In an attempt to lift the ACC Elite Cup Trophy for the first time, Nepal will take on tournament favorites Afghanistan in the final at Hubara Ground of Kuwait on Friday.
Afghanistan, with One-Day International (ODI) status and qualifiers for the ICC World Cup Twenty20, won the ACC Twenty20 five months ago and are a favorite to add one more feather to their cap.
However, Nepal have played with a cricketing sense and skills that were long due and are in every way capable of turning the tables on Afghanistan.
Also, Nepal need to level the field as the loss to Afghanistan in the semifinal of the World Cricket League Division 5 in Jersey in 2008 by 47 runs had pushed them on the backfoot of world cricket. The loss was one of three losses that Nepal suffered from Afghanistan — the other two being the third-place playoffs of 2006 and 2008 ACC Trophy.
The only time Nepal beat Afghanistan was in 2004 ACC Trophy but then Afghanistan was just a new entrant to world cricket and Nepal was already an experienced team.
But things are different this time in Kuwait. While Afghanistan narrowly escaped the first-round exit by defeating Malaysia by a run and lost to UAE; Nepal´s progress was steadily built on dynamic form of cricket.
Nepal beat Hong Kong, Oman, Singapore and Kuwait convincingly to enter the semifinal when it survived the Malaysian scare and the semifinal jinx to register an eight-run victory.
On Friday, both teams will be in their full strength as both vice-captains Gyanendra Malla of Nepal and Mohd Nabi of Afghanistan have reached and played well after visa hiccups.
Nabi, the best Afghan cricketer, was man of the match in the semifinal against Hong Kong which they won by 5 wickets.
From WCL Div 5 in Kathmandu, which Nepal won, Paras Khadka´s men are upbeat and playing a confident cricket. The captain, despite his poor form in Kuwait, would like to see the momentum carried on to make him the most successful captain.
Batting had come good as Anil Mandal and Mahesh Chhetri´s opening pair proving vital while middle-order led by Shakti Gauchan, Sharad Vesawkar and Gyanendra is on top form. Dipendra Chaudhary and Mehboob Alam are further down the order making it a strong batting lineup. Bowling had always been a strength of Nepali side.
The formidable batting lineup of Afghanistan and their speedy seamers along with noisy supporters, the final will be a dream contest and the team that plays a better cricket will emerge victorious.
Nepal vs Afghanistan
Total match played: 4 Afghanistan won: 3 Nepal won: 1
2008 WCL Div 5: Afghanistan 142 in 49.3 overs (M Nabi 48, Basant 3/30, Shakti 3/12, Binod 2/22) defeated Nepal 105 all out in 45.5 overs (Mehboob 17, Ahmadzai 3/18, M Nabi 2/15) by 37 runs.
2008 ACC Trophy: Nepal 210/8 (Kaniskha 43, Mahesh 29, Paras 22) lost to Afghanistan 213/7 in 48.2 overs (M Nabi 55, S Samiullah 51, Paras 3/34) by 3 wickets.
2006 ACC Trophy: Afghanistan 270/8 (M Nabi 60, K Sadiq 55, N Mangal 49, A Shah 46, Paras 3/36) defeated Nepal 115/5 in 33.4 overs (Shakti 42, Paras 33*, A Shah 3/33) by 64 runs under Duckworth-Lewis Method.
2004 ACC Trophy: Nepal 147 in 48.2 overs (Paras 34, Mehboob 33, Sharad 28, A Shah 5/14) defeated Afghanistan 100 in 41.2 overs (A Shah 30, N Mangal 28, Raj Kumar 4/21, Paras 2/8, Shakti 2/10) by 47 runs.