Nepal look to pull off unlikely win over Sri LankaNepal have defeated the likes of India, Bangladesh, South Africa, New Zealand at the U-19 level in the past but not Sri Lanka.
Unlikely it may appear but Nepal will be hoping to surprise hosts Sri Lanka in their opening match of ACC U-19 Asia Cup cricket tournament on Friday.
Nepal have never beaten the South Asian Test giants Sri Lanka at the U-19 level and will be harbouring hopes to register their first win against their South Asian neighbours. Apart from the host, Nepal are pitted against Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates in Group 'B'. India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kuwait are in Group 'A'.
Nepal can expect to stun the hosts given their proud record of pulling off surprising wins over age-group teams of Test-playing nations in the past. Binod Das, the current Nepal U-19 coach, could be a big inspiration for the team considering that the former allrounder had been part of the team that beat the likes of Pakistan and Bangladesh in the U-19 World Cup in 2002 as a player. As a coach, Das also masterminded Nepal U-19 to a historic win over India during the 2017 ACC U-19 Asia Cup in Kuala Lumpur.
"We have prepared well for the last few days and we believe that we are ready for tomorrow. We know we are playing against a team that plays round the year and have the great infrastructure but we back ourselves to beat any team on our day. We just need to fight every ball," said Das from Colombo on Thursday.
Das believes his team's chances of stunning the hosts largely depend on taking all chances that come their way. Batting-wise, Das says, someone has to make big runs to put pressure on Sri Lanka. "We have to be 100 percent focused on our skills as we all understand that we might not get too many opportunities to beat them. It’s all about keeping our focus on our skills and executing it to perfection," added Das.
The teams have met four times at the U-19 level so far and Sri Lanka have emerged victorious on all the occasions. The Lankans beat Nepal by nine wickets during the 2000 U-19 World Cup and again by 67 runs in the 2008 edition in Malaysia. The Island nation then defeated Nepal by eight wickets in the U-19 World Cup in Australia in 2012. The closest Nepal came to pulling off an upset was in 2016 Asia Cup in Sri Lanka, who won by just one run.
After Sri Lanka, Nepal take on Bangladesh on September 8 and the UAE on September 10. The semi-finals will be held on September 12 while the final is slated for September 14. Nepal missed out on the 2020 U-19 World Cup qualification following their single-run loss against UAE in the Qualifiers. This tournament now remains the only one where Nepal can redeem themselves after missing out on the U-19 World Cup.
As part of their preparations, Nepal played three warm-up matches against the local Sri Lankan teams. They lost their first practice match against Sinhalese Club by three wickets before winning the second against Baduraliya Cricket club by 84 runs. Nepal lost their third friendly against Chilaw Marians Club by 89 runs.
Nepal qualified for the tournament after winning the ACC U-19 Eastern Region cricket tournament defeating Hong Kong in Malaysia in July. Only the winners were guaranteed a place in the ACC U-19 Asia Cup cricket tournament. Batsman Sandeep Jora, wicketkeeper-batsman Asif Sheikh and left-arm spinner Surya Tamang were recalled for the tournament after missing out for the ACC Eastern Region Qualifiers. While Bishal Bikram KC and Tilak Bhandari missed out, Rit Gautam, Kaushal Malla, Spinner Sagar Dhakal, among others, kept their place in the squad.
Nepal’s best run in the tournament came in 2017 when they reached the semi-finals. It was the same tournament when Nepal defeated Rahul Dravid’s Indian side for the first time.