The scorecard may lead you to believe that the “small team” playing the game’s financial giant was humiliated.
But, before you say “I told you so,” Nepal was not completely ignored. Certainly not when they were attempting to demonstrate their collective batting prowess against opponents whose Asia Cup appearances (six, assuming India makes the final) will be as much cricket as they receive in a year at times.
With rain on the way, India’s bowlers needed a decent workout. Things rapidly heated up, with their fielders dropping three catches in the opening 30 minutes, much to Rohit Sharma’s chagrin. Shreyas Iyer dropped a clear chance at first slip, Virat Kohli put one down next ball at short cover, and Ishan Kishan missed a simple chance down the leg side as the ball broke through his gloves for four.
Mohammed Siraj was hooked out of the park for six, Shardul Thakur was disdainfully drove down the ground, and Mohammed Shami sliced with a boldness that flowed from the fact that this was a special event.
After all, Rohit Paudel’s squad was facing India for the first time in international cricket, and they didn’t know when or if they’d see them again.
Ask Hong Kong, who came within 26 runs of defeating India in the last 50-overs Asia Cup in Dubai five years ago against an attack that included Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, and Shardul Thakur. Hong Kong has yet to face them in an ODI since.
This was therefore an occasion for Nepal to demonstrate their abilities to their supporters, who flocked to their home field in Kathmandu in droves.
To those who climb trees, queue up on the streets next to the grounds early in the morning for a rapid access, and scale neighboring buildings to get vantage positions that often jeopardize their safety, all to witness the Bhurtels, Kamis, and Paudels in action.
Cricket, like in the rest of the subcontinent, is viewed as a source of optimism in Nepal. The fervor is unrivaled, and the fanaticism is palpable.
That type of atmosphere pervaded Pallekele from the moment the teams lined up for the national anthems.
After all, Nepal’s two Asia Cup games are two more than anyone predicted at the start of the year. And in batting out nearly 50 overs following their thrashing by Pakistan, they showed flashes of what they can achieve with a little more help.
Commentators in the Asia Cup have often emphasized the Asian Cricket Council’s aim and ambition for promoting cricket in the area.
While part of this is true, what has been lacking is visible support in terms of match time. To be fair, the ACC hosted an Emerging Teams’ Asia Cup in Colombo in July to provide teams like Nepal a chance to compete against the best teams, but the issue of “can they do more?” remains.
Can the BCCI, for example, include Nepal and one other Associate side – maybe on a rotating basis – in the Deodhar Trophy, a 50-over local competition that has struggled for relevance?
Alternatively, opportunities to compete in high-quality state-run competitions such as the Buchi Babu Trophy in Tamil Nadu or the KSCA Invitational in Karnataka might be provided.
The chasm expanded as Nepal’s innings continued on Sunday due to a lack of expertise. Nepal faced reality as India’s bowlers established their lengths and found their bearings.
Kuldeep dazzled them with variation they hadn’t seen in a long time, Siraj roughed them up with late movement against the old ball, and Ravindra Jadeja proved too hot to handle on a slow pitch where the ball was twisting and clinging.
Nepal, though, was not completely out of their depth. At No. 8, Sompal Kami demonstrated flawless technique and tenacity in defense to score a 56-ball 48.
On his face was the disappointment of missing out on a half-century against a top side. Dipendra Singh Airee was astute in putting up bowlers in the dying overs to nab crucial runs that propelled Nepal above 200. It wasn’t all despair and gloom.
Those ephemeral moments of brilliance were enhanced when Karan KC moved the ball about to bother Rohit. He induced the inner edge once and got it to nip back twice to bang the pads.
The angle created doubt for a tentative Rohit, who was then defeated on the outer edge by one that kept its line.
Before the rains took off the bowlers, it appeared like India’s chase would be a riveting match, a challenge if not a penetrating examination.
The Nepali spinners were rendered ineffectual by a slick outfield and a damp ball, as Rohit and Shubman Gill made a mockery of the amended DLS goal of 145 in 23 overs.
Before clinching India’s spot in the Super Fours, the opening duo smashed fifties, obviously keen on having fun as the game went.
The end result – India winning by ten wickets – was not a humiliation for Nepal, but rather a reminder of how much more they can do with more exposure and playing time.
Nepal saw several significant events in 2023. Among them include beating UAE in fading light to gain a spot in the ODI World Cup Qualifiers in May and winning the ACC Premier Cup in June to claim a spot in the Asia Cup. They will be able to add their first-ever ODI against India on Sunday.