- Sandesh Sigdel
It is not the opposition that strikes the millions of Nepalese in the world today- it is the occasion- the occasion of going toe-to-toe with the big guns, the occasion of locking horns against the number one team in the world of one-day internationals.
The Nepali story exemplifies the underdog story- something that was unimaginable 12 months ago. Nepal were struggling to garner points in the ICC World Cricket League Two and had their dreams of getting to the ICC T20 World Cup 2023 shattered in the earlier year. The cricket team needed a miracle to bulwark their ODI status.
And the fairytale happened with 11 wins in 12 under a man who came as a messiah to this cricket team, head coach Monty Desai. Not only did this bunch of players protect their ODI status in front of an intimidating home crowd with his guidance, but they won every single match to win the ACC Men’s Premier Cup afterward and book their place in the Asia Cup.
A long-cherished dream that had taken root in the Nepali cricket world- the chance to contest with the powerhouses of international cricket is now a reality. This dream materialized when Nepal found itself placed amidst two arch-rivals, India and Pakistan, courtesy of a favorable draw. Amidst numerous ensuing disputes and an intense contest to find a truce, a compromise resulted in the division of the Asia Cup into distinct segments – the Pakistan leg and the Sri Lanka leg. As a consequence of the enduring and seemingly perpetual tussle between India and Pakistan, Nepal is now poised to encounter these cricketing giants on two distinct stages, firstly in Multan against Pakistan.
Pakistan, one of the juggernauts of world cricket, need no introduction. They have been around the top for a very long time. Their steeped-rich cricketing history reigns from the time they lifted the 1992 World Cup under their eloquently talented skipper Imran Khan to the Akrams and Younises through the Afridis and Misbahs to Babars and Rizwans of today. Although they don’t have much to show for compared to their rivals India or Australia or the English, they are constantly counted among the prominent cricketing nations
Their opponents today, Nepal, have had their ups and downs in the last two decades and more. And their ups have never sniffed the Pakistani lows. But for once today, the Multan International Stadium today will host these two nations against each other- a feat the tiny Himalayan nation in the South of Asia had dreamt of for a long time.
Nepal have reached this stage with a hunger and passion to prove themselves and gain experience. The team has nothing to lose and everything to gain from this. This team has already defied expectations and achieved the admiration of the cricketing world for their recent growth and development.
Nepal will face a formidable challenge from Pakistan, a cricketing powerhouse that often gets overlooked by their full-member peers. Pakistan boasts a fearsome pace attack that can trouble any batting line-up, and today will be no exception. They have Shaheen Shah Afridi, the ninth-ranked bowler in the world, along with the lethal Haris Rauf and the promising Naseem Shah. The Nepali batsmen will have to cope with a huge difference in speed from what they are used to. They have mostly faced Associate-level bowlers who lack the pace and skill of their Pakistani counterparts.
The Nepali bowlers won’t have an easier task. Pakistan’s batting line-up is well-known for its quality and depth. They are led by the flamboyant captain Babar Azam, who is currently the top-ranked batter in the world. They also have three more in the top ten: Imam-ul-Haq in third and Fakhar Zaman in fifth.
The reality may be harsh for the fans, but it cannot be hidden. The Nepali cricket team and their supporters are well aware of this fact. However, the team should not let this dissuade their performance. They should play their best cricket and give their all. Nepal cannot compare to Pakistan, a cricketing behemoth. The team should strive to compete and excel at the level they have always dreamed of. This day should mark the beginning of a journey where these eleven players prove that they deserve to be among the elite. This is not about winning but about competing and demonstrating that this team can play at this level.
Nepal’s current approach is marked by youthful energy and a hunger to prove themselves on the international stage. Today’s encounter is their stage to do so. Most of the players are unknown on the international scene and are driven to make their mark against Pakistan’s seasoned players. The contrast between the exuberance and experience is huge. But for once, these players should go out in Multan and enjoy. And as Monty Desai says, this is when the best cricket oozes out of this squad.
For Nepal, this match not only signifies a tremendous leap in terms of progress but also gives a basis for inspiration. This match will represent a meeting of different cricketing realms in the grand tapestry of cricket and will not just be about the scores on the board; it is about the narratives, aspirations and shared passion that bind the players and fans together. Nepal’s cricket team is not just playing a match against Pakistan but also writing a chapter in their cricket odyssey. A chapter that will be remembered for years to come.
Bring on Pakistan.