Pallekele (Sri Lanka): Unfazed by a bland bowling effort, India hit the top gear through Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill, who made polished unbeaten fifties, to post a 10-wicket win over Nepal that also ensured them an Asia Cup Super Four berth here on Monday.
Amidst frequent rain interruptions, Nepal posted an impressive 230 after being asked to bat first.
India, required to score 145 from 23 overs as per DLS calculations, went past the line as Rohit (74 not out off 59 balls) and Gill (67 not out off 62 balls) gave power to their chase.
Hence, India finished their Group A engagements with three points, while Pakistan had already entered the Super Four having logged three points.
Nepal bowed out of the Asia Cup without any points. But they had some special moments in the match both with ball and bat.
Nepal pacers K.C. Karan and Sompal Kami worked up some good pace to trouble Indian openers Rohit and Gill early on.
Karan pinged Rohit’s pads twice in the first over, with one resulting in Nepal resorting to DRS review, and beat him all ends up once with a lovely outswinger.
But Gill, though got beaten once by Kami outside the off-stump, played three super smooth shots to find the boundary rope, a testament to his inherent timing.
Though he made a bit of a stuttering beginning to his innings, Rohit came into his own after the rain break with a series of fluent shots, including his archetypal pulls.
Once they upshifted, Nepal bowlers did not have the experience to pull things back.
Though the victory might be treated as a solid step, the Indian think-tank would not have liked the way their bowlers performed against Nepal, who were expected to get rolled over.
Their day was also not made easier by fielders who were quite shabby on the field. India dropped three catches inside the first five overs, and there were several misfields and overthrows.
But that should not be held against the gutsy Nepalese batsmen.
Aasif Sheikh (58 off 97 balls), Kushal Bhurtel (38 off 25 balls) and Kami (48 off 55 balls) gave some tight moments to the Indian attack.
Nepal who were bundled out for 104 by Pakistan in their opening match, went off the blocks in a cracking style, reaching 65 for 1 in the first 10 overs.
Bhurtel was the engine room of that initial charge in their first international match against India.
However, India would soon regret the two reprieves they gave to Bhurtel.
Shreyas Iyer dropped Bhurtel on 1 off Shami in the very first over. A little later Ishan Kishan spilled a chance behind the stumps off the same bowler when the batter was on 7.
Exploiting the chance given to him, the Nepal opener slammed pacer Mohammed Siraj over square leg for a six, and followed it with another maximum off Shardul Thakur over fine leg.
But Thakur brought India the first breakthrough when he induced an edge from Bhurtel and this time Kishan did not commit any mistake.
Ravindra Jadeja joined the act with three wickets between the 16th and 21st overs to reduce Nepal to 101 for 4.
The left-arm spinner dismissed captain Rohit Paudel, Kushal Malla and Bhim Sharki to slow down Nepal’s progress.
Sheikh, however, kept his end going with a pragmatic approach.
Left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav was expected to pose a big threat to the Nepal batsmen.
But Sheikh played Kuldeep well, reading his googlies and the only time he looked in trouble was when the Indian bowled the deliveries that skidded away from him.
However, Siraj ended Sheikh’s stay with a delivery that climbed on him which he jabbed uppishly to Virat Kohli.
Nepal were 132 for five at that stage and they soon slipped to 144 for six with the dismissal of Gulsan Jha by Siraj.
India might have hoped to put a quick end to Nepal’s innings from that point but that proved futile.
Perhaps, the best bowling strategy against lower order batsmen is to adopt a stump-to-stump line. But the Jasprit Bumrah-less Indians rather opted for an outside the off-stump line.
Dipendra Airee (29 off 25 balls) and Kami were not complaining either.
The Nepal pair played some daring shots and added 50 runs for the seventh wicket to carry them past the 200-run mark, which on the day was not enough.