'Biggest day in Nepal cricket history' - Khadka
"Nervous," Paras Khadka texted. "Everyone on their own. Refreshing."
This was the state of the Nepal team at 3.25 pm at their team hotel in Harare. Everyone was left to their own devices, literally. Phones, laptops, tablets - each player waiting for the live scores app to reload for the latest update on what was taking place 200 kilometers southwest in Kwekwe.
A few hours earlier at Old Hararians, Nepal had beaten Papua New Guinea by six wickets. Now, they sat and waited to learn the rest of their fate.
If Hong Kong could chase a target of 175, it would have set up a winner-takes-ODI-status showdown with Nepal on Saturday. However, if Netherlands could hold on, they would face Nepal in a match that would become more of a festival. Why? Because both teams would have secured ODI status until 2022; Netherlands via winning the WCL Championship in December and Nepal by finishing above Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea.
This thing brings in four years of stability. More cricket, funds for development, everythingParas Khadka, Nepal captain
Last month, the Nepal squad was on tenterhooks at the boundary edge of the Wanderers Sports Club in Windhoek, cheering Karan KC and Sandeep Lamichhane through the course of a miraculous 51-run last-wicket stand against Canada to take them to the World Cup Qualifier. Today, they were on tenterhooks again, staring at their gadget screens.
By the time Nepal got back to their hotel, Hong Kong were 80 for 3, the chase of 175 evenly balanced. Suddenly, the wickets kept tumbling. Four, five, six, and then the lucky number 7, Babar Hayat. The Hong Kong captain was his side's last hope of maintaining ODI status. But one ball after bringing up his fifty, he was caught behind with 55 runs still to get.
"We were all on the internet, everyone in their rooms," Khadka told ESPNcricinfo. "We kept waiting for Babar to get out. We knew as long as Babar was still there, it was still on for Hong Kong."
After being on edge for the best part of two hours, the climax was swift, three wickets in an over to end the match. Hong Kong were all out for 130, Nepal's ODI status was secured until 2022 at the expense of their Asian rival.
Khadka was sitting in his room with longtime team-mate Basant Regmi during the final moments. Aside from left-arm spinner Shakti Gauchan, who made his debut in 2002 and gracefully made way for 17-year old phenom Lamichhane to play the Qualifier, the three longest serving players in the squad are Khadka (since 2004), Regmi and vice-captain Gyanendra Malla (since 2006). When the final wicket was confirmed on their screens, Khadka said he hugged Regmi before racing to team manager Raman Shiwakoti's room where the whole team began celebrating.
"It's massive for us. It's a dream come true so we're very very happy," Khadka shouted over the phone as shrieks and hollers came from the background. "Let's hope we can keep improving. It's probably the biggest day in our cricket history."
That may seem a bit hyperbolic. After all, by falling short of the Super Sixes, Nepal has no chance to qualify for the 2019 World Cup. This is a country that achieved T20I status in November 2013 after beating Hong Kong to secure a place in the 2014 World T20, where they beat Afghanistan and gave Bangladesh a respectable fight to go 2-1 in the opening round. In little over a year after that promising debut, Nepal lost their T20I status with a disastrous performance at the 2015 T20 Qualifier in Ireland.
However, Khadka insists that despite not qualifying for the World Cup, gaining ODI status meant so much in big-picture terms. "This thing brings in four years of stability. More cricket, funds for development, everything."
The other cause for such emotional outpouring from Nepal was that their efforts came in the face of administrative hurdles at home. After years of turmoil, Cricket Association of Nepal was finally suspended in April 2016 by the ICC and is yet to meet the conditions for it to be reinstated.
That meant Nepal cricket was taken over by the ICC, who have too much on their plate to deal with day-to-day matters like the team's training needs. As an example, the players voiced their displeasure over other teams getting to train in South Africa ahead of the WCL Division Two in February to get accustomed to conditions while Nepal were made to train in Dubai.
"It's been just incredible commitment from everyone involved," Khadka said. "The players, the coaches. I think about the years and years of hard work, persistence, pushing each other. In spite of everything that's wrong with our board, the players have always held their heads high."
In order for the players from the Himalayan nation to scale their greatest height in one-day cricket - a journey which began in 2008 in at Division Five - they had to overcome a a huge obstacle last month at Division Two in Namibia, where they pulled off three heartstopping wins just to secure a place at the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe. The zenith was that epic 10th-wicket stand between Karan and Lamichhane.
"Karan KC and Sandeep, the 51 runs, we're still hugging him," Khadka said. "It was meant to be."
At age 30, with another opportunity at least four years away, Khadka might have ended up the finest player in the modern age of Associate cricket to never play an ODI. Instead, not only will the old guard feature in international matches, but the next generation of Lamichhane, Rohit Paudel and Dipendra Singh Airee will reap immense rewards. Their newly attained ODI status might even be a precursor to victories off the field and a solution to their administrative problems.
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent @PeterDellaPenna