Nepal registered a convincing 138-run win against the Maldives on Sunday (October 1) to confirm a place in the knockouts of the 2023 Asian Games, men's cricket competition. Played at the sprawling Pingfeng Campus Cricket Field, Hangzhou in China, 'The Rhinos' -- one of the many nicknames of the team -- dismissed Maldives for 74 all out after posting 212/7 in their final Group A match. (Highlights | Scorecard | Cricket News)
The star of the match was Abinash Bohara, who took six wickets for 11 runs in a devastating spell of 3.4 overs. The win helped Nepal, who had earlier demolished Mongolia in a T20I record-breaking 273-run victory, win the group and will now get to test the might of one of the continental powerhouses in the quarter-finals, for which a draw will be held later. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been given byes, while nine teams, in groups of three, are fighting out for the three remaining last-eight spots. For Nepal, though, the first hurdle is crossed, and that too rather brilliantly.
That, however, is only a part of the story. Nepalese cricket, many believe, is growing at an unprecedented rate. Backed by the government, and with a massive fan following back home, the players often punch above their weight. In fact, weeks ago, they were up against India and Pakistan at the Asia Cup, and the players returned home with their heads held high. However, the Nepalese contingent at the 19th Asian Games, at the time of writing, was still chasing for a first medal. And, cricketers might just fulfil that dream.
In China, where cricket is still an alien sport, Nepal are making all the right noises. On Sunday, skipper Rohit Paudel won the toss and opted to bat first without hesitation in the must-win game. The Maldives, who also registered a comfortable nine-wicket win against Mongolia, were always going to test them.
And at one time, The Rhinos were struggling at 67/4 into the 10th over. But Paudel and Kushal Malla, who hit an unbeaten 137 off just 50 balls against Mongolia, helped resurrect the innings with some power-hitting. The skipper scored 52 off 27, while Malla remained not out on 47 off 20.
Little later, right-arm pacer Abinash Bohara rocked the Maldives middle over following Sompal Kami and Gulsan Jha's brilliant start to the defence. Nepal wrapped up the Maldives innings with two balls remaining for another massive win despite Muawiyath Ghanee's defiant knock (36 off 34).
Skipper Rohit Paudel didn't even need the best from his biggest weapon, Sandeep Lamichhane, the globe-trotting legspinner from Syangja who once charmed the likes of Australia great Ricky Ponting with his skills. Still 23, Nepal's greatest cricket export didn't mind playing second fiddle (1/16), either. Lamichhane was more than happy playing a star. In a few days' time, Nepal will have their starstruck moment.
In Group B, Hong Kong and Japan face off in a virtual knock-out game. Both teams were victorious against Cambodia in their respective openers. In Group C, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand still have their quarter-final dreams alive.