Subash Khakurel: 78 (127), 9 Fours, 1 Six, C Babar Azam, B M Nawaz! The Padang (Singapore), 21 August 2013 against Pakistan U23s, ACC Emerging Teams Cup 2013. (Nepal 156 all-out (50 Overs), Pak 156/1 (33.1 overs), B Azam 100* (118) Pak won by 9 wickets and 101 balls remaining)
It was one of the most competitive One-Day tournaments Nepal ever participated. With Afghanistan, India U23 and Pakistan U23, Nepal was placed in Group A-the group of death. Nepal was already out-casted with the likes of Asian Powerhouses (India U23, Pakistan U23) and only team with ODI status (Afghanistan) in the tournament. Nepal had some desperate outings, lost to Afghanistan in an unpredictable collapse, and lost to India U23s rather comprehensively.
When last time before this match, Nepal faced a team from Pakistan ( Pakistan Cricket Academy to be precise), Nepal defeated them, Paras Khadka was a Stand-In Captain, Sanjam Regmi was Nepal’s premium spinner, S Gauchan a top order batsmen, Mohammad Aamir and Wahab Riaz were yet to play an international game for Pakistan. The things changed drastically since those days, but still Nepal always can build hope by the spectacular performance they bestowed in that 2008 game. With regards to Pakistan’s performance in major ICC events against teams like Ireland and Bangladesh, Nepal could have genuinely entertained the thought of making an upset.
Pakistan’s batting was similar to Nepal’s approach so far in the tournament, both teams being spank by India U23 and struggled against Afghanistan. Nepal could take heart out of similarities both teams had in ACC Emerging Teams Cup that year. With a do or die for both the teams (more to Nepal), a grueling contest was expected. The Padang had slightly better conditions for batting with usual assists to spinners once the bowl used to get old. Its sporting wicket had brought good contest between bat and bowl. Always with a bit of concentration and application, batsmen can score good runs at these pitches, a batting friendly wicket.
Let’s take a look at the Pakistan U23 bowlers. Ehsan Adil, the opening test bowler from Pakistan, who has test wickets like Graeme Smith. Bilwaal Bhatti, another rising bowler from Pakistan, who now already has played series-winning 3 ODI’s in South Africa, also now a huge part of future plans for the promise and raw pace he shown in recent tour to SA. Raza Hasan already had an experience of T20 World Championship under his belt where he impressed with his immaculate line and length finishing with one of the best economy rate in the tournament. Hammad Azam, the captain and the promising all-rounder who was in thick of things for Pakistan’s future reinforcements as he was already tested with handful of ODIs for Pakistan. Usman Qadir, son of Pakistan’s best-known spinner, Abdul Qadir, Usman has an action not too different from his father and had the best economy among Pakistani bowlers in the tournament and 4th best in number of wickets overall.
Nepal’s playing XI had been scrutinized for the second time in a row with minor injuries and out of form players being in the squad. Pakistan won the match against AFG on back of their bowling (as they mostly do against any team in the world); the batters had two failed outings so far. E Adil, B Bhatti the fiery fast bowling could have proved out to be nemesis for Nepal. G Malla’s extended lean run was costing the team’s batting especially when he is the no.3 of the batting order. Nepal had loads of pride to play for if not the slightest of chance to go through the group stage. The scenario was somewhat similar to Nepal’s ICC World Cricket League Division 3 campaign, however against far superior opponent this time. Pakistan had to win the match at any cost to diminish any chance of putting up a scenario in losing cause for AFG in their game against India. Pakistan’s then half-International bowling line-up in R Hasan, E Adil and H Azam (now B Bhatti also) easily could make life difficult to already out of form Nepali batsmen. All in all, Nepal had a slightest of opportunity with biggest of win beckoning to start with.
Nepal may found it too hot to handle but not Subash Khakurel. He scored 78 runs, 15 from 13 balls he faced against Adil, 12 from 18 balls he faced against Bilwaal Bhatti, 9 of 19 against Raza Hasan, 12 of 20 against Qadir, 7 of 8 against H Azam, 12 of 12 against part time bowling of B Azam and the only bowler he struggled against that day was Mohammed Nawaz eventually getting caught of his bowling after negotiating his 38 deliveries for just 11 runs. It was pleasing to see a Nepali Opening Batsman taking on the fast bowlers and playing some lovely drives and lofts over the point region. He smashed Ehsan Adil for 3 fours in his 3rd over of the match which let loosed his confidence as he kept making rooms and freeing his arms to play the offside shots. He kept having decent look at the bowlers before rocking back and fro for short and full deliveries respectively, hitting a short ball by H Azam for a Six, sweeping U Qadir through square leg and pulling R Hasan for over a mid-wicket boundary. He seemed on prowess of his powers when he even lofted the Bilwaal Bhatti delivery over extra-covers for fours. Application was name of his game but he finally lost his patience which he mastered so far in the match when he top edged a reverse-shot to a Nawaz delivery and got caught out at third man. He featured in seven different partnerships with only one being more than 30 runs. One can understand how Pakistani batsmen kept the other batsmen on check but Khakurel kept picking up runs, mostly singles, with odd boundaries. One will never can find an answer now if he could have achieved much more that day with little more help from his partners, he fell as a seventh wicket when the score was 140 (78 to his name), eventually Nepal made 155.
It was the Practice match before ICC World Cricket League Division -5; Subash Khakurel hammered 53 runs of just 34 balls against USA. Then, USA coach was surprised to know he is not even in the Nepali squad. He later said “it won’t take too long for him to earn National cap.” With is dedication, passion, hard work and quick learning ability, he made name for himself and he is now very important part of Nepali team. His score of 115 runs in the crucial match of Division four, 2012, not out 40 runs in the final of the same tournament and half-century in the final of ACC trophy 2012 against UAE proved that he is a big match player and he can win the match on himself for Nepal. Thanks to Nepal’s Coach Pubudu Dassanayake’s policy to include new faces in the team which added wings to Subash’s dream. His selection for the Senior Squad was full of pleasant surprise to him because he was not even in the Preliminary squad of 22 members, at that time. Today, Nepal is about to play the ODI World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand, and his credentials are going to be ideally tested in testing conditions of down under. And hasn’t he done well there too, he finished the ICC U19 World Cup held in Australia as the best batsman from Nepal with 155 runs in 6 matches that too opening for Nepal. He witnessed a hat-trick being at non-striker end; still he managed to stay there, get composed, in the crease against the fire-spitting fast bowling of Australia. His name is still in the list of players like Quinton De Kock, Unmukt Chand, Anamul Haque, K Braithwate, etc as the tournaments best batsmen from the respective countries they played for.
In these times, all those T20 Innings played by Nepal batsmen in UAE for their successful campaign qualifying for the World T20 first round in Bangladesh could stand much more value and substance overshadowing Subash’s 78 in losing cause against a under-23 team, but this 20 year lad did played one of world’s best bowling unit with utter confidence and determination which was described by Coach as simply phenomenal, his first words as soon as he reached Tribhuvan International Airport Nepal after the ACC Emerging Teams Cup tournament. For a trivia, or fact, it’s in 2013 when a bowling machine was introduced for practicing in Nepal by the Cricket Association of Nepal, and that too only one, it is unbelievable how this lad has kept performing against the fast bowlers all around the world in different batting conditions. Adding wings to his achievements, Subash’s 78 have to be the best innings played by a Nepali Batsman.