When Nepal beat UAE to win the ACC Premier Cup earlier this year, they ensured their qualification for the Asia Cup. 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 are taking on India in Pallekele. They are determined to make a go of it and got off to a crisp start after Rohit Sharma put them in, reaching 65 for one after ten overs. They were ultimately bowled out for 230 in 48.2 overs.
Opener and wicketkeeper Asif Sheikh topscored with 58, while his partner Kushal Bhurtel made a useful 38. Sompal Kami provided a laate order kick with 48.
Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammed Siraj were India's most successful bowlers, taking 3/40 and 3/61, respectively.
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.
India: Rohit Sharma (c), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Ishan Kishan (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj.
Nepal: Kushal Bhurtel, Aarif Sheikh (wk), Rohit Paudel (c), Bhim Sharki, Sompal Kami, Gulsan Jha, Dipendra Singh Airee, Kushal Malla, Sandeep Lamichhane, Karan KC, Lalit Rajbanshi.