Singapore will play its first World Cup Qualifier in almost twenty years after thumping Nepal by 82 runs on the final day of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Asia Region Final at the Indian Association ground on Sunday.

Singapore were the tournament’s only unbeaten team going into this match (after Nepal fell to Qatar by 4 wickets earlier) but few would have expected such a comprehensive victory against a vastly experienced Nepal side that has become increasingly accustomed to eking out decisive wins in the tights of pressure cauldrons. Instead, local young guns Rohan Rangarajan and Tim David all but batted Nepal out of the game. And with stalwarts Khadka, Malla, and Vesawkar back in the sheds at 62 for 3 after 8 overs one could be forgiven for calling it early in Singapore’s favour.

Rohan Rangarajan drives as Tim David backs up (Photo: Sanketa Anand)

Rangarajan is a precocious talent, a rare combination of quick feet, technical orthodoxy, maturity and power. He has scored against top opposition before – a solid 68 off 92 against Oman last year being a case in point. Yet this innings epitomized a newfound confidence to take on some of the Associate world’s best bowlers and execute with ease.

And it was no fluke. In a pre-tournament interview on the Singapore Cricket Association (SCA)’s Facebook page Rangarajan speaks of the travails of combining national service with cricket. “I end work every day at 5:30 PM and as soon as I go home I have to get ready for cricket…it’s something you have to do if you love the sport so much,” he says.

Rangarajan, who turned 20 in June, is not alone in this steadfast commitment to the national team’s success. Throughout the week Singapore’s largely amateur squad of players, coaches, and administrators let slip their collective recipe for success: six or seven hours of training under lights every night; 15 warm-up matches – yes you read that right – against a PK Gladiators side comprised of Pakistani first-class and elite club players at the tournament ground; the revelation that SCA officials even scouted PK Gladiators players most similar to those they could come up against; and the lengths to which they went to scout, communicate with, and land Tim David’s services over a period of three to four years.

Tim David was player of the match in Sunday’s game and was batter of the tournament (Photo: Sanketa Anand)

The end result is that this was likely (we called it in Emerging Cricket’s preview) strongest Singapore side in recent history, a claim further backed up by the fact that their two most historically successful batsmen in Chetan Suryawanshi and Anish Paraam scored a combined 23 runs throughout.

A blueprint for other emerging cricket sides perhaps.

For Nepal’s cardiac kids, two losses in four games at this level is a worrying sign of things to come. On the field, their batting remains overly reliant on Paras Khadka, Sharad Vesawkar and (in this tournament) Gyanendra Malla, with Dipendra Airee and Rohit Kumar Paudel yet to convince in this format. Both Sandeep Lamichhane and Basant Regmi had uncharacteristically poor tournaments, bowling too full or too short in equal measure. Off the field, Nepal’s ongoing suspension by the ICC and the accompanying consequences for regular domestic cricket, high-performance training, and tournament preparation are of most concern. How this plays out across three years of ODI cricket is a difficult and urgent question for those involved with the sport there.

A dejected Nepal team during the final presentation. (Photo: Sanketa Anand)

Qatar played impressively throughout the tournament. It was notable to hear both captain Tamoor Sajjad and manager Gul Khan talk about the monarchy’s growing support for the sport in the Emirate. Qatar will be back in action next month for first round of the 2019 – 2022 ICC Cricket World Cup Challenge Cup in Malaysia and will be hoping to build on an encouraging performance here.

There may be a shot at redemption for one of Qatar (as 2nd place finishers going into a repechage tournament) or Nepal (as the highest-ranked T20I side in Associate cricket) depending on how the ICC decides to replace Zimbabwe in the global qualifier later this year.

For the tournament’s remaining two teams, it is back to the drawing board. Malaysia should be bitterly disappointed with their overall performance after extensive preparations. Nonetheless given growing junior participation rates, competitive state-level tournaments showcasing a growing number of foreign professionals, and a young, talented, professionally contracted national side, the fundamentals remain strong.  

Kuwait will take solace in captain Muhammad Kashif’s Player of the Tournament accolade, but will now have to wait until the next ICC qualifying cycle for a shot at the big stage. Until then it is back to the grind of the ACC’s Western Region tournaments.

Kuwait skipper Muhummad Kashif receives his player of the tournament trophy from ICC Asia’s Niteesha Kothari

We have crunched the stats from the competition and brought together an Emerging Cricket Team of the Tournament, in batting order:  

  1. Gyanendra Malla (Nepal)
    132 runs, 33 average
    Malla was the second leading run-scorer in the competition and was extremely consistent at the top of the order for Nepal. His 39 in the final match against Singapore giving Nepal a flying start with no support from his countrymen around him.
  2. Paras Khadka (Nepal)
    108 runs, 36 average
    Malla and Khadka have formed a deadly opening partnership in past years with this tournament being no different. The Nepalese captain’s brutal innings of 68 from 42 balls which included 50 runs just in boundaries highlighting his tournament.
     
  3. Tim David (Singapore)
    129 runs, 43 average
    Fresh from a breakout season debuting for the Perth Scorchers, Singapore-born David proved the class batsmen the hosts needed in their batting order. His reputation solidified with a powerful 77 off 43 balls in the crunch match with Nepal to end the tournament.
     
  4. Muhammed Kashif (Kuwait)
    143 runs, 71 average, 4 wickets, 8.2 economy
    Player of the tournament and well-deserving of the honour Kashif was the leading run-scorer of the competition with an impressive average of 71 as well as taking four wickets in the tournament. Kashif’s blistering 43 off 20 balls which included 5 sixes lead his country to victory against Qatar.
     
  5. Tamoor Sajjad (Qatar)
    115 runs, 38 average, 3 wickets, 7.2 economy
    Sajjad was impressive for Qatar finishing fourth leading run-scorer in the competition. The 28-year-old led with the bat and was also handy with his leg-spin picking up three wickets in the competition.
  6. Manpreet Singh (Singapore, w/k)
    102 runs, 51 average, 4 dismissals
    Singapore’s wicketkeeper had a good tournament batting down the order eclipsing the 100-run mark for the tournament while also remaining handy behind the stumps.
  7. Nowman Sarwar (Qatar)
    96 runs, 96 average, 7 wickets, 9.3 economy 
    Sarwar played an incredible role for Qatar during the tournament scoring 96 runs with just the singular dismissal leading to an impressive 96 average for the competition. Sarwar also collected 7 wickets in the competition putting him in a four-way tie for second place in the wicket taking stats.
     
  8. Sandeep Lamichhane (Nepal)
    7 wickets, 8.07 economy
    What a superstar this guy is and what a pleasure it was to see him playing in the tournament. Lamichhane who has enjoyed an unusual break from cricket leading into the tournament took two three-wicket hauls went at an unusually high economy however the 18-year-old still looked dangerous whenever he was given the chance at the tournament.
  9. Amjad Mahboob (Singapore, captain)
    7 wickets, 8.72 economy
    Mahboob was excellent in the competition leading Singapore from the front finishing second in the wicket-taking ranks and captaining Singapore to an unbeaten campaign. The 38-year-old finished with two three-wicket hauls in the competition.  
  10. Iqbal Hussain (Qatar)
    12 wickets, 7.84 economy
    Hussain was the leading wicket-taker in the competition and what a competition he had. Amongst the wickets across his four games, Hussain’s 3-21 in Qatar’s upset victory of Nepal was the shining light on the Qatari’s campaign
  11. Selladore Vijaykumar (Singapore)
    7 wickets, 5.09 economy
    The veteran had quite the tournament going at a terrific 5.09 economy rate. Vijayakumar took 4/25 in the last match of the tournament making light work of Nepal’s top order and with it a win against the highly touted Nepalese side.

    What’s Next:
    For champions Singapore, preparations now begin for the T20 World Cup qualification finals in the UAE in October where six qualification spots will be up for grabs to the first round of the 2019 T20 World Cup in Australia.

    For regional qualifiers, two more nations from the Americas region will join the qualifiers in October from the Americas T20 World Cup qualifiers from the 18-25 August.

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