Opener for the Nepal T20i National team, Kushal Bhurtel has been nominated for the ICC Player of the Month award for April 2021. Bhurtel is among the nominees along with Pakistan skipper Babar Azam and opener Fakhar Zaman.
A big-hitting right-hander, Bhurtel has long been touted for success in Nepal. In 2016, he played in the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup, and the following year he was a part of the Nepal outfit that played the USA in a 50-over match that was not given List A status. In 2019, he made his List A debut, playing for Nepal in the Asian Cricket Council Emerging Sides Cup.
None of those turned out to be overly successful ventures for Bhurtel, but this April his true abilities emerged on the international stage. Having been on the edge of national selection for years, Bhurtel made his T20I debut against the Netherlands at Kirtipur. He marked the occasion with a 46-ball 62 punctuated by five fours and five sixes. Given the chance to impress in the absence of the injured Paras Khadka, he took it with both hands.
The 62 was followed by an unbeaten 61, and another 62, as he became the first player to notch half-centuries in each of his first three men’s T20Is. He fell for 16 in his fourth outing and that turned out to be a blip as he finished the tournament in style, scoring 77 in a final Nepal would win by 142 runs against the Netherlands.
With 278 runs at 69.8 for the tournament, 106 more than the next highest scorer, Bhurtel was an uncontroversial choice for Player of the Series. An incredible 192 of those runs came in boundaries.
Babar played three ODIs against South Africa, stringing together fantastic performances. He returned scores of 103 and 94, which won him two Player of the Match awards in Pakistan’s series victory. He finished the series with 228 runs at a strike rate of 104. His performances helped him move ahead of Virat Kohli as the No.1-ranked ODI batsman, becoming the fourth Pakistan player to do so after Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, and Mohammad Yousuf.
Babar played seven T20Is in April, four against South Africa and three against Zimbabwe, scoring a total of 305 runs at 43.75 with a strike rate of 126.55 with two half-centuries and a 59-ball 122 at the centurion. Among the highlights was a 197-run partnership with Mohammad Rizwan, the highest partnership in a T20I run chase.
Fakhar accompanies his fellow countryman in the list of nominees after a string of impressive outings. He scored a total of 302 runs at 100.66, with a strike rate of 111.43 in the three ODIs against South Africa. In that series, he scored two centuries, including an inspired knock of 193 in the second ODI. His two centuries enabled him to jump to a career-best seventh position in the ICC ODI batsmen’s rankings.