Young Nepal out to impress big boys
Less than 18 years after playing their first competitive match, Nepal have reached the world stage by qualifying for the World T20. It is a massive occasion for the country and they have a serious cricket team to boot too. They were third in the qualification tournament, after defeating UAE in the playoff game.
Nepal climbed quickly through the World Cricket League ranks, moving up from Division Five to Division Two from 2010 to last year when they became Division Three champions. They made it to the World T20 qualifiers after finishing second in the 2013 ACC Twenty20 Cup. In the November qualifiers, they lost to Afghanistan in the semi-finals, but had already qualified for the World T20s after beating Hong Kong in the quarters.
Nepal's progress so far tells of how popular the game is in the country where there is now stiff competition between football and cricket. Over the last five years, the IPL too has captured the people's imagination in the country. If a particular sport is popular, it rubs off on the youth the most and in the Nepal team, there isn't a player who has reached the age of 30.
This young team from Himalaya country could be the one of the most eye-catching in the early stages of the tournament. They are in Afghanistan and Bangladesh's group, and will take away some of the attention. In front of a world audience, how cricket is played in Nepal will be there for all to see.
The man at the helm of this fully charged team, Paras Khadka, is also the team's highest-scorer and among the top three wicket-takers in T20s. He will be keen to turn in the same sort of performance at a slightly higher level. He averaged 23.40 with the bat in the World Cup qualifiers in New Zealand, so he will also have to turn around his form.
Pace bowler Sompal Kami took eight wickets in New Zealand, and can be a surprise weapon. He isn't 19 yet, and definitely can grow more physically and mentally. Though he will be playing on batting-friendly wickets in Chittagong, he could be expected to extract wickets, like he did against Namibia back in January.
Like most young teams, the inexperience of playing against top nations could stand against Nepal. The dew in Chittagong could affect their slow bowlers, while their batting has to look to change gears quickly when the need arises.
World T20 history
This is their maiden appearance, having turned out as the third best among the qualifiers from UAE in November last year.
Nepal were ninth in the World Cup qualifiers in New Zealand this January, but they would like to replicate their form from the World T20 qualifiers from November. In all T20s, they have won 11 out of 19 games.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here