Nepal might have had a shaky start to their World Cricket League Division 3 campaign in Bermuda, but they finished on a high, beating Uganda, the group toppers in the round-robin stage, by five wickets in Sunday's final to snatch the title. A twin success then, with the victory coming a day after they thumped Italy and had other results go in their favour to ensure their passage into the World Cup Qualifiers next year.
The final, in Hamilton, was a low-scoring one. Uganda chose to bat and were shaken straightaway, with Nepal's captain Paras Khadke removing opener Arthur Kyobe for one. They crawled along, and lost their top four cheaply, to be tottering at 39 for 4 by the end of the 22nd over. A series of cameos from the middle order helped get them past the 150-run mark, but they could never quite break the shackles until the last couple of overs, batting out the 50 for 151 for 8. Left-arm medium pacer Basanta Regmi finished with 2 for 24 from his ten, to end the joint third-highest wicket-taker in the tournament.
Nepal's batsmen were shaky too in reply, falling to 30 for 3 in the 11th. But a 77-run stand between opener Pradeep Airee and No. 5 Sharad Vesawkar got them back on track. They lost two more in a hurry when Airee was out to left-arm spinner Henry Ssenyondo for 60, but Vesawkar kept going in the company of Prithu Baskota - who captained Nepal at the Under-19 World Cup last year - to get them over the line. Vesawkar finished unbeaten on 50 and Nepal eventually won comfortably, with over 10 overs to spare.
Khadka said he was happy with the way his team kept fighting, despite losing their first two matches in the tournament. "We worked really hard for this. Having lost the first couple of games no one gave us an outright chance but we still believed in ourselves and our ability," he said. "Everything worked in favour of us and, as they say, fortune favours the brave. I feel glad, we have reached where we always wanted to, and now it is a matter of preparing ourselves for even better."
Expectedly, Uganda captain Davis Arinaitwe, who was named Player of the Series, was disappointed with the loss, but said the team had achieved their main goal: making it to the World Cup Qualifiers. "Ideally, I would have liked to finish the tournament on a high and pick up the final trophy of the whole tournament, and leave this beautiful island as WCL winners. But qualifying for the World Cup Qualifier was our primary objective. When we got here, we first put our sights on trying to qualify for that tournament. So, for us, that is an achievement that we can take back home."
The World Cup Qualifiers will be played in New Zealand in January 2014. Prior to that, there's the World Twenty20 Qualifier in November in Dubai, and both captains said their teams' focus would not shift to that tournament. "Before the World Cup Qualifier, we have the World Twenty20 Qualifier and that's an equally important tournament," Khadka said. "Preparation-wise, we have to have a strategic plan from now on because it is a big step - one more step and you are in the main global tournament. So we have to think from that perspective."
Arinaitwe said: "We'll get back home, take a short break, then resume the training as usual as we try to prepare for the World Twenty20 Qualifier."
USA, meanwhile, beat host Bermuda by 30 runs to place third in the division. Their total of 271 was set up by a rapid 97 from opener Steven Talyor - comfortably the tournament's top-scorer - and an anchoring 72 from Orlando Baker. Offspinner Muhammad Ghous then took four middle-order wickets to ensure Bermuda fell short in the chase.
In the fifth-place playoff, Oman beat Italy by five wickets. After Munis Ansari, who topped the tournament's wickets chart, claimed a four-for - albeit in an expensive spell - to help bowl out Italy for 207, the top and middle order built around a brisk 64 from Zeeshan Siddiqui to take the side to victory with over five overs to spare.