Nepal would have been disappointed to lose to England in their opening game of the 2006 U-19 World Cup. They lost by 77 runs but for a long time victory was in their reach.

England had batted after winning the toss and the quality of Nepal’s ground-fielding, which remained of a high standard throughout, would have immediately impressed them. The first wicket fell to a run-out in the first ball of the second over and just fourteen runs came from the first five. But it was when Nepal’s spinners took the ball at the start of the fifteenth over that England’s batsmen truly struggled.

England were never quite able to get their run-rate above four an over and though the boundary was found on occasion, England were never able to shape proceedings in the way they would have liked. All but one of England’s batsmen fell to catches in the deep or were thrown out by some alert fielding. No catch was more spectacular than Gyanandra Malla’s to dismiss the opener Varun Chopra (38 off 60 deliveries, four 4s). Running backwards at cover to a miscued pull, Malla made excellent to take the ball at full stretch low to the ground. It was a catch later to be matched by England’s Graeme White.

England’s captain Moeen Ali top-scored with 54 (three 4s and two 6s) but was never quite as fluent as he would have liked. He fell to a catch at long-on as he looked to break the spinners’ shackles. England finished on 209 for 9 and would have been disappointed. Nepal’s game plan had so far paid off and they would have gone into lunch in a much happier frame of mind.

Bearing in mind that on all the evidence presented by England on their tours of Bangladesh and Malaysia in the preceding weeks, and with the frank assessment of his team by England’s coach Andy Pick before this tournament, that England were a better batting than bowling side – a potential upset was on the cards.

At 41 for no wicket after six overs, with Nepal’s captain Kanishka Chaugai batting with sublime assurance – his first scoring stroke, a square cut for four hit with clinical precision lingers in the memory still – Nepal looked well set. But then Chaugai (30 off 22 deliveries) fell to his perennial weakness – cramp - and had to limp off. England had only just brought the first of their own spinners and with Chaugai gone with no example set to his team-mates on how best to play them, England’s spinners were able to settle into a groove and the match started to swing back towards England. The first five overs from the slow left-armers White and James gave up only one run and the Nepalese batsmen started getting a little anxious.

Sarad Vesawkar has his own regular weakness – running between the wickets – and his push to mid-off would have resulted in the tightest of singles at best; Ali’s throw to the wicket-keeper had Mahesh Chhetri run out by a yard. Vesawkar himself fell soon after and at 57 for 3, with Chaugai still fit enough to resume, Nepal were in some trouble.

Batting at 6, Prem Chaudhary played with considerable confidence and took the fight to England’s bowlers but on 31, having hit two fours and two straight sixes, he too fell to a run-out as Nepal took one chance too many against an England team who remained alert and positive in the field throughout. The required run-rate rate had climbed close to six an over by now.

Moeen Ali

Chaugai returned with a runner and announced himself with a pull well in front of square but he survived only twelve in his second visit to the crease as he inside-edged a full delivery from the wibbly-wobbly medium pacers of Steven Mullaney onto his stumps. With that, Nepal’s hopes of victory were pretty much over and Graeme White’s phenomenal one-handed stretch to take a catch inches off the ground at mid-on sealed England’s victory in the 46th over.

“We played well in patches” said Nepal’s Coach Roy Dias after the match, “but the boys are all up for the game against Zimbabwe tomorrow”. Zimbabwe have shown in the warm-up matches and with their victory against Ireland that they will be tough but it is a game Nepal must win to keep their Super League hopes alive.

The positive attitude is there for Nepal. One hour after the end of the match, after a debriefing in their dressing-room, you could hear the team’s battle cries ringing through the halls of the SSC.

Nepal: down but not out

Group D: England v Nepal, Sinhalese Sport Club, Colombo
England won the toss and elected to bat
England: 209 for 9 off 50 overs (V. Chopra 38, M. Nelson 40, M. Ali 54)
Nepal: 132 off 45.2 overs (K. Chaugai 34, P. Chaudhary 31; R. Hamilton-Brown 3-17)
Man of the Match: Moeen Ali (England)

Filed February 7 2006