Ashwanth Valthapa’s ‘emotional’ debut provides some cheer for UAE amid gloom in Nepal

New wicketkeeper batter received cap from best mate Karthik Meiyappan – now both are looking to improve results on tour in Kathmandu

Ashwanth Valthapa, left, with Karthik Meiyappan during the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2 match between UAE and Nepal. Photo: Subas Humagain
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When Karthik Meiyappan twisted his ankle in training just before UAE flew to Nepal for a bilateral one-day series last November, it had a couple of notable effects.

The injury led him to miss that tour, meaning the chance to embellish the reputation he had just created for himself in such luminous terms by taking a hat-trick against Sri Lanka at the T20 World Cup would have to wait.

It had a knock-on consequence for one of his closest pals, too, who was looking to follow the leg-spinner’s lead in representing UAE cricket with distinction.

Ashwanth Valthapa had been picked as part of a UAE senior squad for the first time back then. It had been his long-cherished hope that, if he did one day debut for the national team, it would be his mate who presented him with his cap.

Good things come to those who wait. Valthapa was eventually an unused reserve on that tour. Four months later, they are both back as part of the tour party in Kathmandu for the Cricket World Cup League 2 tri-series.

In the second match of the series, against Nepal on Sunday, Valthapa did get to debut – and his bestie was on hand to do the needful.

“It was 50-50 overnight and I wasn’t sure it was going to happen,” Valthapa, 21, said. “In the warmups they told me I was going to play and I felt really good.

"To have Karthik and Vriitya [Aravind, another former teammate from UAE’s Under 19 side] around when I made my debut, it felt comfortable inside. It didn’t feel like something new.

“He gave me the cap, which meant even more. I wanted to receive my cap from him which is why I was sad [that Meiyappan was absent on his previous tour]. It just meant I had to wait for him to come back.”

Meiyappan also passed on some of the wisdom he inherited when he made his own international bow back in 2019.

It was actually pretty emotional for me as we have been tight friends for about six or seven years now. We have both dreamt about playing together for UAE. Handing over the cap was an honour for me.
Karthik Meiyappan on handing Ashwanth Valthapa his first cap for the UAE national team

“It was actually pretty emotional for me as we have been tight friends for about six or seven years now,” Meiyappan said. “We have both dreamt about playing together for UAE. Handing over the cap was obviously pretty emotional and an honour for me.

“I wished him all the best. When I got my debut cap, Raz [Ahmed Raza, now the side’s assistant coach] was the captain back then. All he told me was enjoy the game, because your debut is never going to come back.

“That is all that I said to him. Just to enjoy it, and make the most of the chance that you get which he did.”

So close are the two Chennai-born teammates they even share a penchant for tattoos. On his left arm, Valthapa has – among other images - a gramophone to represent a passion of his dad’s, and a moon, representing motherhood for his mum.

Not that his parents were overly enthralled by the idea of him marking his skin indelibly at first. In fact, he only got away with it because of their affection for Meiyappan.

“It started off with Karthik,” Valthapa said. “We are quite close, even our families are quite close. I said, ‘Karthik is getting one, so can I?’

“They think Karthik is a very good guy, so they were like, ‘Oh, Karthik is doing it? If Karthik is doing it, then just get it.’ That is how it started.”

Neither are likely to get ink done to remember Valthapa’s debut by. The 177-run defeat was the latest in a string of sorry performances by the national team, but the young wicketkeeper says the players are doing all they can to remedy the situation.

Ashwanth Valthapa, UAE v Nepal - in pictures

“We are really trying as much as we can,” Valthapa said. “It is not like no-one is giving their all. We are all playing for the team, but the results are clearly not going our way.”

UAE will get two chances to leave a positive impression on Kathmandu, when they face Papua New Guinea on Wednesday and then Nepal a day later.

Thursday’s game will be a portentous one. If the home side win, they will advance directly to the Cricket World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe in June. Lose, and the two sides will meet again at the Qualifier Play-off in Namibia at the end of this month.

As such, a huge crowd is anticipated at the Tribhuvan University ground. Such was the case the first time the sides met this week, which Meiyappan appreciated – even if he did invoke the ire of the most vocal section of the ground at times.

“I pretty much love it,” Meiyappan said. “When the crowd are going, that really motivates me. “I want to try to entertain them, too, because at the end of the day they are paying the bucks to come and watch you play and give a good show.

“Trying to be a showman out there is the best thing you can do. It was fun for me, too, and obviously I gave a bit of chirp, too.”

Updated: March 14, 2023, 6:54 AM