Kathmandu , June 13 After a whirlwind first half of 2023, Nepal travel to Zimbabwe with a ground-breaking qualification for the Cricket World Cup the ultimate goal.
Seemingly in a rut during a tumultuous CWC League 2 period, out of form and struggling to find their ideal first XI, Nepal’s fortunes changed in February when Monty Desai was appointed as head coach.
The team still had a third of their League 2 campaign in front of them, though needed at least 10 wins from their final 12 matches for a critical top-three spot and a guaranteed place at the upcoming Qualifier.
Amazingly, and with the help at key moments from a vocal Kathmandu crowd, the side won 11 of the last dozen, including a thrilling DLS-decided victory against UAE on the final day of the competition.
It turned out to be a sliding doors moment of significance. Namibia, the side Nepal bumped down to fourth and sent to the Qualifier Play-off, were unable to claw their way to a spot in Zimbabwe, as
USA and UAE prevailed, the ICC reported.
No one knows how Nepal would have fared in the same situation, but for young wicket-keeper batter Aasif Sheikh, the results bode well when focusing on the future.
“It was unbelievable to get through to the Qualifier,” Sheikh said. “Winning 11 matches out of 12 was unexpected, to be honest.
“It was a team effort, everyone has contributed. I feel like we are on a great journey with our cricket and we are really excited for the qualifiers,” he said.
“So many of the matches we have played previously in League 2 have been so close and we fought really well in those matches, so they will give us some confidence,” Sheikh said.
Nepal players and their millions of fans accept that much of that run came thanks to the wave of local support, and while the challenges of foreign conditions have already shown on a recent preparation tour in South Africa, Sheikh knows their brand of cricket can work on their travels.
“The support we got in Nepal was unbelievable, we had so many people in the crowd for the final game,” he said.
“We are going to miss the crowd but we know that from Nepal they are going to support us,” Sheikh said.
“It doesn’t matter wherever we play, we know the Nepali people are with us, they will be cheering for us from Nepal,” he said.
“Looking at the qualifiers, we believe that if we play quality cricket, we believe that we are going to win most of the matches,” Sheikh said
“It is just about playing the best cricket on the day. We believe that if we play our best cricket on that day, we are going to win,” he added.
Desai and Nepal’s selection group has stayed true with the group that triumphed at the back end of League 2 and the ACC Premier Cup, where they also secured an Asia Cup 2023 spot later in the year.
Joining captain Rohit Paudel in the middle order will be Kushal Malla and the consistent Bhim Sharki, with Aasif’s brother Aarif also likely taking a spot in the XI.
Sheikh sai will open with Khushal Bhurtel, while the squad is also boosted by the emergence of youngster Gulshan Jha.
One of the young players to stand up in recent times, bowling all-rounder Jha became the third-youngest men’s ODI player of all time when he made his debut as a 15-year-old against USA in September 2021, and was a key part of the final League 2 push and the ACC Premier Cup, the qualification tournament for this year’s Asia Cup.
Jha was sent up the order by coach Desai as a left-handed point of difference with the bat in the Premier Cup against UAE, and stormed to 67 not out, securing fixtures against India and Pakistan.
Looking back at the recent form Sheikh feels performing on the field come the Cricket World Cup Qualifier will come from Desai’s faith.
“The day he (Desai) came in as coach, we sat together,” Sheikh recalled. “We had a meeting and he said we are going to win 10 matches out of 12 – and then we won 11.”
“That’s the kind of belief and confidence he had in us. Before qualifying for the Asia Cup, he said we would be playing in it,” he said.
“He’s an amazing guy, he’s working hard with us and making us believe that we can win every match,” Sheikh said.
Nepal’s strength has historically come through their bowling, and the side boost experience across pace and spin options, though the injection of batting class in the group makes them a strong
chance of progressing to the Super Six stage.
Rohit Paudel (c), Kushal Bhurtel, Aasif Sheikh, Gyanendra Malla, Kushal Malla, Aarif Sheikh, Dipendra Singh Airee, Gulsan Jha, Sompal Kami, Karan KC, Sandeep Lamichhane, Bhim Sharki, Lalit Rajbanshi, Pratish GC, Arjun Saud, Kishor Mahato.