APF wins Premier Cup T20 cricket

The Sharad Vesawkar-led Nepal Armed Police Force (APF) Club won the Premier Cup National Twenty20 cricket tournament on Wednesday, beating arch-rivals Nepal Police Club by 21 runs at the TU campus in Kirtipur.

First to bat, APF posted a mediocre total of 157 runs on a collective batting effort with all wickets lost with a ball left. At bowling, Kishore Mahato took three wickets at average speed when they capped the police to 136-7, despite a half-century from Dipendra Singh Airee.

APF winners took a purse of Rs 500,000 and the runners-up police walked away with Rs 300,000 along with trophies and certificates. The two semi-finalists Tribhuvan Army Club and Bagmati Province were awarded Rs50,000 each.

However, APF got off to a shaky start to their innings losing openers Pradeep Airee and Aasif Sheikh for seven and nine runs respectively and continued to lose wickets at regular intervals, moderate contributions from as many as five batters leading them to an average total.

“It is difficult to play on the TU campus in the morning. It was also a different wicket and grass on the pitch made it difficult to play,” said APF captain Vesawkar. “But despite losing early wickets, the positive aspect was that we were able to maintain the run rate. The whole team, including the number 10 batter, contributed well.”

He was also full of praise for openers Airee and Sheikh, the player-of-the-series. “Pradeep and Aasif played consistently well in every match and made our entry into the final easy,” said Vesawkar, pointing out that young players came up with fearless performances. “The recent change in Nepali cricket is that young players have put in fearless performances.”

Third batter Lokesh Bam, who hit 18-ball 66 in Tuesday’s semifinal against Tribhuvan Army Club, scored 27 for 15. He hit three sixes and a boundary. Lower batter Amar Routela contributed the highest 15-ball 29 in the innings. He hit two limits and three sixes.

Sundeep Jora contributed 24 out of 20, captain Vesawkar 19 out of 25 and Bhuvan Karki 17 out of 22 for APF losing other batters cheaply. They were also gifted with extra 10 runs.

Police all-rounder Airee and Sagar Dhakal took three wickets each while Gulsan Jha took two scalps. Airee gave up 22 runs in his four-over spell and Dhakal gave up 29 runs in his bowling with 3.5 overs.

In chasing the goal, the cops also got off to a poor start to their innings, losing opener Pawan Sarraf to a duck in the first-ever delivery of the innings and Amit Shretha for three runs, both sacked by Mahato. But Airee, who came in at number four, consolidated the innings with a 54-ball 65.

Airee, dropped by Abinash Bohara in the 13th over with 39 runs, hit three limits and two maximums before being caught by Pradeep Airee near Bohara in the last over. Dilip Nath contributed 23 out of 22, including two fences.

Aarif Sheikh and Anil Sah, who contributed 12 points and 10 points respectively, were the other police batters to score double digits. The police also got 13 extra runs.

Aside from Mahato’s three wicket haul, APF bowlers Abinash Bohara, Amar Routela and Dipak Bohara also picked one wicket each. Finalist Mahato took three wickets in his four-over bowling and gave up 17 runs.

APF’s 21-year old batter Aasif Sheikh won the player-of-the-series award. He had scored 227 points in six games of the tournament, including two half-centuries. He was awarded a scholarship of Rs 30,000. Anil Kharel of Lumbini Province was named Best Bowler and Kushal Bhurtel of Police won the Best Hitter awards.

Spinner Kharel had claimed 10 wickets in four games for Lumbini, who crashed out of the group stage. Bhurtel had scored 182 runs for the police in the four matches of the group stage, but was unable to play in the semi-finals and final due to health problems.

According to the Cricket Association of Nepal, the tournament also served as a selection match for the ICC World Twenty20 Global Qualifiers to be held in Oman from February 17-24.

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