Nine-out-of-10 Nepal retain ODI statusRegister a 177-run victory against the UAE. Two more wins give the Rhinos direct entry into World Cup qualifiers.
Until December last year, the ‘inconsistent’ national men’s cricket team players were crossing their fingers to finish in the top five positions in the ICC World Cup League 2 so they could retain their One-Day International status.
Nepal were languishing in second from bottom in the seven-team League 2 standings, with 18 points from 24 games. But the tables turned this year: they have almost miraculously won nine of the 10 ODI matches of the League 2 played until Sunday and climbed to the fourth place in the standings. They have in the process earned 36 points from 34 matches.
They won all four matches of the home tri-series involving the League champions Scotland and Namibia from February 14 to 21 at TU ground and clinched victories in three of four matches of the UAE series held from February 27 to March 6 that also involved Papua New Guinea.
In the last series of the League 2, Nepal on Thursday pulled off a 56-run victory over PNG in a match where they amassed their highest-ever ODI total of 297. On Sunday, they secured a record 177-run win over the UAE.
These are heady days for Nepal. With one success after another, they have now set a revised target of securing top-three finish and earning a direct berth at the World Cup Qualifiers set to take place in Zimbabwe in June and July. Should Nepal win the remaining two matches—against PNG on Monday and the UAE on Thursday—they will have achieved that target.
The top five teams of the League 2 will retain ODI status and top three will get a ticket for the World Cup Qualifiers. The bottom four teams will have to go through the World Cup Qualifiers playoff for a place in the Qualifiers.
On Sunday, Nepal opted to bat first against the UAE. They posted a modest 248 on the back of a half century by captain Rohit Paudel losing all wickets in 49.2 overs. They bowled out the UAE for 71 runs to claim their highest victory by runs as spinner Lalit Rajbanshi took five UAE wickets.
With the win, Nepal not only surpassed their previous highest victory by run—151 against PNG in September 2021—but also restricted the UAE to their lowest ODI total. Their previous lowest total of 91 runs came in 2018 against Ireland.
Speaking after the match, captain Paudel said his team was very happy to have retained ODI status. “The day we started the League 2 journey, our plan and belief was to retain the ODI status. It was fulfilled today,” said Paudel, who was appointed captain in November last year. “Now we have an opportunity to enter the World Cup Qualifiers directly, winning the two remaining matches. We will push for that in the next two games.”
Paudel credited the sensational outcome to the team’s unity and recently appointed coach Monty Desai’s efforts. “We are playing with ease after his arrival and he has created a very good environment in the dressing room,” he said. “The dressing room is calm and sir [coach] has given us freedom and motivated us to express ourselves with batting.”
Nepal, who made two changes to their squad replacing top order batter Gyanendra Malla and Karan KC with Lalit Narayan Rajbanshi and Gulshan Jha, made a shaky start to their innings. Kushal Bhurtel scored eight runs while Aasif Sheikh was out for a duck. Soon after, Nepal lost Kushal Malla (nine runs) reducing the team to 22-3.
But Paudel, coming to bat at number four, rescued the innings with his patient 77 off 112 that included nine boundaries. The player-of-the-match Paudel shared an 86-run stand for the sixth wicket with Aarif Sheikh before Rohan Mustafa had him caught by Karthik Meiyappan.
Aarif was the second best scorer for Nepal, contributing 52-ball 43 that included five hits to the fences. He was caught by Asif Khan off Mustafa. Dipendra Singh Airee played a quickfire 19-ball 34 while Bim Sharki contributed 29 runs.
The UAE bowlers Aayan Afzal Khan, Zahoor Khan, Rohan Mustafa and Zawar Farid clinched two wickets apiece.
The UAE struggled with the bat from the onset and were tottering at 8-4 in the sixth over. Opener Vriitya Aravind was bowled for a duck by Lalit Narayan Rajbanshi in the first over. Aryan Lakra, who had scored half centuries in the two previous matches, was also dismissed without opening account, bowled by Airee.
Captain Muhammad Waseem was the next wicket to fall on one run as Rajbanshi had him caught by Bhurtel. Asif Khan departed on six runs, caught by wicketkeeper Aasif off Sompal Kami’s delivery.
Aayan Afzal Khan, who came to bat at number five, contributed the innings’ highest 29 runs off 33. Ashwanth Valthapa (14 runs) and Karthik Meiyappan (not out 11 runs) were the only other players to touch double-digit scores for the UAE.
Rajbanshi was the pick of bowlers for Nepal, claiming five wickets in his 7.5 overs spell. The 24-year-old slow left arm orthodox bowler conceded 20 runs and delivered two maidens. Sandeep Lamichhane grabbed two wickets.
Big blow to the UAE’s top-five hopes
The outcome came as a huge blow to the UAE’s ambition—to finish in top five and retain ODI status—as victories in the next two matches may not be sufficient for them to climb to the fifth position and replace USA in the standings.
The UAE are currently sixth in the standings and could level points with the USA if they win the next two matches. But they need to register big-margin wins in both games to displace the USA from the fifth position.