Singapore beat the rhino in its own den, winning the ACC U-16 Elite Cup over Nepal by 68 runs in Kirtipur, on the outskirts of Kathmandu. It was the first time Nepal had lost an ACC Final at home since 1998.

The match was televised live by Nepal TV, the crowd at Tribhuvan University growing steadily all day to reach around 4000 at one stage. It was an excellent final, both sides playing as close to as well as they could with the ball, though Nepal will feel they underperformed with the bat.

Both unbeaten in the tournament so far, this match promised to be close. Singapore have improved with every match since the start with Nepal revealing a reliance on just a few players. Singapore's strength being that they have batted all 40 overs in their four games up to today.

Singapore lost Keshav Sashiri early after choosing to bat, “we wanted to put up a score, ideally 160+plus, and put some pressure on Nepal,” said Singapore’s coach Arjun Menon. Devendra Somare was bowling well from the Pavilion End, inswingers at pace coupled with ones that held their line. Iishan Shekhar gave the innings plenty of momentum initially, racing to 21 off 12 before miscuing to mid-off, Swichan Shah taking a good catch running in.

Bowler of the Tournament Nepal's Nischal Pandey

Some good running kept the scoreboard ticking over after Iishan Shekhar’s dismissal but as soon as the spinners came on, run-scoring became difficult. Much depended on Vikas Rajagopal, with three 50s in the tournament and the ailing Singapore captain Varun Sivaram but with turn from the first ball of left-arm spinner Nischal Pandey and his slow-bowling colleagues, run-scoring became difficult and survival was, at times, all Singapore could hope for.

Varun Sivaram fell just after the drinks break, caught and bowled by Rajiv Shah for 14, with the score on 58 in the 19th over. Vikas Rajagopal gave two sharp chances soon after this but remained, accumulating steadily. Mohit Kulkarni fell pulling with the score on 79 in the 26th over and Singapore’s chances of making a hefty score went with him.

Rajagopal hit Rajiv Shah to mid-off three overs later for Singapore’s first boundary since Iishan Shekhar’s departure at the top of the innings. Coming forward, getting as close to the pitch of the ball as possible to scotch the spin, he played an accomplished innings. He made a vital half-century.

Singapore’s Vikas Rajagopal reaches 50
Wicket-keeper Sam Franks struck the first 6 of the innings at the end of the 36th over to push Singapore to 118 for 4, and with a Powerplay called for soon after, 140-plus and a competitive score was on the cards. With Vikas Rajagopal miscuing to mid-off straight after however, out for 58 (107 balls, 2 fours). Sam Franks took on the hitter’s role, every run vital to the cause. Singapore finished on 146 for 6. Nepal were going to have to work hard if they were going to win especially as Singapore’s spinners are the equal of, if not superior to Nepal’s. They’d have a bit to do today.

There was just a hint of swing in the hazy conditions but Nepal’s openers Sharad Khadka and Nischal Pandey weren’t unduly troubled by Singapore’s opening pace-bowlers. Nischal’s second four was hit towards the Annapurna Hotel caterers tent who applauded their young star heartily. Abhiraj Singh, Singapore’s own young left-arm spinning star came on in the 5th over.

He struck in his second over, Sam Franks stumping Sharad and then two balls later off-spinner Navin Param made the big breakthrough, tossing one up wide and having Nischal caught behind. Nepal 31 for 2 in the 8th over. The crowd, around 4000 in number now, got behind their side, chanting “Nepal, Nepal”.

Navin Param got his next wicket, Switchan Shah caught well by his opposite number Varun Sivaram at slip for 2, and Nepal were in trouble at 35 for 3. Not the fastest through the air, and tossing the ball up high, Param was getting considerable turn and bounce.

Param, composing himself at the top of his run-up Shane Warne-style before every delivery, struck in his next over too, dismissing the dangerous Dipendra Chand, plumb in front, and Nepal were 47 for 4. The crowd quiet. The fifth wicket fell to a run-out. Some in the crowd left.

Sushan Shrestha is short of his ground and Nepal are 48 for 5
Picture by Rajendra Chitadkar

Wickets continued to fall, Abhiraj and Param weaving a web too sticky, too tight for the Nepali batsmen. Slow left-armer Sarisrakar Pogaru got in on the act too, picking up wickets. Shivam Ahuja, who’s taken a bundle in the tournament up to now, castled the last man in his first over.

Man of the Match: Navin Param
“We’ve worked really hard for this, played solid cricket, without fear, everyone chipped in and the boys thoroughly deserve this victory,” said Singapore’s coach. Spin works at this level, especially in Nepal. Navin Param and his colleagues know that for sure.

Nepal's coach Roy Dias said of his young team, "Nepal should actually be proud of these boys, with very little experience they got to the Final and already I can see that there is a lot of talent in the team which will develop as the players mature."

Nepal have a phenomenal record in age-group cricket having won all the ACC tournaments over the years. Singapore, ACC U-15 champions in 2007 are building a fine record too.

ACC U-16 Elite Cup 2010
Final: Nepal v Singapore at Tribhuvan University
Singapore won the toss and chose to bat
Singapore: 146 for 6 off 40 overs (V.Rajagopal 58)
Nepal: 78 off 22 overs (N.Param 4-28, S.Pogaru 3-10)
Man of the Match: Navin Param (Singapore)

Bowler of the Tournament: Nischal Pandey (Nepal)
Batsman of the Tournament: Vikas Rajagopal (Singapore)
Player of the Tournament: Nischal Pandey (Nepal)

Pictures by Sundar Shrestha except where stated

Tournament Page

Filed March 16th, 2010