Dipendra Singh Airee has orchestrated several match-winning performances for Nepal in the past. But his exploits against Papua New Guinea in a World Cup qualifier in Harare could very well go down as the finest moment in his career so far. After prising out four wickets with a mix of medium pacers and off-spin, he would score an unbeaten half-century. His heroics not only helped Nepal register a comprehensive six-wicket win in Harare, but also, more importantly, helped them claim ODI status for the first time.
Confirmed of a third place finish, Nepal will now take on the Netherlands on Saturday. Irrespective of the outcome of that game, Nepal have joined Scotland and UAE as the three highest-ranked Associate Members after the Netherlands (who qualified last year for the new 13-team ODI League commencing in 2020 by winning the ICC World Cricket League Championship), which was the criteria to earn ODI status for the next four years.
In contrast, Hong Kong and PNG will be relegated to the ICC World Cricket League Division 2, but not before featuring in the 4000th ODI, which will be played at the Old Hararians on Saturday.
Having said that, this win is historic for Nepal on many counts, and it caps a remarkable journey for a team that was languishing as low as in Division five a decade ago.
Their rise to the top tier of international cricket was even more spectacular when you consider that their administration was banned by the ICC in 2016. Without a proper association to run the sport, the country looked like it was heading into oblivion.
Thanks to the efforts of some of their senior players, who took over the mantle of bringing together a team. Seeing the overwhemling support for the sport in the country, the ICC deemed Nepal as “priority country” and were allowed to partcipate. The team’s run to ODI status too has been stupendous.
They finished runners-up in the WCL Division 2 in Namibia last month, where they lost to UAE in the final. This helped them clinch a spot at the Qualifier event in Zimbabwe. In a series of nail-biting finishes, Nepal managed to hold their composure and eventually came out victorious. Apart from Airee, this team has their irepressible captain Paras Khadke, who is a vital cog in the top order. Apart from that, they also have promising young leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichhane in their ranks.