Year 2023 in particular turned out to be a successful and progressive year for Nepal Cricket. There is a saying that ‘Success is sweet and sweeter if long delayed and gotten through many struggles and defeats’. The quote recapitulates Nepal Cricket, especially considering the challenges and setbacks faced during the disappointing 2022 season.
We can even say 2023 is the peak of Nepal Cricket. From starting with 11 wins (out of 12) to the qualification to the T20 World Cup after ten years. They notched up various achievements and bagged numerous milestones in their journey.
Let’s take a look back at Nepal Cricket’s journey in 2023:
Appointment of Monty Desai
The inception of all positive developments and good vibes – It all started with the arrival of Monty Desai as the new head coach of the Nepalese Cricket team.
Pubudu Dassanayake re-joined Nepal as head coach in December 2021 but resigned in July 2022 in order to return as coach of Canada. His successor, Manoj Prabhakar made things worse and was forced to step down in December 2022 (after four months of appointment).
Nepal were on the verge of losing their ODI status after a disappointing run in the CWC League 2. Negativity was widespread, and the fans were losing interest as well.
CAN then named Monty Desai as the new head coach. And rest was the beginning of a mesmerizing journey for Nepal Cricket. The Monty magic worked well as he was truly magical and effective.
A magical conclusion to the CWC League 2
With 24 matches played Nepal only had 18 points. To retain the ODI status, they needed to win at least nine out of the remaining 12 matches. The upcoming series was against the league leaders, Scotland, and the third-placed Namibia. They also had an away series in the UAE, where they usually find it tough to win.
Nepal secured victories in all four matches against Scotland and Namibia on their home ground. They later went on a tour to the UAE and came back with three more wins. Nepal then had the opportunity to finish third in the table and secure direct qualification to the Cricket World Cup Qualifier. To achieve this, they needed to emerge victorious in all four matches in the last series against PNG and UAE.
Nepal won three matches in a row, with the pivotal one remaining against UAE, a team that consistently posed a challenge on Nepal’s path to success. TU Cricket Ground witnessed possibly the largest-ever crowd but they were hushed after UAE posted 310 runs on the board. However, the Nepalese team didn’t let down the 25,000+ supporters and went on to secure a victory. The match concluded after 44 overs due to poor lighting conditions, with Nepal leading by nine runs in the D/L method.
Nepal finished only behind Scotland and Oman and punched the ticket to Zimbabwe for the Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2023.
Triumph in ACC Premier Cup and Qualification to Asia Cup 2023
Ten associate nations from Asia participated in the ACC Premier Cup, the qualifying tournament for the Asia Cup. Only one team would secure qualification from this event held in Nepal.
Nepal being the host nation had a superb chance to join five Test-playing teams in the Asia Cup. They accomplished this feat in impressive style, without a single defeat. Nepal defeated Malaysia, Oman and Qatar whilst the Match against Saudi Arabia was washed out due to rain. Nepal sidelined Kuwait in the semifinal and once again, it was the UAE standing between Nepal and the glory they sought.
Once again, a huge crowd gathered at the TU Cricket Ground. The match had to be rescheduled to the reserve day due to rain, with Nepal needing 118 runs for victory. Nepal were 22/3 at one stage but Gulshan Jha and Bhim Sharki shared a 96* runs partnership to seal the victory. Nepal emerged as the champions of the ACC Premier Cup and qualified for the Asia Cup 2023.
Challenges in Cricket World Cup Qualifiers
Nepal’s first-ever encounter against a Test-playing nation came in the Cricket World Cup Qualifiers. Despite a promising start against the host team, Zimbabwe, Nepal encountered challenges throughout the tournament, particularly in coping with the bouncy pitch.
The Nepalese team faced difficulties dealing with short-pitched deliveries and bouncers. Nepal competed against Zimbabwe, West Indies, and Ireland for the first time in ODI, and suffered a defeat against all three teams. Netherlands who qualified for the World Cup also defeated Nepal. However, Nepal secured victories against the USA and UAE in the tournament and ended up securing an eighth position.
Historic Asia Cup appearance
The Nepalese team were all set for the first-ever encounter against world cricket giants – India and Pakistan. This tournament garnered significant attention for the Nepalese team and propelled them into the international cricket spotlight.
The Nepalese team had to face Pakistan on their home ground and then travel to Sri Lanka for their match against India, as the Asia Cup 2023 adopted a Hybrid Model due to political tensions between India and Pakistan. Nepal struggled against the fiery pace of Pakistani bowlers and suffered a massive 238-run defeat. However, they were highly praised for their batting intent against India. Nepal posted 230 runs in 48.2 overs but India chased the revised target of 147 without losing a wicket in a rain halted clash.
Record-breaking Asian Games campaign
The Nepalese team shifted gears to the T20 format during the Asian Games 2023 in Hangzhou. Although they were unfortunate to miss out on securing any medals, it proved to be a memorable and record-breaking campaign for them.
Nepal created numerous records in the tournament. They posted the first-ever 300+ score in T20I against Mongolia. Notably, Kushal Malla scored the fastest-ever T20I ton (34 balls) whilst Dipendra Singh Airee notched a fifty in just nine balls. Nepal thrashed Maldives in the next game and confirmed their meeting with India in a quarterfinal. Regrettably, their campaign concluded with a spirited effort but a 23-run loss to the formidable Indian team.
Return to the World Cup after ten years
Nepal hosted the T20 World Cup 2024 Asia Qualifiers, which was their final tournament in 2023. And they were able to return to the T20 World Cup after ten years. Eight nations competed in the tournament, with only two earning a spot in the mega event. Nepal and Oman emerged as the finalists and the two nations secured qualification.
Nepal finished as a runner-up in Group A after a defeat against Oman and once again, Nepal found themselves facing UAE in a crucial match for a spot in the World Cup. The Nepalese Team provided another celebratory to the fans, sidelining UAE in the semifinal at Mulpani Cricket Ground, punching the ticket to the T20 World Cup 2024. They couldn’t add the cherry on top by winning the final against Oman, but securing the World Cup spot was the ultimate victory they needed.
Successful year for the U19 team
Just like their senior team, the Nepalese U19 team also experienced a year of redemption. They registered a miraculous win against UAE in the final to book a spot in the U19 World Cup 2024. Moreover, they won the ACC U19 Premier Cup and qualified for the U19 Asia Cup where they played against India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Despite the unsatisfactory results in the tournament, the team gained valuable match exposure ahead of the World Cup.
Satisfactory year for the women’s team
The Nepalese national women’s team played a bilateral series after a year and they won a five-match T20I series against Malaysia 3-2. They played against Pakistan A while the match against India A and Hong Kong was washed out due to rain in the ACC Women’s Emerging Teams Cup.
Following a triumph in a quadrangular series held in Malaysia as part of their preparation for the T20 World Cup Asian region qualification, Nepal faced disappointment as they failed to secure qualification. Their journey was cut short with a defeat against Thailand in the semifinal. Nepalese women also played another quadrangular series in Hong Kong in November.