By Anand Vasu in Chittagong
Left-arm spinners Shakti Gauchan and Basant Regmi to the fore as Hong Kong is beaten by 80 runs
With Bangladesh shooting Afghanistan out on a dry turner in Mirpur to get the tournament off to the start home fans wanted, a festive crowd turned up at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium and got their money’s worth. Even in countries where fans are passionate about the game, it isn’t easy to draw big crowds for games between two neutral associates and when in excess of 10,000 cheered as one, it certainly made world cricket’s newest entrants feel welcome and wanted at the highest level.
When Jamie Atkinson, Hong Kong’s captain, won the toss, he did not need to think too much about putting Nepal in. A generous smattering of live grass on the pitch and the possibility of dew later in the evening prompted the move. While the thinking was sound, it did not quite factor in the determination of the Nepalis.
Subhash Khakurel and Sagar Pun showed no sign of nerves at the top of the order, even against the quality of Tanwir Afzal and Haseeb Amjad, two bowlers good enough to have played for Pakistan Under19. Khakurel was comfortable on front and back foot, a swiveling pull off Afzal early on setting the pace. Pun took a liking to the spinners, stepping down the pitch to loft 42-year-old debutant Najeeb Amar over cover off the first ball he bowled.
Hong Kong pulled things back after a brisk start with both openers being dismissed with the score on 36.
Khadka opened his account with a meaty slog sweep, and proved he was not a one-trick pony with an effortless lift over extra-cover. On 20, Khadka should have been back in the hut, but Afzal dropped the first of many catches for Hong Kong, grassing a sitter at long-on.
Once he had the opening, Khadka made the most of it, chancing his arm in the company of Gyanendra Malla, who endeavoured to keep his end solid. The two ran hard between the wickets – all those years of high-altitude living clearly making things easier at sea level – and before Hong Kong knew it, the game was slipping away.
When Khadka (41) holed out at long-on in the 17th over, Hong Kong was still in with a sniff, but Malla then took over, raining big blows. Malla (48) was one of four wickets to fall in an anticlimactic final over, but Nepal had done enough, putting 149 on the board.
Hong Kong needed a strong start, but it got anything but that as Khadka, bowling around the stumps to the right-handed Irfan Ahmed, struck off the first ball. Pushing forward, Irfan feathered an edge and Khakurel fumbled the ball but held on for dear life.
Sompal Kami, the youngest player to feature in this tournament at 18 years and 42 days, got a back of a length skidder to hurry Atkinson and a thick inside edge crashed on to the stumps. Waqas Barkat (18) played some muscular heaves through the on-side and Mark Chapman contemplated getting his eye in before teeing off, but Nepal’s bowlers, backed by vigilant in-fielding, kept the pressure on. Basant Regmi tossed one of his left-arm spinners up just enough to beat Chapman in the flight and when the stumps were disturbed, the chase was dead in the water at 58 for 4. That three more wickets fell on the same score, Nizakat Khan, Afzal and Aizaz Khan all falling for ducks, confirmed the rout.
Shakti Gauchan (3/9) and Regmi (3/14), showed just why left-arm spin is king in Bangladesh as Hong Kong imploded to 69 all out in 17 overs.
If this was the worst nightmare coming true for Hong Kong, a team that has strived over the years to show just what the smaller cricketing nations can do with the right help, it was nothing short of a fairytale for Nepal. Now that this is out of the way, the dreams of Khadka, his team-mates and their many staunch followers, will only get bigger and bigger.