*When Mukhiya bowled the first delivery of the match, it was visually stunning, almost like a fiction, it bounced as if it was first morning session of a WACA pitch. Couple of balls later, the ball almost rolled to the batsman. That was enough to put the doubts in the mind of Raju Rijal, if it wasn’t already there. Jitendra Mukhiya delivered a maiden. It took about 12 overs for them to recover from that.
*It was the contest of the match. Sandeep Lamichhane versus Paras Khadka. It may not had the fireworks but Khadka put himself on the line and faced majority of Sandeep’s spell. Sharad wanted Sandeep to dismiss Paras but national team skipper gave every bit of respect to deliveries that demanded it. Chauraha scored 11 runs from 24 legitimate deliveries of Sandeep Lamichhane loosing only Prithu Baskota. Biratnagar won the short term battle but lost in a long term result as Chauraha lower order had no concerns whatsoever to face the leg-spinner later in the innings.
*Half way through first innings a batsman struggling on 14 off 22 balls in t20 cricket holes out at long off. You know bowling team is executing their plans for perfection. With Team Chauraha struggling on 37/3 in 9.2 overs Biratnagar Kings were controlling the match. Chauraha took a strategic time out. Lamichhane resumed the bowling, Khadka on strike, plays straight over bowler’s head for a boundary. A little reminder that Skipper was still there, Biratnagar Kings couldn’t take a sigh of relief. Biratnagar remained disciplined. Chauraha was just about to push the envelope. Aarif Sheikh joined Khadka at crease. Past (Prithu Baskota) departed, future (Aarif Sheikh) arrived.
*And the first nervous (style?) mistake of the match arrived. Aarif Sheikh, struggling with running between the wickets throughout the tournament, had a horrendous mix up with skipper, was well short of the ground. His brother Aasif Sheikh with the gloves on decided to push the throw on the stumps rather than collect it. He missed the stumps and it became miss of the match. Aarif was short by a month. But he arrived. Rest is history.
*Crowd went full ‘Lagaan’ to first six of the match by Paras Khadka. They wanted six in every delivery as a lady staff from Gurukul Security struggled to control the overflowing crowd at Media Box area. None can be blamed, Nepal’s national hero is playing for their home city. Paras Dai Chakka Haan Chakka, in same sentence they wanted to show their love to Paras Khadka and some self-love as well.
*14.1 Prakash Bista in his last over. First ball six. By Aarif Sheikh. If Prithu was once called Chhota Don why Aarif can’t be known as Chhota Paras, said the inner fan inside me as he placed another beautifully timed drive to boundary followed by a jab through square leg area for another four runs. Brilliant batting that was.
*Controversy returned as Paras was not happy. Crowd was not happy. Nobody was confident if that catch at boundary line was taken cleanly except the fielder Sushil Kandel who took the catch and Biratnagar Kings players who desperately wanted that wicket. He celebrated running in front of home crowd and probably registered his name as most wanted man in Dhangadhi. The umpire Vinay Kumar Jha tried to ask the fielder, Sharad pointed at camera. All done and dusted. Paras departed for one final time in this tournament.
*Aarif Shiekh was in amazing form picking up slower balls, line, lengths playing with bowlers’ mind. It was almost like Aarif hypnotized bowlers. It was his personal net session in middle of Nepal’s biggest premier league. Not many can play like that always but when they do, they often end up in winning side.
*Here is a shout out for fierce finishing skills of Amar Singh Routela, who plays for Nepalgunj in regional tournaments. Normally a hard-hitter should find tough to get his shots away in pitches like this but Amar shown tremendous perseverance and matched shot for shot with Aarif Sheikh which ultimately sealed the match for Chauraha.
*More the boundaries came from Chauraha’s bat, more mistakes were committed by Biratnagar Kings. Asking military medium pace like Prakash Bista to bowl at end overs was criminal. The sort of pace which batsmen could maneuver for their advantage. Vesawkar himself is a good option and an experienced one to bowl couple of overs in a pitch assisting spinners. If not, Pawan Sarraf should have bowled few to control the damage.
*Many questions used to be asked about Jitendra Mukhiya whenever he was left out of the national squad. Many times answer used to fitness problems. We saw Mukhiya play a full tournament after a long time. He missed a game due to slight injury during league round. The way he bowled in final answered few other questions too. He couldn’t bowl into his strength of bowling yorkers neither could take any advantage of the uneven surface. Aarif Sheikh and Amar Singh both took full advantage of Mukhiya’s bowling as he kept bowling half volleys and full tosses onto batsmen’s legs. Full toss in a two-paced pitch. Seriously. In contrast Ram Naresh Giri duly delivered whatever his skipper Paras Khadka asked from him throughout the tournament. Giri bowled with aggression and maturity without trying anything extra. I won’t be surprised if Giri finds himself in next national squad if not Rupadehi bowler Bikram Sob.
*It would have been logical if Sharad Vesawkar could have been there at the end of the innings. But that didn’t happen and decision of batting lower than Anil Sah or Amit Shrestha ultimately cost Biratnagar the match. Sharad Vesawkar could have utilized the ground which is small to his advantage by coming in powerplays. Things like that would have surprised Chauraha to alter their plans. Biratnagar’s best chance of winning this game was letting Sharad play as much as deliveries possible. Pitch is difficult, you need to take whatever chances you can and be positive. Yes, Biratnagar has been successful in the tournament for the captaincy of Vesawkar but lack of moves like this kept them away from the trophy.
*The pressure was on. Things went from bad to worse. Sharad Vesawkar just saw umpire Vinay Kumar Jha give a LBW decision to Dipendra Airee. He then went for a slog sweep, which he connected, unlike millions missed by Amit Shrestha earlier on, but found the fielder at mid on boundary, which may not have been there if it was powerplay. Prithu Baskota did a small celebration, always known for taking good catches made no mistake and timed his jump for perfection. Sharad departed. And so the hopes of Biratnagar salvaging anything from the match. The Kings skipper just faced 3 balls. Same could have happened if he had came a bit earlier too but he wouldn’t had to watch Amit miss so many ill timed shots and Dipendra fall in front of him. Fresh tactics might have surprised Chauraha. But not today.
*Credits to Paras Khadka and Team Chauraha who stuck to basics and bowled targeting the stumps. You didn’t need to defend in this ground by bowling negative lines. Simply keep it simple and let the batsmen do all the work. Five bolds and one leg before wicket speaks much about how successfully Chauraha went about their bowling plans.
*Probably, the most important summary of this match and tournament as a whole. We now know, or atleast have some idea, how many Nepali batsmen can play natural and fearless cricket. The pitch may have been bad. It required some great deal of patience and instinctive shot selection. Paras Khadka lead the way. Similarly, Yogendra Karki, Aarif Sheikh & lower order players like Saurav Khanal and Amar Singh Routela really showed the way of playing on your strengths than thinking too much about the pitch. Often criticized for playing pre-mediated shots this pitch demanded more from batsman and only few could muster an innings of any substance. A balance between patience and proper shot selection is not everyone’s cup of tea.
*Last but not the least, the greatest comeback in the history of Nepali domestic cricket goes to Team Chauraha Dhangadhi. It was a heist. Never say die attitude re-defined. They were down and out at group stage. They overcame last possible equation to qualify for playoffs. Paras Khadka struggling with form so was Team Chauraha. All changed in that last group match against Rupandehi Challengers. They thoroughly deserve the trophy for playing the best cricket of the tournament with great character & commitment. If Dhangadhi Premier League became a successful entity huge chunk of credit goes to Team Chauraha’s heroic performances.