Sandesh Sigdel, Kathmandu
145. Oman dragged themselves to a respectable total against Nepal in front of their roaring supporters despite struggling at the start. Everything was set up well for a successful Nepal chase and a top-place finish in the group. But such is Nepal’s fate and they never seem to achieve with ease.
And in the second innings, Nepal faltered.
The middle order couldn’t steer the side on a pitch where Oman had also struggled, being 38-4 at one point. Unfortunately, Nepal dug an even deeper hole for themselves.
Despite a valiant effort from youngster Bibek Yadav at the end, it wasn’t enough to salvage the situation after the batting debacle.
Bibek, who was at the crease for longest period in his short T20I career managed to hit ace pacer Bilal Khan for three consecutive sixes in the final over, providing a glimmer of hope with chasing 26 runs off last 6. Bibek mistimed fourth ball and it left Avinash Bohora to scamper a single off 5th ball.
With just a six required off the final ball, Karan KC hoisted a shot towards long-on, which was held by Kaleemullah, in result sealing Oman’s five-run victory.
The loss means, Nepal will now face Group B toppers- UAE, yet again for a bite at the big apple- T20 World Cup. If memory serves right and if the recent successes of the Nepali team hasn’t wiped previous memories, it was UAE who broke Nepali hearts in the deciding matchup of the previous T20 World Cup Qualifiers in Al-Amerat. It is Nepal against their familiar foe once again for the same prize- although the stakes are bigger for Nepal right now, the match being on home soil.
It almost feels like Nepal are playing against them for the zillionth time tomorrow in recent memory. It is also evident that both sides would have preferred to avoid each other in the semifinals but here we are. While Nepal and UAE face each other in Mulpani, Oman will look to continue their strong run of form at TU Ground against lowly Bahrain. Bahrain, despite losing their last match against Kuwait pipped Hong Kong by barest of margins in run rate.
On paper, Nepal and the UAE were the favorites to top their respective groups, win their semifinals and secure their place in World Cup in North America next year. Everyone was waiting for another Final between Nepal and UAE, but that came one game too soon. That’d have been more “deserved” if you’d like to think so- but nothing materialized until and unless you deliver on the pitch.
Before the tournament began, there was something that was published here (regular readers would know) that said Oman are the dark horses, although they have been to the global event more than Nepal and equal to the UAE- twice, in 2016 and 2021. They know how to get there.
And they’ve put themselves in pole position again this time with a fixture confirmed against- let’s face it- comparatively weaker opposition in Bahrain- Bahrain were victorious the last time they face Oman- by one run- but Oman would think they have better chances against them than UAE.
For UAE though, although they have a reason to be confident against Nepal- the recent Tri-Nations Series final win over the home side- they are bound to feel the pressure, nothing less than the home side. Nepal defeated them twice in the round-robin stage, though, which were comfortable victories. But the horrors of Al-Amerat would be in Nepali minds, which skipper Rohit Paudel denied on the eve of tournament.
UAE were last hurdle in Nepal’s ‘impossible’ journey to protect their ODI status and World Cup Qualifiers. They were finalists in the ACC Premier Cup which served as qualification to the Asia Cup very recently. To add up, in the U-19 circuit, Nepal and UAE have faced each other multiple times. Nepal have triumphed every single time.
Head coach Monty Desai, after the loss against Oman on Thursday, asserted that the team have an opportunity to correct the mistakes made against Oman in Mulpani. He was also quick to deny any suggestions regarding an advantage UAE would have at Mulpani having played all of their matches so far there.
But neglecting all the ifs buts and maybes that have guided to a Nepal-UAE showdown again, these teams always find each other pitted against one another with a lot at stake. Whatever may come, Nepal will “walk into the unknowns with excitement” said Desai.
Nepal would look to repeat the 2014 heroics and not let the Al-Amerat heartbreak repeat. UAE, on the other hand, would love to derail Nepal’s hopes of the Caribbean and the USA. For UAE, there should be nothing they’d love more than doing so in front of the Nepali crowd after the last three crunch-match defeats.
For Nepal, the entire country would be hooked to see them repeat history.
Mulpani. Friday morning at 11. November 3. The Decider awaits.