For Hong Kong, it was a simple formula in last match of the first round of the World Cup Qualifiers 2018: beat Nepal to go to Super Sixes and retain ODI status. For Afghanistan, who had just one victory against Nepal from four matches, it was even simpler: Nepal beat Hong and they are through.
For Nepal, Super Sixes was mathematically possible, practically not, but a victory meant there was still a chance to get ODI status for next four years.
Nepal’s five-wicket victory over Hong Kong in Bulawayo made Nepal and Afghanistan happier and Hong Kong sadder.
Hong Kong reduced Nepal to 66/5 in pursuit of only 154 for victory. But an outstanding unbroken stand of 89 for the sixth wicket between Rohit Paudel and Sompal Kami took Nepal home with 9.2 overs to spare.
Nepal’s chase began with a solid first-wicket partnership of 41 before seamer Aizaz Khan had opener Anil Sah caught behind for 26. Aizaz then took a smart return catch to dismiss fellow opener Gyanendra Malla, leaving Nepal on 46/2.
Key man Paras Khadka, the captain who had successive half-centuries against Afghanistan and Scotland, was bowled for only 11 by Tanwir Afzal. Paras’ departure brought two more quick wickets with Ehsan Khan trapping Aarif Sheikh leg-before in his first over and then having Dipendra Singh Airee brilliantly caught at short leg by Shahid Wasif for 12.
Paudel played the anchor role with an impressive 48 not out from 86 balls while Sompal, who earlier took the vital wicket of Hong Kong skipper Babar Hayat, took only 40 balls to make an unbeaten 37.
The pair ran superbly between the wickets and put pressure on the Hong Kong fielders. Paudel hit two successive fours to finish the 40th over from Aizaz Khan and then hit the winning runs in the following over from Ehsan Khan.
Earlier, Ehsan Khan had helped Hong Kong lend their innings an air of respectability by adding 32 for the ninth wicket with Ehsan Nawaz. In all 43 were added for the last two wickets.
Their total of 153 represented something of a recovery after a series of mini collapses left them 110/8 in a must-win game. Having won the toss and elected to bat, Hong Kong lost opener Christopher Carter in the seventh over when he had his off stump removed by Basant Regmi.
Skipper Babar Hayat and Nizakat Khan steered them to 53 for one before Hayat was caught and bowled by opening bowler Sompal Kami for a breezy 20 from 16 balls. The captain’s departure triggered a loss off three wickets for five runs in 3.1 overs while Nizakat battled on for an 84-ball 47 until he was sixth out.
Nepal’s 17-year-old leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichhane was the chief destroyer with an outstanding ten-over allocation in which he took three for 17.
With his 10th ball he had Anshuman Rath stumped for a single and with his 15th he trapped Shahid Wasif leg before, also for a single. Mandeep Singh was run out for three after setting off for a crazy single and ending up at the bowler’s end with his batting partner.
From 85/5, Nizakat and Tanwir Azal added a vital 21 for the sixth wicket before Nizakat fell, caught at slip by Nepal captain Paras off slow left-armer Lalit Rajbanshi. When Sandeep trapped Aizaz Khan he had his third wicket and Hong Kong were tottering on 110/8, having lost three wickets for four runs in 4.5 overs.
Nepal next plays PNG on March 15 in the 7th place playoff semifinals. If Nepal beat PNG and Netherlands beats Hong Kong, Nepal get the ODI status. If Nepal beats PNG and Hong Kong beats Netherlands, Nepal and Hong Kong play for 7th place and the prized ODI status.