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Alan Gardner in Chittagong
March 16, 2014
On the eve of Holi, the Hindu festival that will be celebrated throughout Nepal, the country's cricket team provided another reason rejoice. Not that they need much excuse. Nepal's cricket following is perhaps more widely known than many of the players, although the captain, Paras Khadka, is making quite a mark at the World T20, where he led his team to an exhilarating victory over Hong Kong on their tournament debut.
Cheered on by a strong contingent of Chittagong-based Nepalis, mostly made up university students, and in front of a global TV audience, Nepal showed their nerve as well as their skill. Khadka described victory as "gift to our people", thousands of whom had turned out to watch the game on big screens in town squares around the country. Holi, known as the festival of colour, will be all the more vibrant because of it.
"That's what we play for, as cricketers, the fan following and the amount of love and support that everybody gives us," he said, "I think it is one of the biggest motivational factors for us to do well. Everywhere we go, all over the world, we get massive support and we want to do it for our people. It's the colour festival back home, so it's one of our gifts to our people. We're pretty happy with what we did today."
Nepal's story has been one for the romantics but the ardour has been known to overtake the players. Attacking strokes abounded, particularly from the openers in a rapid partnership but Nepal were indebted to a cool-headed stand between Khadka and Gyanendra Malla, two of the team's most experienced players. The innings fell away again after Khadka's departure, with 33 scored off the last 22 balls as Nepal just failed to pass 150.
"That's something we are used to, both of us have been doing it for a very long time so it was nothing new for us," Khadka said of his stand with Malla. "Thankfully we had a very good start, building up the momentum. I still feel we should have got at least 10-15 runs more than we did but in a tournament like this you need to execute everything right.
"Fortunately today Hong Kong didn't have a very good day with the bat but then, if you want to do well in the tournament, I'd say we were short. As batsmen we try to build it up for the latter stages, the finishing wasn't as good as we wanted but as long as we win we'll take it every day."
With the hosts, Bangladesh, next up, Khadka was already eyeing areas for improvement. Nepal's fanbase will be swamped by an equally passionate home crowd on Tuesday - although Khadka said his players would be "only hearing the Nepali supporters" - with the winner taking a significant step towards the second round, after Bangladesh's emphatic victory over Afghanistan.
"We have done most things right today but there are still a lot of things we need to do, especially against Bangladesh," Khadka said. "They had a very good day as well so it's a matter of starting all over again."
Jamie Atkinson, Hong Kong's captain, cut a contrasting figure after the game, the disappointment plain to see on his face. He said that the performance "wasn't really a true reflection of Hong Kong cricket", which is probably fair after impressive performances against more-established sides during the warm-ups. Both Hong Kong and Nepal were playing their first T20 internationals, as well as being introduced to the pressure of performing in front of TV audience running into the millions. "In the end it was probably the big stage that got to us," Atkinson said.
"We had a good build up to the match, there was a relaxed feeling in the dressing-room. It was a big game for Hong Kong cricket, as it was for Nepal. In the end they've handled that better than us. There was quite a big crowd for a Hong Kong game and we haven't really experienced that in the past. That contributed a bit. There was always going to be nerves among all the players, being a first T20I for every single player in the team."
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Alan Gardner
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