Nepal will compete in Group B of the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe, hoping to qualify for the tournament proper for the first time.
Nepal qualified for the tournament in dramatic fashion, an unbroken final-wicket stand of 51 runs between Karan KC and Sandeep Lamichhane taking them to victory by one wicket off the final ball of their World Cricket League Division Two game against Canada.
Incredibly, the win came only two days after Nepal had won their previous game, against Kenya at the same venue, also off the last delivery.
It was a result that left Paras Khadka, the Nepal captain, “speechless”, as it did most others.
15 February – lost to UAE by 7 runs in Windhoek
14 February – beat Canada by 1 wicket in Windhoek
12 February – beat Kenya by 3 wickets in Windhoek
ICC CWCQ Group B
4 March – Zimbabwe, Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo
8 March – Scotland, Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo
10 March – Afghanistan, Bulawayo Athletic Club, Bulawayo
12 March – Hong Kong, Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo
Squad: Paras Khadka (capt), Gyanendra Malla, Shakti Gauchan, Basant Regmi, Sharad Vesawkar, Sompal Kami, Karan KC, Mohammad Arif Sheikh, Sandeep Lamichhane, Dipendra Singh Airee, Dilip Nath (wk), Lalit Bhandari, Anil Kumar Sah, Rohit Kumar Paudel, Lalit Narayan Rajbanshi
The Nepal side is the youngest in terms of average age in the tournament at just over 24 years but can still boast a host of experienced players. Khadka, the captain, is 30 and has turned out in 11 T20Is and 28 List A matches over the years.
Shakti Gauchan and Basant Regmi, both left-arm spinners, and Gyanendra Malla, the top-order batsman, are vastly experienced, as is Sompal Kami, the 22-year-old right-arm medium-pacer.
The rising star in the team, however, is Sandeep Lamichhane, the 17-year-old leg-spinner. With 29 wickets from 15 List A games so far, the youngster has attracted the attention of the likes of Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke, and he duly became the first Nepalese cricketer to secure an IPL contract when Delhi Daredevils picked him up for his base price of $31,499 auction, prompting Nepal prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to tweet: "Not just me, but the entire nation is proud of you."
Cricket World Cup history
Nepal became an Affiliate Member of the ICC in 1988 and then an Associate Member in 1996, and earned T20I status from the ICC in June 2014. They have taken part in the qualifiers to both the ICC Cricket World Cup and the ICC World Twenty20 in the past, and made the cut for the 2014 World Twenty20 in Bangladesh, but have never been a part of the 50-over World Cup.
What needs to go right for Nepal to qualify?
The Asian nation’s qualification for this tournament was dramatic, and now they will hope to carry on the good work and upset some calculations.
“The way Nepal cricket has blossomed in the past decade or so is reflected in the composition of this side," said captain Khadka. "We have played well in various age group, regional and qualifying events, which has given cricket the much needed lift and boost, and as a result, we have some young but outstanding cricketers who have immense talent. The ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier will be a stepping stone for most of the cricketers and will undoubtedly give them further experience and exposure.”
Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, ranked No.10 and No.11 in the MRF Tyres ICC Men’s ODI Team Rankings, will start as favourites in Group B, but Nepal's recent performances have shown they can raise their game on the big occasions. They will target victories against Scotland and Hong Kong, and then hope for a good result against one of Afghanistan and Zimbabwe to go through to the Super Sixes.