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Nepal fans over the moon ahead of playing India and Pakistan in Asia Cup cricket

For the first time Nepal will play Pakistan in an Asia Cup match.

Kathmandu: Nepal’s men’s national cricket team are excited to face India and Pakistan in the Asia Cup Cricket starting from August 30 as they have got the rare opportunity to face the cricket superpowers.

Nepal will be playing against co-host Pakistan in the tournament opener at Multan stadium, Punjab on August 30 before competing against India on September 4 at Pallekele stadium of Kandy, Sri Lanka, in the group stage of Asia Cup.

Since Nepal began playing international cricket in 1996, it will be the first time that Rhinos (nickname of Nepali cricket team) will be playing against these two cricketing giants.

Just before their departure for Pakistan, Nepali cricket team captain Rohit Paudel expressed pride and delight over opportunity to face first (Pakistan) and third (India) ranked ODI teams.

“We had never thought that we would be playing against India and Pakistan. We have got an opportunity and we will respect it and try to give our best,” said Paudel at a press meet last week. “Our main objective in this tournament will be to play our best games irrespective of results as the whole world will be watching us and obviously, we will try to give our best.”

Nepal got the opportunity to rub shoulders with the cricketing giants after becoming the champions of the ACC Premier Cup in May. The Asia Cup tournament, which will be played in fifty-overs format, has six teams divided into two groups of three teams each.

Nepal has been drawn with India and Pakistan in Group ‘A,’ while Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are in Group B.

Durga Raj Pathak, acting secretary of Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN), a governing body of the country’s cricket sector, told India Narrative that it was a big opportunity for team Nepal to test against the best in the business. “Nepal has nothing to lose by playing against these cricketing giants but only to gain,” he said.

There are obviously household names who are representing India and Pakistan. Nepali players who once used to dream to play against these big names are getting that opportunity thanks to the country’s recent success in ACC Premier Cup.

Former men’s national cricket team captain of Nepal Gyanendra Malla, who retired from cricket in early August also considers Nepal’s participation in the Asia Cup as a big achievement stating that participation in the Asia Cup would be like a mini–World Cup for the Nepali team.

“Playing against India and Pakistan in the prestigious competition like the Asia Cup will also give big exposure to Nepal as a cricketing nation and Nepali players as millions of people around the world will be watching Nepal’s game,” he said.

Earlier, Nepal had a chance to compete with the Asia’s cricketing giants in as early as 2002 when its national team had qualified to the Asia Cup. But the tournament was unfortunately cancelled due to tension between India and Pakistan.

After more than two decades, Team Nepal has got another opportunity to compete in the tournament despite early uncertainty about whether the tournament would be held amid India’s reluctance to play in Pakistan, originally chosen as the host nation of the tournament. Now, both Pakistan and Sri Lanka will host the tournament.

Former Captain Malla feels that this tournament has potential to open many opportunities to Nepal’s cricket as well the players provided, they impress in the matches against India and Pakistan. “Nepal can be invited in bilateral series with test playing nations,” he said. “The best performing Nepali players can get opportunity to play in the franchise leagues throughout the world including Indian Premier League (IPL),” Malla said.

So far, only one Nepali cricketer who played in the IPL is Sandeep Lamichhane.

After securing ACC Men’s Premier Cup in early May by defeating UAE, Nepal also played World Cup qualifiers playing against Zimbabwe, USA, West Indies and the Netherland but failed to qualify for the World Cup scheduled to be held in India in October this year.

However, Nepali cricket stakeholders said the country would get significant exposure by playing against India and Pakistan in the prestigious tournaments like the Asia Cup.

When asked if Nepal could give a true test to these cricketing giants, Captain Paudel said nothing is impossible on the given day if Nepal play their best.

There is the history of shocks in world cricket. For example, in the Asia Cup, Afghanistan pulled off a thrilling tie against India in a Super Four match of the Asia Cup in 2018. In the Asia Cup 2022, Afghanistan stunned Sri Lanka with a win by a staggering eight wickets.

Not many years ago, Nepal and Afghanistan were at same level in cricket. Nepal secured victory against Afghanistan in 2014 T20 International. Captain Paudel also aims to give a tough test to India and Pakistan, two traditional superpowers in cricket. “I hope the games will be competitive. Whichever teams plays well in a particular day will also win. If we play the best cricket, we can beat them,” Paudel said during the press meet last week.

Obviously, Nepal is not an experienced team at the top level. “It is also true that Nepal secured the World Cup qualifier berth in March by winning 11 out of the last 12 matches in the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup League 2 ,” said Pathak.

Seemingly in a rut during the early days of Cricket World Cup League 2 competition, out of form and struggling to find their ideal first XI, Nepal’s fortunes changed in February when Monty Desai, an Indian national was appointed as head coach.

“Desai’s contribution is remarkable for rescuing Nepal’s campaign to reach the World Cup Qualifier along with taking them to the Asia Cup,” said Pathak. Besides the success of the senior team, Nepal have qualified for the ICC U-19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2024 by securing top position in the Asian Regional Qualifier in March.

The Nepal’s national women’s cricket team clinched the title of the Quadrangular T20I series held in Malaysia last week by defeating Hong Kong. Nepal, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Kuwait participated in a T20I Quadrangular series in Malaysia ahead of the Women’s T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier 2023.

“Currently Nepal’s cricket is running in a golden period in terms of success,” said Pathak. “The challenge is to sustain it.”

Former captain Malla said that Nepal needs to think about holistic development of the cricket team from the grass root levels for sustained success. “We need to develop infrastructure including a good stadium, gyms and other facilities for the players,” he said. “Such facilities should be expanded at national, regional and gross root levels.