Openers Bhurtel, Sheikh guide Nepal to emphatic win

The duo share century stand for the second match in a row as the hosts crush Malaysia by nine wickets to pull second victory from as many matches.

Openers Kushal Bhurtel and Aasif Sheikh once again shone for hosts Nepal as they registered an emphatic nine-wicket win over Malaysia in the Tri-Nations T20 Series at the TU cricket grounds in Kirtipur on Monday.

The duo, who marked their T20I debuts in the Series opener against the Netherlands with half-centuries each on Saturday, shared a century stand for the first wicket. The 25-year-old Bhurtel scored an unbeaten 61 run and became the first Nepali player to score back-to-back T20I half centuries as Nepal pulled off their second victory from as many matches.

His opening partner Sheikh contributed 42 runs as Nepal surpassed the 110-run target in 12.1 overs losing one wicket. Medium pacer Karan KC gave Nepal a perfect start with a three-wicket haul as Malaysia was bowled out for 109 runs in 16.5 overs.

The outcome assured Nepal top position in the standings with four points after the completion of first round matches. The Netherlands and Malaysia are second and third with two points each but the Dutch side stand second on the basis of superior net run rate.

“The important thing is that we won the game,” said Bhurtel when quizzed about his back-to-back half-centuries. “It’s a nice feeling to win both matches in a convincing way,” he added, who shared a record 116-run first wicket partnership with Sheikh in their nine-wicket victory over the Netherlands.

“I played a pressure free game against the Netherlands as it was my debut match. I had worked really hard for this moment and I did not want to miss this opportunity,” said Bhurtel, adding that he and Sheikh had fulfilled the role they were assigned by the team. “I have been playing as an opener for a couple of years now and it is not that tough job.”

Put into bat first, Malaysia made a shaky start to their innings and kept on losing wickets at regular intervals. Opener Anwar Aurdin was the first wicket to fall as he was caught by wicketkeeper Binod Bhandari off Karan KC with eight runs under his belt.

While other opener Syed Aziz scored 27 runs off 24, the highest in the innings, skipper Ahmad Faiz and Virandeep Singh were next two batsmen to be removed cheaply for three and six runs respectively. Faiz was run out while Singh, who scored 87 against the Netherlands on Sunday, was bowled by Sompal Kami. Aziz was the fourth wicket to fall as he was caught by Sheikh off Dipendra Singh Airee in 7.5 overs.

Sharvin Muniandy was the second best scorer for Malaysia with 20 runs off 15 deliveries. He was caught by Bhurtel off KC in 15.3 overs. Wicketkeeper batsman Shafiq Sharif, who scored 15 runs, was the other batsman to score in double digits. He was bowled by leg spinner Sandeep Lamichhane.

Nepal used seven bowlers including Kushal Malla who replaced Aarif Sheikh in the starting lineup in comparison to the last match against the Netherlands. KC was the pick of the bowling claiming three wickets in his three-over haul conceding 17 runs. The medium pacer was named the-man-of-the-match.

Leg spinner Lamichhane grabbed two wickets in his 3.5 overs bowling and conceded 25 runs. Dipendra Singh Airee, Shahab Alam, Kushal Malla and Kami pocketed one wicket each. Abinash Bohara bowled an over and conceded eight runs.

Nepal made a solid start to their run chase as Bhurtel hit a six to Pavandeep Singh in the second ball of the innings and collected eight runs in the first over. He hit three fences and five sixes in his unbeaten knock of 41 balls.

His opening pair Sheikh cracked four fences and a six in his quickfire knock of 29 balls. He shared 102-run partnership for the first wicket with Bhurtel before being caught by Anwar Rahman off Virandeep Singh in 11.1 overs.

Dipendra Singh Airee, who contributed six runs, finished the chase as he smacked Anwar Rahman four in the first delivery of the 13th over as Nepal reached 113-1.

Nepal’s newly appointed coach Dav Whatmore, who was taking charge of the team in an official match for the first time since his appointment in December, said: “It is nice to win the game. The performance has been extremely strong in the two games we have played so far.”

About his openers, the Australian coach said: “Both of them were pretty good and they both were fighting for one spot in the team. Paras’ (Khadka) injury ensured that they made it to the starting lineup. Having faith in themselves, good wickets and strong batting lineup gave confidence to those two boys.”

Nepal will play against the Netherlands in their next fixture on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN), issuing a statement on Monday, said that spectators would not be permitted in the remaining matches of the Series. The cricket governing body took the step as per the decision of the Council of Minister owing to the surge in the number of Covid-19 infections in the country.