Nepal and host Malaysia meet at the Kinrara Oval, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Wednesday morning for what is effectively the title match of the ACC U-16 Premier 2014, a league competition for Asia’s six top-ranked youth teams.
Although Nepal is at the top of the league table with seven points, Malaysia is a mere point behind, with the match winner getting two points and taking the title. If the match is rained out or has to be abandoned for any other reason, both sides get a point each, giving Nepal the title.
Wednesday’s clash is an opportunity for Nepal to get revenge against Malaysia, which won the last encounter between the two sides with just a wicket and five bowls left. That match, the finals of the ten-nation ACC U-16 Elite in 2012, was also played out in the same ground.
Before leaving for Malaysia, Nepal’s coach Basanta Shahi had pointed Malaysia and Singapore as the strongest opponents for Nepal from among the participating nations. “However, if the Nepali bowlers shine against them, Nepal would lift the title.”
On that note, Nepali bowlers have been doing pretty well this tournament.
Two Nepali bowlers lead the tournament’s top wicket-takers’ list. Jitendra Singh Thakuri tops the list with 13 wickets from four matches and Anil Kharel is second with 12. Another Nepali -- Pawan Saraf -- is ranked 12th with six wickets to his name.
Thakuri started the tournament with a 5-wicket haul against Thailand in the opening match, giving away just three run, while Kharel took 6 wickets against Oman for 16 runs. Among the top 20 wicket-takers, Thakuri also has the best economy rate -- a measly 1.51 runs an over while his bowling average is just 2.38 runs per wicket.
The bowlers aren’t the only ones who have tasted glory in the tournament. Nepal has six batsmen in the top 20 aggregate run scorers’ list, led by Pranit Thapa who scored an unbeaten 70 against Bahrain on Monday. Pranit Thapa has scored a total of 118 runs in the three innings that he has been required to bat in. He is ranked third in the total runs list. Opener Susanta Singh Thapa (ranked 9th), captain Sumit Maharjan (15th), Rabindra Jung Shahi (16th), Jitendra Singh Thakuri (17th) and Pawan Saraf (19th) make up the other Nepalis on the top 20 list.
The Top Run Aggregates list is led by what could be the crucial wicket for Nepal -- Malaysia captain Virandeep Singh, the Man of the Match in Nepal’s loss to Malaysia in the 2012 finals clash.
In that match, Virandeep Singh had opened the batting and hit the winning runs against Nepal, scoring 54 from 119 balls, which included seven fours. Malaysia had chased down their target in 39.1 overs scoring 120 runs to claim the title. Nepal was all out for 117 runs in 33 over of the allotted 40 overs.
Virandeep Singh is in top form this tournament too and was adjudged the Man of the Match in all three of Malaysia’s wins. His top score of 90 runs off 106 balls came in his opening clash against Bahrain, but the match was abandoned due to rain. So far, he has scored 165 runs in total.
He is also the third highest wicket-taker of the tournament with eight wickets at an average of 6.75 runs per wicket and an economy of 2.23 per over.
However, Nepal goes into the finals on a high. It is the only nation that won all four of its matches.
It made a thumping start with a 10-wickets victory over Thailand and then defeated Singapore by 49 runs in its second match. It beat Oman and Bahrain by 102 runs and 186 runs in the third and fourth matches, respectively.
Malaysia has also remained undefeated. In its opening match that was rained out, Malaysia had set Bahrain a target of 205 and had it down to 19 for the loss of two wickets when rain stopped play after the first ball of the eight over.
It defeated both Oman and Thailand by five wickets and recovered from an early hiccup to beat Singapore by four wickets.
Singapore has been the strongest opponent yet for both Nepal and Malaysia in the tournament.
Nepal had packed Singapore up for 94 runs in 35.2 overs after giving them a target of 144 runs made at the loss of eight wickets while Malaysia had Singapore all out in 25.1 overs, but Singapore managed to score 127 runs in that time. Malaysia lost of six wickets and took 34.4 overs to reach the target set by Singapore.
Among the participants, Thailand is at the bottom of the table. Nepal had packed Thailand for just 48 runs in 32.4 overs and chased the target in 6.1 overs.
Against Malaysia, Thailand lasted the full 40 overs, scoring 87 runs at the loss of eight wickets. Malaysia chased that down in 18.2 overs losing five wickets.
THE NEPALI SQUAD: Sumit Maharjan (captain), Ashif Seikh (vice-captain), Pranit Thapa, Susanta Singh Thapa, Pawan Saraf, Jitendra Singh Thakuri, Rabindra Shahi, Rabi Kumar Shah, Rabi Chand, Ashish Pokhrel, Bijay Chaudhary, Anil Kharel, Rijan Dhakal and Roshan Adhikari.
Match starts at 07:30 a.m. Nepal Time (02:00 GMT)