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Ground Zero: Remembering Nepal’s first ever ODI victory

In more than a decade, Europe was experiencing a deadly heat wave sweeping across almost all the northwestern part of the continent. The Netherlands, lauded for its effort to save the environment implementing cycle routes, homes one of the greenest capital cities Amsterdam.

But the greenish avenues of Amsterdam that connected adjoining city Amstelveen, which hosted Nepal’s first two One Day Internationals (ODI), were not enough to prevent the heat wave.

In August, 2018, not only the Netherlands, the entire Europe felt like Nepal’s southern plains.

Having already witnessed Nepal’s historic appearance at The Lord’s two years ago, witnessing country in foreign land was becoming an addiction.

When you have already visited the Mecca of Cricket and sensed what its like to be inside the picturesque JP Morgan Media Centre, missing out on Nepal’s first ever one-day international game would mean a crime for me.

Or a failure.

Chaotic build-up

The excitement was at its peak when our team assembled at the Tribhuvan International Airport. Boarding a flight on July 30, we were on schedule to land at Amsterdam the same day but as things turned out, it was not what was actually supposed to be.

A one-hour delay at the TIA – a normal for Nepal – we landed late for transit in Dubai and failed to get the connecting flight on time. The Emirates arranged us an overnight stay at the Airport Hotel but we were confirmed to lose one day. The mess let us only sleep two hours that night.

The national team was about to wrap up its training when we reached tournament venue VRA grounds after we departed on a 10:45 AM flight in Dubai. Since I was working for The Kathmandu Post, I was already in a rush to dispatch a pre-series preview as the sports desk was only waiting for my report.

Jet lagged and sleep deprived, I don’t remember what exactly I prepared for next morning’s edition as we were yet to contact our host in Amsterdam. A communication gap led up to losing our contact with Rami Shrestha, the lady from Bhaktapur, who has been living in Amsterdam for years. We were stranded at VRA for more than one hour.

On the eve of the first ODI, we knew the night was going to be long again. We finally settled at Rami’s apartment and it was already 2:00 AM when we went to bed.

The debut cap

A two-day of dizziness was gradually overcoming our excitement as at some point I felt only if Nepal don’t write history today because I was not me. Compounded by the scorching heat, the capability to think creatively, mentally or even physically had lost in me.

What if Nepal win? I had to conjure up an athlete’s freshness. But it’s a prohibition to think that way when you are a professional sports journalist.

We know how precious a Nepal victory is – be it football, cricket or any other game. We, as career journalists, have always associated nation’s glory with patriotism.

Captivated by Amsterdam’s greenery, we decided to take a long walk from our locality in Amsterdam next morning. A four-kilometre walk in a fresh air towards VRA grounds was the best we could get to leave behind the days of attrition. As we reached the venue, Nepalese were beginning to throng the ground.

Amazingly, there were Nepalese selling Momos (dumplings) at 5 euros a plate. We knew how the scenes were going to be at the VRA in an hour. The Dutch were soon to be outnumbered by Nepali spectators.

 

Coach Jagat Tamatta began the morning by fulfilling the long-standing tradition in cricket – handing over first ODI cap. From young leg spin sensation Sandeep Lamichhane to veteran Shakti Gauchan, Tamatta handed over 11 ODI debut caps.

“Moments like this come few and far in between for us. Going out there and representing Nepal in a one-day international means the world to all of us. A dream come true, literally,” then-skipper Paras Khadka had told media in a statement that also reflected the mood of the entire country.

It indeed was a proud moment for all of us.

Backed by some 100 plus noisy supporters, Nepal did have an upper hand when a miserly 4-26 from Paras and 3-34 from speedster Sompal Kami had the hosts bundled out for 189 in 47.4 overs. Current skipper Gyanendra Malla then led the chase with Nepal’s first ODI half century following a 58-run first wicket stand with Anil Sah.

Nepal were going strong at 85-1, needing just 105 from more than 30 overs but once Paras was sent back, the latest entrants of the ODI club lost nine wickets with the addition of a mere 49 runs. The noise was gradually getting inaudible. The Nepali crowd that earlier sniffed historic victory, returned red-faced after watching the team collapse.

The history on cards

After throwing away the historic first ODI that was already within their grasp, a familiar Dutch side was always going to be beatable but not before Nepal doing a Nepal thing.

The heat was absorbed and the ground conditions were acclimatised with when Nepal set forth for the second and the last ODI. Paras did made amends from his first ODI failure and notched up his maiden half century but the visitors were still precariously placed at 163-8.

In one of the entertaining knocks in Nepal’s ODI journey hitherto, Sompal pushed Nepal to a challenging 216 all out with a gritty 46-ball 61 that included a crucial 41-run ninth wicket partnership with Sandeep.

The star with the bat struck with the ball in his and team’s first over, and debutant Lalit Singh Bhandari got his first scalp. Daniel ter Braak and Wesley Barresi then defied the Nepali attack with a testing partnership.

Leggie Lamichhane turned the tide picking up two wickets in a single over including that of Ter Braak before Nepal had the game in hand reducing the Dutch to 185-9 by the 44th over.

However, Netherlands’ last pair of Fred Klaassen and Paul van Meekeren dragged the game till the last over, eventually the last ball, with the hosts needing just six runs. Lalit still had his over left but Paras took the responsibility upon himself which proved to be masterstroke.

Paras leads the Nepali team while acknowledging crowd for the victory over the Netherlands
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Containing Klaassen-Meekeren pair for four runs until the first five deliveries, heart pumped when Netherlands required two runs from the last ball to clean sweep the series.

For Nepal, a dot meant glory.

Paras bowled a slower ball and Klaassen hit straight back to the stumps dislodging the bails as the ball ricocheted to the Nepali captain.

Displaying a solid presence of mind, Paras collected the ball and uprooted the stump before sprinting towards dug out following a nerve wracking one-run win. The flags were waved as Nepalese crowd did what they wanted to two days earlier — round up the ground.

Cricketingnepal has been lucky to witness Nepal making history. This one is at VRA Grounds.

“No one would have done that (with such presence of mind) other than Paras,” screamed our photo journalist Kaushal Adhikari. That might be true but who cares. We were there with our first ever ODI win.

From the time when I secretly dedicated myself to Nepali cricket as a mainstream sports journalist in 2008 when we were languishing at Division V in the ICC Associate cricket ladder, watching the team win its maiden ODI in Europe was my own achievement as well.

It in fact belonged to every Nepali, those who love the game and even those who don’t.

The chaos that began from Kathmandu, the sleepless nights, the dizzying days were all forgotten after that one single ball.

Europe was now getting cooler.

BY ADARSHA DHAKAL

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