Unfancied Nepal captured hearts against mighty India in their Asia Cup encounter in rainy Pallekele on Monday. After being put in, they scored 230 all out, giving the Indian bowlers some anxious moments.
Opener and wicketkeeper Aasif Sheikh (58), lower-order bat Sompal Kami (48) and opener Kushal Bhurtel (38) were the chief contributors for Nepal. Gulsan Jha (23) and Dipendra Singh Airee (29) chipped in with cameos and made it a team effort.
In reply, India were 17 for no loss in 2.1 overs when rain stopped play, not for the first time.
India were without Jaspit Bumrah, who had flown back home to be with his wife for the birth of their son. Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj led the attack. But Ravindra Jadeja was India's most successful bowler, taking 3/40 from his ten overs. Siraj also took three but he gave away 61 runs.
Siraj and Shardul Thakur, the other pacer, both proved expensive. Thakur conceded 26 in his four overs and took one wicket.
Nepal made it to the Asia Cup by beating UAE to win the ACC Premier Cup earlier this year. For the small Himalayan nation, it was a huge step in their cricketing journey.
They got crushed by Pakistan in their first match. But on Monday they got off to a crisp start, reaching 65 for one after ten overs. They built on that to reach 230, despite the ability of the Indian attack and the nuisance of rain interruptions.
Earlier, Nepal skipper Rohit Paudel spoke about the excitement of playing with big teams like India and Pakistan.
"It is a surreal experience for us. I can now feel how cricketers from India and Pakistan are being followed by fans and media," Paudel said.
Leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichhane, Nepal’s best known player, who has turned out for Delhi Capitals in the IPL, spoke about the logistical difficulties of local players. All of them have to come to Kathmandu to train, leaving behind their families.
"Everybody now sees that we are playing in the Asia Cup. But hardly anyone knows the hardships we had to go through to reach here,” Lamichhane said. “Most of these players are living outside Kathmandu. They need to come to the city to train, live in rented houses, away from family. It is tough on them. But they are aware of the need to make sacrifices to write a story for themselves. It is the love of cricket that drives them.”
Bowling allrounder GC Pratish, from Pyuthan village, echoed Lamichhane’s sentiments.
“We don't have too many facilities back at home. We need to come to Kathmandu from our villages to do proper cricket training. It is tough, but we had to do that to be in touch ahead of matches," Pratish said.
Nepal head coach Monty Desai is proud of his team.
“These players have a lot of determination and they are self-starters. They are ready to go any distance for cricket, and that has kept our dressing room a happy space," Desai said.
"There are budget restrictions and the infrastructure is still developing. It is not like working with a (ICC) Full Member team. We need to work around limited resources, but that is a challenge that I am excited to go through, and we are in it together.”
Lamichhane said that a good showing against India might attract some much-needed sponsorship for Nepal cricket. "We are hoping to make a good impression against India, and that will be a boost for Nepal cricket. Hopefully, that will make corporates invest in our cricket more," he said.