Nepal showed once again why they are the best team in Asia at ACC U-19 Cup level, by winning the tournament for the fourth successive time at the Kinrara Oval. They beat a strong Afghanistan side by 48 runs, "But it wasn't easy," said their coach Roy Dias. "The boys had to work hard for their victory."

The match-up was tantalising. Afghan fire against Nepali grace. Afghanistan desperate to win their country’s first ever international team trophy, against Nepal who’ve won many. The deciding factor wasn’t who most wanted to win, it was who best knew how to.

Choosing to bat first on a sunny morning and looking to score at least 200, they were in trouble from the start losing Shashi Kesari, caught behind, in the first over and then just three balls later, Gyanendra Malla played on to Izatullah Khan. Asghar Hussain almost had Paras Khadka in his next over, the ball just bouncing in front of second slip, Mohammad Khalid.

Paras Khadka can't believe it, but the ball's got through

Afghanistan were on top and it took all of Khadka's and Mahesh Chhetri's experience to dig them out and their battle with Izzatullah and Asghar was compelling. Khadka tall, elegant and well-composed punished anything loose, with the stockier Chhetri very much playing a supporting role. Chhetri was pinged on the head, even Khadka had to hurry his strokes. Asghar Hussain, bowling straight through finally had his man when Khadka was bowled by a yorker. 47 for 3 soon became 60 for 5 in the 22nd over but then came the crucial partnership that wrested the game back towards Nepal.

Afghanistan start chasing leather as Nepal fight back

Afghanistan's Shir Shirzai switched his bowlers around, even bringing back Izatullah but Nepal's sixth wicket pair of Sagar Khadka and Aakash Gupta held firm and Gupta in particular, took the attack to the bowlers. He played beautifully for his 48 (48 balls, seven 4s and a 6) and put his team in a position to set a challenging total. Sagar Khadka, better known for his off-spin, kept on going and his 32 (79 balls, one 4) was a valuable contribution too.

Paras Khadka (standing) applauds Sagar Khadka as
he returns to the pavilion

None of the Nepali batsmen found it easy against a good Afghan attack on a wicket of variable bounce which was taking spin; the one consolation for Nepal in their struggles with the bat was that conditions wouldn't be any easier for Afghanistan during their innings.

Their total of 172 was going to be a challenging one and Afghanistan would have to be at their best to chase it down. "Cricket is a game  played 70% with the head and heart" said Roquibul Hassan of Bangladesh, an ACC Match Referee during this tournament. Nepal still, as it showed, have the edge on Afghanistan in that department.

Paras Khadka bowled beautifully and had the Afghan
batsmen in all sorts of trouble

Nepal were playing an extra spinner with Shashi Kesari''s leg-breaks brought in to replace fast-medium Chandra Sawad. The move certainly paid off in the afternoon, after Nepal's new-ball bowlers had pegged back Afghanistan's top-order. Paras Khadka in particular bowled beautifully from the Kinrara Road end and could have taken any number of wickets. At 21 for 2 Obaidullah Kunari walked in, practically a folk-hero in Afghanistan thanks to his big-hitting this tournament. He's absolutely plundered runs scoring 195 up to today at a strike rate of 132.00.

Obaidullah Kunari plays his first delivery...


...and continues in that vein

Kunari smacked his first ball for 2, picked up his first boundary four balls later but was relatively subdued today. Nepal's attack - the best he's faced so far - didn't make it easy for him. He was always a little stiff and when he fell, caught by Sagar Khadka at mid-off inside the circle, hitting Rahul Kumar on the up, his foot not to the pitch, Nepal  had a big breakthrough.

Worse was to follow for Afghanistan, Noor ul-Haq ‘The Rock’ having played himself in, and looking to stay until the very end, was stumped for just 3. Afghanistan were really in trouble now.

The Afghan captain Sher Sherzai, not amongst the runs so far this tournament, kept the innings together but with only 5 off his first 26 balls, and just 20 more off his next 50 he was always having to play catch-up. He accelerated in the latter part of his innings but forced into taking a few too many risks, he fell in the deep for 66 off 115 (three 4s and one 6). He was the sixth Afghan wicket to fall. The run-rate had climbed to over a run-a-ball by now and the task was just too much for the remaining batsmen.

Shrestha takes the catch that wins the match

Raj Shrestha took a smart catch off his own bowling, moving to his left to dismiss Izatullah Khan and Nepal had won by 48 runs.

Four finals, four wins; unbeaten for six years at this level.

Nepal's captain Paras Khadka, a veteran of three  of those finals said, "The whole team played well. We've been together for a long time, new players have come as the game's spread across Nepal. It's been a great effort by the team, the coach, the  Association and all those supporting cricket back home."

With this victory in the ACC U-19 Elite Cup, Nepal qualify for the U-19 World Cup in Malaysia in 2008; they will be defending the Plate Trophy. There, Paras Khadka reckons, "We've beaten Bangladesh, Pakistan, New Zealand and South Africa, we're up for it again."

Afghanistan v Nepal at Kinrara Oval
Nepal won the toss and chose to bat
Nepal: 172 off 49.4 overs (S. Khadka 32, A. Gupta 48)
Afghanistan: 124 off 45.5 overs (S. Sherzai 66; S. Kesari 3-32)
Man of the Match: Sher Sherzai (Afghanistan)


ACC U-19 Elite Cup 2007

Filed August 29 2007