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The contest between Nepal and Hong Kong, cricket’s two associate nations, was expected to be closer, but looking at Nepal’s first-rate approach, the result isn’t surprising. Karthik Parimal highlights the moments where the game was won, and why it’d pay well to persist with the top-level approach.
The Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium is where one would have preferred to be on the opening day of the fifth ICC World Twenty20 competition. A contest between Bangladesh and Afghanistan would have, in usual circumstances, amounted to a mismatch, but the recent Asia Cup result — where Afghanistan snatched a 32-run win — made this clash a personal one. The 26,000-strong crowd was a testament to the high level of emotion. Clearly overwhelmed, the Afghans were brought to their knees. Yet, as one associate nation’s ambition of progressing to the next round received a deathblow, two other countries set out to bring theirs to life.
Almost 250 kilometres from the venue of the first fixture, Nepal and Hong Kong graced the lush green outfield of Chittagong’s Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium. It wasn’t their first meeting, but this match gained significance, for it was being played on a stage unfamiliar to them; like the two unseeded representatives had made the switch to the Arthur Ashe Stadium from the side courts. It wasn’t hard to figure which of these two teams featured the more fervent of supporters. Although the crowd was obviously less than the one at Mirpur, you couldn’t ignore the crimson red, non-quadrilateral flags in the stands. Nepal had arrived on the big stage, and its fans turned up in decent numbers to express what the occasion meant to them.
When two contenders with almost same qualifications square off against each other, the fight is often touted to be toe-to-toe. Yet, as Nepal emerged victorious by 80 runs, few were surprised by the result. Was it due to a gulf in class? Perhaps not, for Nepal provided credence to the notion that body language is one of the most important facets of this sport. There were a few junctures at which a difference in this particular area between the two sides was glaring. Duly mentioned below are a few.
Most international players vouch that proudly singing to the mellifluous tune of their national anthems a few minutes prior to the commencement of the match pumps their adrenaline like nothing else. In accordance with tradition, the national anthems of Hong Kong and Nepal, in that order, were played at the venue, but whilst the first team looked edgy during the course of it, the second revelled in the atmosphere. The Nepalese supporters joyously joined in, too, clearly adding to the charm of the anthem.
It’d be unfair to say Hong Kong were below par here for two reasons — their anxiety is understandable, and they lacked support in the stands, perhaps because, unlike Nepal, the team primarily housed expatriates, and few could relate. Nonetheless, Nepal looked up for the game ahead, whereas the men from Hong Kong were visibly inundated by the moment.
Hong Kong’s new-ball bowlers Tanwir Afzal and Haseeb Amjad were by no means menacing, but Nepalese openers Subash Khakurel and Sagar Pun had Twenty20 strike-rates of below 100, too. Yet, it was the men wielding the willow who steered the boat, in the process knocking one bowler out of the attack. It was only a 36-run stand, but the shots played were attractive. Their defence was assertive, too. When the spinner was drafted in to bowl, they seldom refrained from thwacking him over the infield. The aggressive stroke-play aptly procured admiration from Indian commentator and Test batsman Sanjay Manjrekar in the confines of the commentary box. Nepal drew first blood. In comparison, Hong Kong’s openers frittered away a fine chance.
Impact players deliver
Capitalising on the foundation laid, Gyanendra Malla and Paras Khadka duly ripped through the Hong Kong bowlers with a 80-run partnership in quick time. At a point where most teams are prone to losing their way, Malla and Khadka counterattacked and dented any chance of the opposition making a comeback. The stand effectively sealed Hong Kong’s fate.
Hong Kong’s middle-order batsmen Babar Hayat and Mark Chapman came together under similar circumstances during the chase, but their temperament failed to match that of their Nepalese counterparts’, and a collapse seemed inevitable after that. One can also argue that the duo, and the batsmen who followed, were devoid of an adept technique to combat the spin of Shakti Gauchan and Basant Regmi.
The standard set
During the third ball of the ninth over of Hong Kong’s innings, Gauchan dropped one short and Hayat calmly knocked it along the ground to long on. Regmi, the fielder there, picked the ball and threw it back to Gauchan with a wayward throw. There was no way the batsmen could have notched off an extra run. Moreover, Nepal had exercised firm grip on the match by then, and an overthrow wouldn’t have cost much anyway. Despite all the above, Gauchan didn’t hold back from expressing his displeasure at Regmi’s slightly unorthodox return. That was the level Nepal had been operating throughout the duration of the match, which is undoubtedly praiseworthy. In stark contrast, Hong Kong’s shoulders drooped lower with each misfield.
Gauchan’s post-match interview best embodied the spirit with which Nepal approached the fixture. His head was aptly high, the smile almost impossible to ignore. He, and his fellow team-mates, had graced the stage with intent to enjoy themselves, and the results are only a by-product. With a body language such as theirs, this could only be the first of many peaks the Nepalese have scaled. There are troughs ahead, but the team look up to ride it.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)
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