In this photo,Oman celebrate after taking a wicket against Nepal on February 5. Photo: The National
KATHMANDU: Oman all-rounder Aqib Ilyas has praised Nepal’s cricket supporters saying that it was the ‘best thing he has ever seen such support in his life.”
He said this despite playing a central role in defeating Nepal on Sunday.
He took four wickets on Sunday in the match played against Nepal. He had scored his maiden one-day international century (109 not out) to guide his side to an eight-wicket win in Cricket World Cup League Two in Kathmandu. Nepal was restricted to 249-8, a total that was overhauled with nearly three overs to spare.
When he reached three figures, instead of raising his bat towards his teammates in the away team dressing room, as is the convention, he faced the crowds massed on the banks of the Tribhuvan University ground.
The opposition supporters celebrated his achievement like he was one of their own. When he then knelt in prayer, they roared even more vociferously. He stood up and applauded their response.
“We have never seen such an amazing crowd anywhere,” Ilyas said.
“That is the best thing I have ever seen in my life. The way they support their team, but then if you do well they support you, that is the best thing.
“For my team, I always do this [raise his bat in appreciation] but I am not sure when I will be back to Nepal, so I wanted to do this for them.”
Ilyas went to them, and threw his sleeveless Oman sweater over the fence to them, as a gesture of thanks. That sparked a brief kerfuffle, as a few smiling fans vied for the keepsake.
Thousands inside, and plenty outside, too. Nervy start to the run chase. Nepal 4 for 2 in the fifth over pic.twitter.com/7DUwwp9mDm
— Paul Radley (@PaulRadley) February 5, 2020
He put on an unbroken 167 with his captain Zeeshan Maqsood, who made 68 not out, as Oman chased what had appeared a daunting target on a worn, turning pitch, with just two wickets lost.
“It feels amazing, the best feeling a batsman can have,” said Ilyas, who ended 109 not out.
“To pick up four wickets, get injured, then come back and your coach and staff say you have to go and score a century for your team – to go out and get a century was the best feeling you can ever have.”
Nepali cricket fans care so deeply about their team they have been known to riot in the past. But this was not a day for any of that. Whatever the result, this was going to be a celebration.
That much was clear ahead of the start, as supporters thronged the road up to the ground.
Vendors peddled wares including flags and miniature stickers of the leading players, like Sandeep Lamichhane and Paras Khadka, at a cost of 10 rupees a piece. Around 7,000 ended up buying tickets, which were priced at 200 rupees.
Unprompted, the crowd rose and applauded Mohammed Nadeem of Oman on Saturday, when he reached 50, even though it was already apparent it could be the seminal effort of the match.
The batsman was moved by the show of appreciation, suggesting such generosity of spirit was rare.
“It really made me happy to see the crowd was supporting both sides,” Nadeem said.
“Normally this doesn’t happen in most countries, but the Nepali crowd is really appreciative of both teams. This is a great thing for cricket.”
Nadeem was not the only one the home crowd had eyes for. Oman’s wicketkeeper, Suraj Kumar, was born in India, before moving to Muscat as an adult to work for a company that manufactures metal cans.
He has never lived in Nepal, but both his parents are from there, and he speaks the language fluently.
As such, the crowd treated him as one of their own. The early arrivals chanted his name while the two teams warmed up in single-digit temperatures ahead of the game.
When he came to the wicket to bat, he was afforded the sort of welcome any of the home batsmen would have been happy with.
The 31-year-old wicketkeeper is proud of the way Nepal’s supporters have taken him to their hearts since his heritage became known after he scored a half-century in a T20 match against them last year.
“Before coming here, I was getting any number of messages from locals asking when we were coming to Nepal,” he said.
“They have been keeping an eye on me since we played in a pentangular series with Nepal [before last year’s T20 World Cup Qualifier].
“They all started following me on social media, and we’re keeping track of what I was doing. They have all been behind me, saying I was part of Nepal, and that they are really proud of me.”
OK, they were a little more gleeful when he was dismissed for a duck two balls later, but there were no hard feelings.
At the end, a large group of home supporters beckoned to him for a selfie. He was only too happy to oblige.
Zeeshan Maqsood, the Oman captain, said his players were thrilled to play in front of such an audience.
“The crowd came here for us, and we like to see that every time,” said Maqsood, who took three vital wickets as Nepal were bowled out for 179.
“We don’t like to play in empty stadiums. Cricket is that type of game, so we love to see crowds like this.”
Gyanendra Malla, the Nepal captain, was impressed with how the opposition’s achievements were cheered.
“The game is growing in Nepal, and everyone is starting to catch up with the spirit of the game, the laws, and they understand it better,” Malla said.
“It is good to see them applauding other people’s efforts as well.
— The National Sport (@NatSportUAE) February 9, 2020
“At the start of the day, there was a bit of nervousness. This is the first ODI at home for us, so there was nervousness when we started. But once it started, it felt like just another game.”
The victory sent Oman top of the CWCL2 table above the United States, who they face at the same ground on Tuesday.
Nepal’s coach Umesh Patwal is not downcast by the loss to Oman. “Sometimes you get those things going for you, sometimes they don’t,” Patwal said.
“This was a good learning experience for all the Nepali players. They don’t get to play much 50-over cricket, so this is amazing for them.”
(with inputs from The National)