Two head-turning run chases from Nepal on home soil have opened up the Cricket World Cup League 2 top-three race.
After overcoming Namibia’s 285 on Wednesday – their record ODI run chase – Nepal recovered from 77/5 in their pursuit of Scotland’s 274 on Friday, thanks to a century stand from Kushal Malla (81) and Dipendra Singh Airee (64), and numerous contributions from the tail.
Still in an unlikely position to claim the third automatic spot for the Cricket World Cup Qualifier, the win puts them in a position to continue a late charge, also hosting six of their last ten matches.
Should they not automatically qualify for a top-three spot, qualification for the 2023 Cricket World Cup is still possible, though their pathway would take an unwanted detour of a six-team Qualifier Play-off, effectively a repechage for the bottom four teams in League 2 and the winners of the two Challenge League groups (Jersey and Canada).
It has not been a typical home series for Nepal, with batting taking the bulk of the responsibility for the team too long carried by its bowling group. New coach Monty Desai has made a stomping first impression, with his players buying into a well-calculated game plan.
Nepal’s first of the two wins in the tri-series is more reflective of Desai’s ethos, with Kushal Bhurtel’s 115 (113) an embodiment of the plan. A revelation early in his T20I career, Bhurtel paced his innings with a mix of shots, supported by young skipper Rohit Paudel (72 from 76 balls) in a stabilising partnership.
Video Cricket World Cup League 2 17 Feb 23
Nepal’s record run chase | NEPvNAM Highlights | CWC League 2
The team survived a late batting wobble to win by two wickets and with 14 balls to spare, taking their momentum into their fixture against the Scots, where again batting reigned supreme.
Scotland rested numerous players after securing the top spot on the League 2 table, though Richie Berrington’s side still proved a difficult proposition. Mainstay all-rounder Michael Leask showed again why many consider him one of the Associate game’s premier lower-order batters, belting an 85-ball 107* in a stunning counter-attack.
The right-hander walked out at 109/5 in the 24th over, losing Brandon McMullen early, before hitting nine sixes and three fours in his imperious knock. Debutant bowling all-rounder Jack Jarvis and Mark Watt chipped in with 26 and 20 respectively, as the side squeezed out every possible run. Leask timed his run, hitting 30 runs off his last 15 balls, to ensure the side posted a defendable total.
Nepal stumbled in their response, though Kushal Malla, still days away from turning 19, was clever in his fightback. Scoring just eight in his first 15 deliveries, the left-hander shifted through the gears, pushing his strike rate into three figures in the thirties. He brought his fifty up (42 balls) with a six, only to fall to the canny left-arm orthodox of Watt 19 runs short of a maiden ODI hundred.
Dipendra Singh Airee took over from Malla in one of his most mature knocks in a Nepal shirt, pacing the team’s chase with aplomb, all while in the middle with members of the lower order. Gulshan Jha (17) fell as the seventh wicket and 55 runs from victory, though the experience of Sompal Kami, one of the better No.9s on the circuit, proved to be a good foil for Airee, whose 85* and 1/25 (5) resulted in Player of the Match honours.
The Nepalis would still likely need seven or eight wins from their last ten outings, though cross paths with UAE on four occasions before the end of the cycle, as well as Namibia in a vital home fixture on Saturday.
UAE also host Namibia in two make-up fixtures later in the month, with a 1-1 split again boosting Nepal’s chances.
– Nepal v Namibia: 18 February – Scotland v Namibia: 20 February – Nepal v Scotland: 21 February
– UAE v Namibia: 23 February – UAE v Namibia: 25 February – Papua New Guinea v Nepal: 27 February – UAE v Papua New Guinea: 28 February – UAE v Nepal: 2 March – Nepal v Papua New Guinea: 3 March – UAE v Papua New Guinea: 5 March – UAE v Nepal: 6 March
– Nepal v Papua New Guinea: 9 March – UAE v Papua New Guinea: 10 March – Nepal v UAE: 12 March – Nepal v Papua New Guinea: 13 March – Papua New Guinea v UAE: 15 March – Nepal v UAE: 16 March
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