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Nepal have qualified for next year's Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia after defeating a spirited Afghanistan side by 48 runs in the final of the Asian Cricket Council Under-19 Elite Cup at the Kinrara Oval. Nepal successfully defended a modest of 172 to bowl out Afghanistan, who lost their last four wickets for three runs in 11 balls.
The tournament also served as the Asian qualifier and by virtue of winning it, Nepal joined Papua New Guinea (from the East Asia-Pacific region), Ireland (from the Europe region), Bermuda (from the Americas region), the ICC's 10 Full Members and hosts Malaysia at the 16-team World Cup to be played from February 17 to March 2, 2008.
Deciding to bat first, Nepal found the going tough against the disciplined Afghanistan bowlers who continued to take wickets at regular intervals. The only partnership of any substance was for the sixth wicket between Sagar Khadka and Aakash Kumar Gupta who added 61 runs after Nepal had slumped to 60 for 5 in the 22nd over.
Khadka scored a painstaking 32 from 79 balls with one four while Gupta scored run-a-ball 48 with six fours and a six. Captain Paras Khadka was other notable run-getter with 28. For Afghanistan, Asghar Hussain, Obaidullah Kunari and Aimal Wafa took two wickets each.
Afghanistan began in similar style and fell to 67 for 5, but couldn't produce the same sort of fightback. Shir Shirazi and Shabir Noori tried to stabilise the innings, however, Shirazi's departure opened floodgates as Afghanistan lost their last five wickets for 16 runs.
Roy Dias, Nepal's coach, was delighted with the success of his team which also gives him the unprecedented honour of appearing at his fourth U-19 World Cup. "These kids have shown that they are tough and can come through against any opposition and in any conditions," he said.
"We were not given any realistic chance of qualifying this time because we could hardly practice in Nepal because of rain. However, we were rescued by Sri Lanka Cricket who funded our week-long tour [in August]. And although we lost a couple of matches, it was a big tour in terms that the boys got match practice and managed to fine-tune their talent."
Dias felt the key stage of the final was the sixth-wicket stand between Khadka and Gupta. "I think that was the turning point because that partnership made sure we had enough runs on the board. And once we picked up Afghanistan opener Sajed Khan very early in the innings, we knew we had the match under control because bowling was our strength and we showed tremendous discipline in that department throughout the tournament."