High pressure situation, the dismissal of Sharad Veswakar and in walks young and inexperienced yet promising Rohit Paudel to join Aarif Sheikh at the crease. It all started here…
The score read 82/5 in the 24th over with half the side and most importantly all senior batsmen back in the pavilion, the target of 178 runs seemed miles away. With 96 runs required for victory, everything came down to the shoulders of these two batsman who have a lot in common. They both are young and new in the national side, having played only a handful of matches in the senior side and yet to nail their spots in the XI. It indeed looked a very nervy situation.
In the first three matches of the tournament, Rohit had contributed with starts. He had spent time in the middle but was yet to go past 20 runs in either of the matches. Whereas Aarif was yet to produce any innings of extreme significance in the tournament. His scores read 0, 6 & 16 so there could easily have even been a temptation to drop Aarif in favor of Anil Kumar Sah. But kudos to the team management and the skipper Paras Khadka for keeping faith on Aarif and his batting prowess and rather bringing in Anil at the expense of Dilip Nath.
Both Aarif and Rohit focused on building a partnership and try taking the game deep to ensure Nepal doesn’t get bowled out. Planning it was the easier part, executing was a different story altogether. The Kenyan bowlers bowled tight line and lengths with extreme discipline. Both the batsman initially seemed to play out the overs and take occasional singles in between to keep the scoreboard ticking. The major focus was making sure that neither gets dismissed in these crucial middle overs.
At one stage the runs looked very hard to come by as no boundaries were struck and the strike rotation was not that fluent. The reqiored run rate just kept on climbing and came to a stage where 62 runs were needed from the last 10 overs. At the end of 40 overs, Aarif Sheikh had already played 58 balls for his 19 runs whereas Rohit had faced 55 balls for his 17 runs. With 5 wickets in hand and the asking rate climbing over six, it was high time now that they accelerate and match the required run rate. It was exactly what happened next as the well-settled pair grew in confidence and started to rotate the strike very well.
Cometh the 42nd over, Aarif Sheikh struck two pressure releasing boundaries and collected 11 runs from the over. The next over followed with 7 runs and to the delight of many Nepali fans, these runs came via 5 singles and a double which meant there were no dot balls in the over: a rarity in Nepali Cricket! These two carried on batting exceptionally, rotating the strike very sensibly. The asking rate never got out of hand and just when it threated to, Rohit struck a four through the covers in the last ball of the 48th over to bring the equation down to 9 runs of 12 balls. Sadly the mesmerizing partnership of 87 runs between these two young batting sensations broke down just a ball short of 25 overs as Aarif got caught in the cover region trying to go for a big shot, while trying to shut down chances of Kenyan comeback. Although Rohit also got run out in the last over and there were some very nervy moments as Nepal required 2 runs from the last ball, Sompal took Nepal home and made sure that the hard work of Aarif and Rohit didn’t go in vain.
The most beautiful thing about this captivating partnership was the maturity these two young and inexperienced cricketers put on display which was beyond their age and experience. With this game changing partnership, they didn’t just win the match for Nepal, rather they made every enthusiastic and passionate Nepali Cricket fan believe that the future of Nepali Cricket is in very safe hands. Also, they have sketched a blueprint which is an example for the rest of the team to follow in unfamiliar batting conditions. Every Nepali cricket fan will remember this golden partnership for a long time. Expect more of the same from these two batsmen in the future.