Kushal Bhurtel finally broke through.
The 22-year old lit up the opening day of the Pokhara Premier League after the Pokhara Paltan opener smashed a 43-ball 65 not out to hand the defending champions a crushing nine-wicket victory over Kathmandu Golden Warriors.
His scintillating knock came exactly one month after he made debut for the senior national side for November’s ACC Emerging Teams Cup in Bangladesh. He oozed confidence the moment he deposited left arm medium pacer Amrit Bhattarai’s delivery at long on for a six.
Kushal’s cricket was in its infancy when Amrit – then touted the country’s best left arm medium fast bowler after Mehboob Alam – left for Australia. This is the first time in four years he has returned Nepal for cricketing reason.
Having collected the experience of playing Grade Cricket in Australia, 28-year old Amrit had expected to put everything he learnt to disposal while ending a long hiatus in Nepali domestic cricket. But he was undone by a guy with very less cricket experience.
In a video interview with cricketingnepal on Saturday, Amrit had said he was amazed to see young faces doing really well in the progress of Nepali cricket. The next day he was greeted by one of those faces.
The six against Amrit was just a promo of what was coming next as the second innings unfolded.
Barring few blips, Kushal’s innings almost looked flawless. The flick against another medium pacer Nandan Yadav that sailed over square leg for a six was the toast of the day.
The Warriors were supposed to have one of the best bowling attacks in the tournament but Kushal hit them for five sixes. The deal was done and Kushal is now among the rare home-grown cricketers to have hogged limelight in domestic franchise leagues where international recruits mostly make headlines.
From a wagging tail to head
The former U-19 No 8 batsman is now promoted up the order and also opened for Nepal in the Emerging Teams Cup. He even looked in a fine touch against India before being dismissed for 28.
Kushal totaled with just 11 runs in the next two games – against Hong Kong and Bangladesh. Although big numbers were not there for Kushal to boast of, the confidence of playing at higher level has brought him his maiden half century in domestic franchise league.
“After playing for the senior team against tougher opponents, I have gained confidence. And I carried that confidence to today’s game,” Kushal told cricketingnepal.
The applause Kushal received on Sunday was not abrupt. He has worked hard to get them. He has patiently waited very long. Four years ago, he had already showed signs of what he has turned himself into in his present.
The early glitters
On January 28, 2016, coming into the crease at No 8 Kushal had blasted a crucial 23-ball cameo of 35 that sealed Nepal’s stunning 32-run victory over New Zealand in the ICC U-19 World Cup in Fatullah, Bangladesh.
It was Nepal’s second scalp of the Test nation in age group cricket. Kushal was among that talented bunch of cricketers who historically made into the quarter-finals of the U-19 World Cup.
Following that achievement, he dreamt of fighting his way into the senior fold but never expected his fight was about to test his patience. After the U-19 World Cup, Kushal featured in the first edition of Everest Premier League for the eventual champions Panchakana Tez – also led by his current Pokhara Paltan skipper Sharad Vesawkar.
At the Tribhuvan University ground during the 2016 EPL, he impressed everyone with ultra-athleticism and occasionally bowled medium pacers. But he hardly had any chance to bat.
In one match Kushal came in to bat at No 10 and once promoted up the order, he stroked a belligerent nine-ball 22. All the focus of EPL’s first edition was switched to a 16-year-old Aasif Sheikh who had clobbered a sensational century in the final to hand Tez the title.
A mute spectator
Now no more an U-19 cricketer, Kushal saw his contemporaries Aarif Sheikh, Lalit Narayan Rajbanshi, Dipendra Singh Airee, Raju Rijal, Sandeep Lamichhane and Sunil Dhamala all play for the national team.
Aarif had already made his senior debut before he played the U-19 World Cup.
In absence of proper domestic cricket, either one-day or two-day, Kushal rather went on to go through a lean patch with string of low scores in the Twenty20 leagues.
Another batch of U-19 cricketers came and his wait even prolonged when he continued to watch new boys Rohit Kumar Paudel, Pawan Sarraf, Sundeep Jora and Bhim Sharki breaking into the national fold.
“There was a very little amount of frustration because I knew to be in the national team I had to speak with my performance. I was going through a period where I was not performing at all. I rather focused on my own game and it was only hard work that could elevate me to the senior side,” said Kushal.
And the rebirth
Sunday’s innings was a testament to Kushal’s renewed confidence which he has gained after being in the national team. “The innings like these definitely boost a batsman’s confidence, especially when you manage to carry the bat. I am clear about my role in the team and would like to take this confidence forward,” he said.
Sharad, who has been Kushal’s mentor once he entered the higher level of domestic competition, knew where that innings came from.
“It was an amazing innings. Its always good to see a young batsman scoring runs. Youngsters like Kushal have been doing a lot of hard work for the last six months. It definitely takes time to get results. We just need to have patience and promote them,” an elated Sharad said.
Soon after winning the match for Paltan, Kushal joined his teammates at an evening gym session in Lakeside. For the time being, the colours and noise of Nepal’s most happening tourist spot is not going to allure him.
Kushal has longed for moments like these in his career. He still has a point to prove.