Unless you are an avid follower of Associate nations cricket and Nepal in particular, the name Kushal Bhurtel may not have registered a blip on your cricketing radar. But with a loud radar-like ping noise, it is just about to.
Indeed, the ball has pinged off the 24-year-old Kushal’s bat in record-breaking fashion. He has amassed 278 runs at a strike rate of 140 and an average approaching 70 and is the first man to score a half-century for his nation in their first three T20I matches. In so doing, he becomes the first Associate player nominated for either the men’s or women’s ICC Player of the Month accolade, and the second-youngest behind Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan.
The young right-hander from Butwal, some 250 km west of Kathmandu, has joined Dawid Malan as the only players to score four fifties in their first five T20I innings, and only Hazratullah Zazai’s 347 runs at 86.75 beats Bhurtel’s 278 as the most runs by a men’s player over the same early-career period.
With Bhurtel leading from the top, Nepal cruised a home T20I series with Malaysia and the Netherlands, beating the Dutch by 142 runs in the final at the TU ground. Bhurtel topped off his electric month and joined Malan with 77 (53) in the tournament’s climax, belting eight fours and three sixes. He is one of five men’s players to score over 250 T20I runs so far in 2021, compiling his total in at least three fewer innings than the other four players in the list.
He is in some pretty high-profile company for the prestigious April ICC award as he joins Pakistan luminaries Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam as after India’s Rishabh Pant, Ravichandran Ashwin and Bhuvneshwar Kumar dominated the year’s first quarter.
Fakhar averaged over a hundred in ODI cricket against South Africa, while the ever-consistent Babar churned out 533 runs across the two white-ball formats, averaging 76 in the 50-over game and 43.57 in the T20Is.
Remarkably, up until April 17, Burthel had not played an official international match for Nepal, but he has long been touted for success in Nepal. In 2016, he played in the ICC Under-19 World Cup, and the following year he was a part of the Nepal outfit that played the US 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 for Bhurtel, but this April his true abilities have erupted on the international stage.
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.
Those 278 runs at 69.8 for the tournament, were 106 more than the next highest scorer with192 of those runs coming in boundaries.
Whether he wins or not, it seems Bhurtel has Nepalese national pride driving his success.
“Our seniors have worked very hard to get us here,” he was quoted as saying by Online Khabar. “We just want to carry on making people proud and keep on winning as our goal is to play World Cups.”
He’s not a young man lacking in confidence and seems to have sported a range of colourful hairstyles that would guarantee he gets noticed, but when that hair is covered by his helmet, it is his batting virtuosity that will really catch the eye.