for four years until October 2015.
Under Dias, Nepal ended up as the runners-up in the 2002 ACC Trophy and won the ACC Premier League in 2006. They also played first-class cricket for the first time under his guidance in 2004 while they tasted success in major ICC tournaments in 2010 when they beat the US to win the World Cricket League Division Five.
The ecstasy of reaching the @cricketworldcup qualifier! 🇳🇵
Inside the Nepal dressing room moments after they pulled off perhaps the greatest comeback in World Cricket League history to beat Canada by one wicket on the final ball! #WCL2 pic.twitter.com/ovQbLS1bnz
— ICC (@ICC) February 14, 2018
Dassanayake coached Nepal from World Cricket League Division Four to World Cricket League Division Two. They narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2014 World T20 but the fact that the difference between Bangladesh – who advanced in their place – and Nepal was only net run-rate was enough for massive celebrations in the country. Thousands flocked to Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport to welcome their heroes. That enthusiasm, however, could have take the focus away from Nepal's preparation for the 2015 World Cup Qualifiers and they put on a disappointing show in the tournament.
But they have now got another opportunity in the upcoming 2019 World Cup Qualifiers and it would be interesting to see if the Nepal players grab their opportunities, just like Karan and Lamichhane did in one of the most historic wins in Nepal cricket's history.
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