Nepal have scripted an improbable and dramatic turnaround to book a direct berth in the 2023 World Cup Qualifier, to be held in Zimbabwe this June. They achieved that feat in controversial circumstances, in dying light in Kathmandu on Thursday, defeating the UAE by nine runs via the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern (DLS) method.
Set a target of 310, Nepal were 41 runs adrift with six overs and four wickets remaining when the match was called off by the umpires at 5.37pm local time, the officials having deemed it was too dark to continue. As per the DLS calculations Nepal’s target at that point was 260 but they had got to 269, so they were declared winners by nine runs.
They sealed their spot in the Zimbabwe qualifier – the final step for teams looking to make it to the ODI World Cup in India in October-November – on the back of an impressive 11 wins in their last 12 ODIs. They were one of three teams to seal direct entry into the Zimbabwe qualifier via this competition, the Cricket World Cup League 2; Oman and Scotland are the other two teams.
The Nepal chase started at 1.45pm local time, which meant the UAE were woefully behind the required over rate, taking nearly four hours for 44 overs (and more than 40 minutes to bowl their last six), which eventually hurt them. Nepal, though, would thank the lower-order pairing of Gulsan Jha and Dipendra Singh Airee who stayed calm during the crucial unbroken 44-run seventh-wicket partnership.
The turning point of the match came with eight overs remaining, when Nepal were behind on the DLS scales. Jha, who went on to score his maiden ODI 50, and Airee smacked 20 runs in the 42nd over of the chase, delivered by captain Muhammad Waseem, which took them ahead of the over-by-over par scores. That was Waseem’s first over of the innings, and they smacked his medium pace for 2, 6, 4, 4, 4.
At the post-match presentation, Nepal captain Rohit Paudel explained that the bench was constantly in touch with the batters in the middle about the par score. “I think the way we played the last 12 games, we had belief we’ll chase it down. We were looking at the DLS score, we were sending messages also that we need to be ahead of the DLS so accordingly the boys played,” Paudel said.
The UAE players were shocked by the umpires’ decision to call off play and contested the call even as the Nepal players and bench exuberantly celebrated around them. Confusion prevailed for a while and at one stage former India allrounder Robin Singh, who is the UAE head coach, along with Waseem, walked up to chat with the ICC match referee Manu Nayyar, who informed them that the light was too dark regardless of whether spin or pace was in operation.
That chat seemed to pacify the UAE dressing room, and their players finally walked out to shake hands with the Nepal players. This drama unfolded in front a record full house at the Tribhuvan University International Cricket Ground in Kirtipur, where, according to commentators on ICC TV which broadcast the match, crowds had queued since 4.30am. The ground was packed, and fans were spotted on terraces and even climbed trees along the periphery to get a glimpse of the action, and they were still around at 6.30pm for the post-match celebrations. “I’m grateful to them,” Paudel said of the fans, “the way they have come in large numbers and supported and motivated us.”
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He put on a stand of 135 for the sixth wicket with UAE’s other big performer on the day, Vriitya Aravind, who made 94 off 138.