Uncapped UAE keeper Ashwanth Valthapa ready if opportunity knocks in ILT20 finale

Youngster was pressed into action because of injury in Gulf Giants’ qualifier playoff, and could be required as tournament heads to climax

Ashwant Valthapa of Gulf Giants during the DP World International League T20 qualifier against Desert Vipers at the Dubai International Stadium. CREIMAS / ILT20
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Playing in front of a crowd numbering in the thousands and a TV audience in the millions could be enough to spook a young, uncapped cricketer.

Perhaps it was fortunate then, that Ashwanth Valthapa was entirely unsuspecting when just such a scenario played out for him in the first DP World International League T20 playoff.

The 21-year-old wicketkeeper was, after all, out of the Gulf Giants starting XI and the game against Desert Vipers was already well under way.

At which point, Tom Banton, the Giants keeper, was forced off the field by a finger injury, meaning Valthapa had to take up the cudgels in an emergency.

“I came to the ground an hour earlier, which I usually do when I’m not playing the game, and do a lot of keeping work,” Valthapa said.

“This time, I went to my max. I was very tired after it, so I was taking a rest for the first six overs. Then I heard someone say, ‘Bants might be out, just be ready’.

“My legs were a bit sore to start off with, but the first catch [to dismiss Wanindu Hasaranga] got me going.”

Fortunately for Valthapa, who has played age-group cricket for the UAE but has yet to feature at senior level, there was no time to get nervous.

“It was good that everything happened so quickly, because it meant I didn’t pay attention to a lot of things,” the Dubai-based student said.

“I started at the end where there was the big crowd, and I actually couldn’t hear a thing. As I had never played in front of a crowd of that size before, it was a surprise it didn’t distract me that much.”

Valthapa had played one game earlier in the ILT20, but only a low-key league game in front of a paltry crowd. Now he may be pressed into action permanently at the most vital stage of the competition.

Ollie Pope started the tournament behind the stumps for the Giants, but is now in New Zealand with England’s Test squad.

If Banton does not recover from his injury, Valthapa will be handed the gloves for Friday evening’s last chance qualifier in Dubai. The youngster says he is prepared.

“Andy [Flower, the Giants coach] spoke to me and said a lot of tournaments he has been in, someone’s first game is actually the final, so I have to be ready,” Valthapa said.

“I am pretty sure Bants should be fine, but if he isn’t, Pope is not here and I am the second keeper, and I am ready to take it on.”

The Chennai-born keeper has been itching for a shot at the big stage for some while now. His appetite only grew after seeing his close friend, Karthik Meiyappan, excel at the T20 World Cup for UAE in October.

Meiyappan, who was a peer of Valthapa’s at age-group level, took a hat-trick against Sri Lanka in that competition, but injury has meant he has been rarely spotted in the time since.

“When I was picked for the first time for the UAE [to tour Nepal last November], two days before we were due to tour he twisted his ankle at a practice session,” he said.

“Even more than him, I was thinking, ‘He is not coming to Nepal with me.’ We are very close, and we sit and talk about cricket 24/7.

“I don’t tell him this, because his ego flies around, but it is very inspiring to see him do well. It pushes me more.

“We try to help each other as much as we can. Because I keep, I can keep to his bowling when we practice. His injury is improving better than expected, so everything is going well.”

Updated: February 10, 2023, 6:34 AM