RIOT police moved in to subdue an angry 12,000 crowd as a sensational match between Nepal and the United States was interrupted by rock-throwing in Kathmandu today.
The Americans needed a convincing win against the host nation to snatch one of the two promotion slots in the final match of the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Division Five round robin tournament, and during the afternoon the realisation quickly spread that such a result could push table leaders Nepal into third place.
As the United States closed in on their required victory by five wickets, the enormous crowd at the Tribhuvan University ground grew restless. There seemed to be no particular flash point, but fighting started among spectators. Rubbish, rocks and stones were thrown on to the outfield, forcing play to be suspended for 45 minutes.
Nepal, a strong side captained by Paras Khadka, had been restricted to 162 for nine in their 50 overs, with former Guyana seamer Kevin Darlington taking three wickets, but the crowd became elated when the United States slipped to 84 for four in reply. Then the atmosphere turned ugly when batsman Sushil Nadkarni launched a counter-attack, hitting four sixes in his final score of 57 in 59 balls.
Peter Della Penna, a journalist for the American website dreamcricket.com, witnessed the intimidating climax to the game, fearing that a full-scale riot was about to break out as spectators began pouring out the ground. He thought he could see tear gas being used.
"The riot police are trying to keep fans from coming on to the field," Della Penna reported on the dreamcricket run-of-play blog. "Mayhem here. Absolute mayhem and it's quite scary. The players have all left the field. Rocks, big ones, are being thrown onto the pitch. I've never seen 12,000-13,000 people sprint out of a stadium setting so fast in my entire life. Very scary here for a good 10 minutes. There are rocks everywhere on the field. Both teams were rushed into their dressing rooms."
The chaotic scenes abated after a while, and members of the local media and riot police officers took wheelbarrows around the outfield and picked up all the rocks and stones and other objects. "This is an absolutely surreal and bizarre scene here at Tribhuvan University," Della Penna said before play resumed with the United States on 150 for five in 32 overs, needing 13 to win, a total target later adjusted to 159 on Duckworth Lewis.
There were more "wild scenes" when the winning runs were hit, though the Americans were denied proper celebration. When the bench started to come out to welcome the two undefeated batsmen, more rocks were heaved from behind the pavilion dressing rooms. "The players are told to stay out on the field as the people in the dressing rooms are ushered back in," Della Penna said. Even Nepal's players had to make a dash to safety.
Promotion had been a close-run issue, the United States reaching their target with less than two overs to spare to improve their run-rate enough to overtake Singapore, who were pushed back to third after demolishing Jersey and relegating them to Division Six. As it turned out, Nepal did achieve promotion in second place, and the ICC will be keeping their fingers crossed when Nepal meet United States again at the university in less pressured circumstances on Saturday to decide the champions...
At Tribhuvan University:
Nepal 162-9, 50 overs (Gyanendra Malla 52, Kevin Darlington 3-23)
United States 159-5, 33.3 overs (Sushil Nadkarni 57*, Steve Massiah 42)
United States won by five wickets
Jersey 192, 48.1 overs (Matt Hague 52)
Singapore 195-3, 26 overs (Buddika Mendis 85* Munish Arora 45)
Singapore won by seven wickets
At Military Ground:
Bahrain 276-9, 50 overs (Tahir Dar 54)
Fiji 181, 39.3 overs (Tahir Dar 4-19)
Bahrain won by 95 runs