Nepal book India, Pakistan meetings at Asia Cup 2023
Battling a spin bowling group in Kathmandu, Nepal negotiated a tough chase to secure the final Asia Cup 2023 spot on the reserve day of the Premier Cup final on Tuesday.
Gulshan Jha's promotion to No.3 in the batting order proved a masterstroke from skipper Rohit Paudel and coach Monty Desai, first to negotiate Aayan Khan's left-arm orthodox, before countering with an array of shots.
The 17-year-old made 67* to chase down 118, a target made tricky by UAE's strong spin-bowling group, slow Tribhuvan University conditions, and the added dimension of rain threatening in the capital.
UAE resumed their innings on the morning of the reserve day at 106/9, and Lalit Rajbanshi continued where he left off on Monday, taking the final wicket with left-arm orthodox of his own to finish with 4/14 (7.1). Leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichhane claimed 2/34 (10) at the other end, moving to a 33-ODI match streak of wicket-taking outings.
The Emiratis opted to keep quicks Zahoor Khan and Junaid Siddique on ice early, instead turning to their spinners, starting with a 17-year-old of their own in Aayan Khan.
Aayan claimed Aasif Sheikh for just eight after fellow finger spinner Rohan Mustafa removed Kushal Bhurtel for one, and Mustafa followed up by forcing a mistake from Rohit Paudel (one) chopping on to make it 22/3.
Watching two wickets fall at the other end, Jha was watchful early, before pouncing on overpitched deliveries, launching straight and over the top for multiple sixes down the ground. He pounced on Karthik Meiyappan missing his lengths, hitting the leg-spinner for 14 runs in the space of just three balls to swing momentum.
The flurry eased the pressure on the batting side, and any doubt that put a hush over the normally vocal Kathmandu crowd dissipated. UAE turned to fast bowler Zahoor as a final roll of the dice, though runs flowed in Nepal's fourth wicket partnership, as Bhim Sharki joined Jha in the middle overs.
Jha raised his bat for fifty, before launching Aayan for a six down the ground to level the scores, and paddling the next ball behind square on the leg-side for victory. Bhim ended up on 36*, and the pair finished with an unbeaten 96-run partnership.
Nepal will take the last spot in Group A, alongside India and Pakistan, with the Asia Cup slated for September.
The top three finishers of Nepal, UAE and Oman at the Premier Cup mean they will also feature in the ACC Emerging Teams Asia Cup in July, where they will take on 'A' Teams of five Full Members in the region.