Tired by a breakless schedule and without six regulars, Nepal crushed Air India team by five wickets to make a triumphant start in the Journey To World Cup on Monday.
National team had returned from their historic performance in the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers on Sunday and with coach Pubudu Dassanayake already giving a nod to the tournament, a 50-over match was already waiting for them just 14 hours after the team landed in Kathmandu.
Dassanayake rested six of their regulars – Gyanendra Malla,Basanta Regmi, Sharad Vesawkar, Subash Khakurel, Jitendra Mukhiya and Amrit Bhattarai and included Som Pal Kami and Prithu Baskota for the match but still the rhythm was left unbroken when young fast bowlers took the charge dismising Air India for just 155 runs in 44 overs.
Avinash Karn was particulary impressive returning with 4-12 from his eight-over spell that included three maidens, while Som Pal marked a sensational day with senior side with his pace and bounce making life difficult for Air India batsmen.
Former Indian wicketkeeper and Air India skipper Vijay Dahia (one), Air India top scorer Pradeep Malik and former Indian Test cricketer Ritender Singh Sodhi all fell to Som Pal.
Malik and Sodhi rescued Air India from a collapse at 71-5 in 21.5 overs. The two batsmen added 63 runs for the sixth wicket with Malik making 57 off 90 hitting four boundaries and two sixes. Sodhi scored 45 from 62 with four fours.
Sagar Pun also took two wickets, while Paras also had one scalp for Nepal who replied with 158-5 in 34.5 overs. Mahesh Chhetri led a perfect reply for Nepal with three crucial partnerships — 31 with opening partner Sagar Pun (18), 49 for the second wicket with Anil Mandal (18) and 54 with Prithu.
Mahesh lost his wicket in the 32nd over but by then Nepal were just 22 runs away from victory. He made 65 off 89 with five boundaries and a six. Two runs later Prithu departed making 22 off 53 with one six. Prithu was playing his first match after returning from his knee injury that ruled him out of the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers.
Skipper Paras Khadka (13) and Binod Bhandari (10 not out) completed the chase. Paras and Binod hit one six and a boundary each. Nepal will play their second match against Delhi Wanderers on Tuesday.