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Young stars of NPC face Army professionals

The curtains will be down on country’s highest cash prize 50-over tournament on Thursday with both Tribhuvan Army Club (TAC) and Nepal Police Club (NPC) itching to hit a two-million-rupee jackpot in a departmental showdown.

After three years of hiatus, Nepal finally saw longer version of the game in Prime Minister Cup One Day National and the stage is perfectly set for the grand finale with the country’s best cricket clubs locking horns.

Even more interesting is the recent history between the two teams and the way how tournament has unfolded for both sides. NPC, with a majority of former U-19 cricketers, had stunned an experienced Army side in the final of the first two editions of the Ruslan Twenty20 National cricket tournament.

But those two events were Twenty20 games where the youthful NPC are good at delivering and now they have a tough ask to get the better of their favorite opponents in the 50-over game. A majority of NPC squad has delivered in the shorter version of the game but they were nailed in the league stage by TAC after being bundled out for just 113 in 25.5 overs.

Kushal Bhurtel, Dipendra Airee, Aarif Sheikh, Sunil Dhamala and Siddhant Lohani have always performed in domestic Twenty20 events because Nepal didn’t have 50-over tournaments since they shot into the mainstream. And now a huge challenge lies in front of them to prove the doubters wrong.

There is a challenge that NPC skipper Manjeet Shrestha admits. “We have been playing a lot of Twenty20 in the past few years. We didn’t bat well against them (TAC) in the league stage because we were yet to get out of that Twenty20 hangover. We have been preparing to bat for 50 overs,” said Manjeet on the eve of the final.

Contrary to the established names of Twenty20, its wicketkeeping batsman Dilip Nath, who has been showing consistency in the tournament. But his longevity at the crease is questioned considering how dangerously he has lived once he gets set at the crease.

If there are worries for Manjeet after the league stage hammering, TAC skipper Binod Bhandari is the one breathing an air of comfort boasting a squad full of performers.

Bhandari has a strong batting line up beginning from No 1 to their fast bowling allrounder Sompal Kami. They will not have the service of Naresh Budhayer but the top order is led by even more experienced Anil Mandal and Mahesh Chhetri.

Although Mahesh Chhetri has done nothing in the tournament, Sagar Pun, Rajesh Pulami Magar, Raju Rijal and Sompal all can bat. Bhandari himself is a menace when he gets going at his favourite TU grounds.

And then there is Sompal and Jitendra Mukhiya with spearheading the bowling department with Sagar, Sushan Bhari Shrestha and Shahab Alam raring to go with the flow. The only worry for Bhandari will be the NPC final jinx but once again, it’s a 50-over game.

TAC looked professional in their chase of 236 runs against Western Region, the good sign for Bhandari but cricket can be cruel even for a squad that is full with stars. It has been case with Bhandari all the time, be it during the Ruslan Twenty20, Everest Premier League or the recently concluded Dhangadhi Premier League.

Thursday’s final presents a perfect platform for NPC’s young stars and Bhandari-led Army provided rain doesn’t intervene.
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