Nepal's 'miracle' takes them into World Cup Qualifiers
Thursday 15th of February
At 4:57 pm on a late Wednesday afternoon, Canada offspinner Nikhil Dutta was in the midst of flying from the bowling crease to the third man boundary, doing a Rashid Khan-style airplane celebration after getting Aarif Sheikh - Nepal's last recognized batsman - out stumped. Behind the dark clouds of thunder and lightning in the backdrop of Wanderers Sports Club, the sun appeared to be fading on Nepal's tournament.
With 51 runs needed off 47 balls to win, No. 10 Karan KC - who was yet to score - was about to be joined for Nepal's last stand by 16-year old Sandeep Lamichhane, who had earlier sustained a right knee injury that played a part in not bowling his full quota of overs.
What followed was one of the most miraculous endings to an ICC tournament match at any level as Karan struck an unbeaten 42 off 31 balls, including eight off the final two balls, to seal one of the greatest victories in Nepal's history. Canada, who started off the tournament with three straight wins, needed just one more over either Namibia or Nepal to clinch a spot at the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe. Instead, they fell short in the most gutwrenching circumstances imaginable.
The first sniff of hope that Nepal had during the final wicket stand came at the end of the 44th over against Dillon Heyliger. The medium pacer sent down a full delivery that Karan drove through the line 30 yards over the short straight boundary at long-off and into the Wanderers car park. The equation was reduced to 40 off last 36 balls, but it was a warning shot across the bows that Nepal was not about to lie down.
Indeed, Karan continued stirring the chase back to life. At the other end, Lamichhane clung on by any means necessary. A poke at Dutta two balls later produced an edge that flew between keeper and slip. When he got on strike to Cecil Pervez, Lamichhane faced a bouncer barrage before finding a single that led to another boundary from Karan to end the 46th.
With three overs left, the darkness cleared and the sun began to shine once more on the pair in the middle. Karan heaved Pervez over deep midwicket in the 48th and then clattered another six back over Satsimranjit Dhindsa's head to bring the equation down to 13 off eight. Canada had kept a slip in to Lamichhane but spread the field for Karan, a strategy that proved costly when he edged the next ball just wide of a diving Hamza Tariq behind the stumps for four.
A single to end the over left Karan on strike needing eight off six. Nepal's squad, which had been scattered between the dugout and the boundary, nestling into superstitious positions, became hoarse in their support. Canada's bench, which had come to the boundary edge 20 minutes earlier with a Maple Leaf flag unfurled ready to charge the pitch, now sat silent.
As Canada's most experienced death bowling specialist, Pervez was tossed the ball for the final over. He had put Canada on top early in the innings knocking over Nepal's top three, including a pair of well-directed short balls to claim vice-captain Gyanendra Malla for 9 and captain Paras Khadka for a golden duck on back-to-back deliveries in the seventh over, a gut punch to Nepal's prospects of chasing at 22 for 2.
Now, Canada's World Cup Qualifier fate was in the palm of Pervez' right hand. He was flawless over the first four deliveries, sending down a quartet of pinpoint yorkers, two of which barely missed leg stump with Karan backing away. With eight off two needed, one more yorker would effectively clinch the match for Canada as the momentum seesawed back their way. But Pervez got his length fractionally long as Karan backed away to carve him 10 yards over the extra cover rope.
With UAE having defeated Namibia five minutes earlier to put both teams at six points, it meant a single would produce a tie to put both Canada and Nepal on seven points and move both into the World Cup Qualifier. However, a result either way for Canada or Nepal would clinch a spot not just for the winner but for UAE as well.
Pervez got his length right once more, but the line was a shade off as Karan missed a flick down the leg side that was signalled a wide to level the scores. Running in for a redo, Pervez floated a knee-high full toss that Karan whacked through midwicket to commence a sprint to the wicket from the Nepal squad and a simultaneous collapse to the ground for Canada's eleven on the field.
While Lamichhane also dropped to his knees to give praise up above, Karan was hoisted up and carried for an impromptu victory lap around the infield. Khadka, whose dismissal seemed to spell doom for Nepal's chances of a successful chase, was speechless as his team-mates carried on celebrating around him.
Karan was named Man of the Match, leaving Canada opener Srimantha Wijeratne's first innings century a footnote in the history book of this tournament. Wijeratne's bat was wielded like a magic wand against Nepal's bowling unit with deft deflections, uppercuts and finally a scoop over the keeper to bring up three figures. He carried his bat for 103 off 152 balls in searing heat after Canada had been sent in. In particular, he repelled Lamichhane during the legspinner's incisive initial five-over spell that claimed 2 for 7.
After Lamichhane's fifth over concluded, he left the field with a knee injury, and the problem continued to bother him when he returned as he was smacked hard by Tariq in his first over back into the attack for a pair of straight sixes. Three more ineffective overs continued to give Canada confidence heading into the final phase of the innings. Basant Regmi did well to keep Canada pinned down at one end with 3 for 34 but when Wijeratne walked off at the halftime break having recorded the first century of the tournament, it seemed destined to be a match-winning one.
But as ICC match referee Dev Govindjee said later at the post-match presentation, "If you didn't believe in miracles before, you might start after today." (ESPNCRICINFO)