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The Cardiac Kids from Nepal

Nepal have been the specialists of heart-stopping finishes in the WCL Division Two and their victory to seal a place in the World Cup Qualifier was a perfect example

About half an hour after perhaps the most incredible finish anyone at Wanderers Sports Park is likely to witness in person, the first question posed to two of the central characters in the drama was about whether they had ever been a part of anything like it at any level of cricket.
"I have been, I have been!" yelped the teenage legspinner Sandeep Lamichhane. "Last time against Namibia, I was batting with Basant Regmi dai. 19 runs required and I was the last guy!"
Heart-stopping finishes have become de rigueur with Nepal this week at the WCL Division Two. They opened the tournament with a one-wicket win over Namibia chasing 139. Then, they needed two runs off the last ball to outlast Kenya. Against Canada, with a spot in the World Cup qualifier on the line, they managed to combine the excitement of both those games.
Lamichhane was the last man in again. And Karan KC's six over extra cover off Cecil Pervez brought the equation to two off the final delivery. The atmosphere in the ground was so extraordinarily surreal that even Salvador Dali would have struggled to portray it on a canvas.
After seven days of cricket, the fates of three teams were going to be decided by the very last ball of round-robin play. For even as the Nepal-Canada game reached its climax, at the adjacent ground across the car park, UAE believed they had secured a trip to Zimbabwe with a 17-run win over Namibia and their screams and shouts of jubilation echoed across to Wanderers.
UAE had finished with six points - the same as Namibia - but with a better net run-rate. All they had to do now was hope Nepal wouldn't tie Canada. But then came a wide down the leg side, the equation became one run off one ball and UAE's place in the Qualifier was simultaneously alive and dead. Like Schrodinger's cat.
Pervez, after taking a moment to compose himself, ran back in. For the first four balls of the over, he was mutant-like, yorkers his superpower. But by the final ball, he was decidedly human, perhaps even wishing for that most popular of superhero traits - the ability to fly - as Karan clipped Nepal's - and UAE's - winning run.
Pervez sunk to the turf. Lamichhane took a moment away from his celebrations to embrace the Canadian, a man twice his age, and lift him to his feet again.
"They played good cricket also," Lamichhane said of Canada. "One team has to qualify. We were just trying to push our cricket to the highest level. I don't have words to say. It was sad to see them in this condition."
Earlier in the day, Lamichhane was spinning his way through Canada. But, having taken 2 for 7 in five overs, he had to leave the field with a knee injury. After treatment, he struggled to have the same impact, leaking 33 runs in 24 balls as Srimantha Wijeratne chugged toward a century that put Canada in command.
Nepal's chase faltered early on as Pervez took out their captain Paras Khadka and vice-captain Gyanendra Malla in the seventh over. They were 115 for 5 in 34 overs when lightning kept splitting the air and the umpires took the players off the field. Twenty minutes later, however, Canada were back to chipping away at the opposition.
The ninth wicket fell with Nepal needing 51 off 47 balls. And Karan went into overdrive.
"When he first hit the four straight back to the bowler, Hilly [Dillon Heyliger], I was just scared, like, 'Oh my God, he's hitting the ball very hard!'" Lamichhane said. "I was just scared at the non-striker's end. At the other moment he hit that six, a massive six, maybe around 90-100 metres, I came to know he's in the mood right now and he'll finish it off. I had that belief in him and he made it happen."
With the exception of Khadka, the majority of Nepal's players are short, thin and wiry. Karan is short too, but with a broad chest and powerful arms, he is an imposing sight. That six off Heyliger, which went into the Wanderers car park, was the first sign Nepal had someone with the firepower to pull off the impossible. Nepal needed a further 40 runs in 36 balls with only one wicket in hand.
"At that time, I thought only about sixes," Karan said. "I have to hit six, six, six and six because we have to win the game, because it's for the Qualifier. I told [Lamichhane], just play your normal game, don't hit six or four. Just play straight, play six balls and then next over I will play."
When the equation dropped to 21 off the last two overs, the pair had a discussion and it was decided Karan - the No. 10 batsman - would farm the strike. A colossal six over long-on was followed by a hair-raising boundary past the wicketkeeper. A single off the last ball kept Karan on strike for the final over. But Pervez turned eight off six into eight off two.
"At that time, the bowler bowled good yorkers," Karan said. "I was a little bit nervous at that time, but I had confidence that I could hit the six, maybe… So I was just thinking about the six, no singles."
Karan took strike for the fifth ball, only this time, he took guard a step deeper in the batting crease, to ensure he had a better chance of getting under Pervez's yorkers. The improvisation worked as the ball went sailing over the extra cover boundary.
Then came the wide which effectively clinched Nepal's spot in the Qualifier. The batsmen in the middle, however, had no idea they had taken the team through.
"We were just enjoying our game," Lamichhane said. We didn't get the news that UAE had won the match. We were just trying to win the game for our side. I said to him, 'Just hit the ball. If it's in your range, you can clear it, I have the belief."
This will be Nepal's second straight trip to the World Cup Qualifier. Their first had featured plenty of drama too, replete with a North American side stumbling at the finish.
USA went into the final day of the WCL Division Three tournament in 2013 needing only a win to progress. But Bermuda knocked them out in emphatic fashion and Nepal overtook them on net run-rate by chasing a target of 128 in 14.5 overs against Italy.
"It's just amazing, from Bermuda to here," Khadka said. "This would probably be the best cricket match that I've ever been a part of. This doesn't happen often, but it happened today, happened in our favor."
Back in Kathmandu, fans thronged to the Tribhuvan University Stadium, Nepal's national ground, gathering outside the gates for an emotional release after yet another heart-stopping finish. Khadka's Cardiac Kids had kept their supporters on edge all week.
"We don't ever want to make these kinds of enjoyable games for others," Lamichhane said with a laugh. "We want to finish it off very quickly but this is cricket and anything can happen in cricket."

Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent @PeterDellaPenna