Walking along the Museumplein on a weeknight evening in Amsterdam, the sights and smells of the pedestrian mall between the Rijksmuseum and Het Concertgebouw might be characterised as medicinal. The pungent scent of cannabis is unmistakable as it wafts through the air.
The scene is not much different the more you wander north towards De Wallen. Anyone who makes prolonged eye contact with suppliers loitering the streets, the ones who make their business by scanning the bustling night-time crowds looking for partiers, is bound to be asked, "You need me to get you anything?"
But it's hard to imagine any of the products they have for sale - tucked discreetly in their pockets - could be as intoxicating as Nepal's 2018 cricket roadshow. Amidst the euphoria of the post-match celebrations from the 100 or so hardcore addicts who lined the boundary at the Mulder End of the VRA Ground in Amstelveen on Friday to witness Nepal's one-run win off the final ball to defeat Netherlands, one sign stood out that summed up how they get their fix: "NEPALI CRICKET is our DRUG, PARAS is our DEALER!!"
For those who are hooked and can't shake the habit, Nepal's manner of victories on tour this year may be starting to produce a hallucinogenic effect. Is it really possible to experience four matches in the space of six months that have all come down to the final wicket, final run, or final ball, wind up on the winning side every single time and not wonder if this is some kind of psychedelic acid trip?
According to the kingpin of the entire operation of smuggling victories out of the jaws of defeat, the elixir for success is much more mundane than it seems.
"More than experience, I call it a lot of fortune favours the brave as they say," Paras Khadka said, after his country's first ever ODI win on Friday, of his gang's ability to consistently come out on top with pressure at its peak.
In each of these four victories this year, the most salient characteristic is how Nepal have held their nerve while the opposition has become a bit twitchy. The streak started against Namibia in Windhoek. Nepal appeared to have lost the match as per the DLS calculations when heavy rain stopped play at 111 for 8 in 43 overs, chasing a target of 139.
A handshake line seemed imminent when all of a sudden the skies cleared, giving Nepal's tailenders a shot in the arm. The equation was whittled to seven off six with one wicket in hand when medium-pacer Jan Frylinck cracked, leaking a two and four behind point to Basant Regmi before sending a wide down leg for the clinching run.
Four days later, Kenya had Nepal's batting backbone of Khadka, vice-captain Gyanendra Malla and Sharad Vesawkar all dismissed at 82 for 5 chasing 179 and could be heard shrieking in delight as victory seemed a foregone conclusion. But 15-year-old Rohit Kumar and Aarif Sheikh took Nepal to the last two overs, and by the final ball two runs were needed to win, just like Friday in Amstelveen. Sompal Kami flicked a full ball to deep midwicket for one but Shem Ngoche muffed the collection haring off the rope to cut off the second as Kami and Paudel scampered to victory.
Against Canada, a legendary last-wicket stand by Karan KC and Sandeep Lamichhane, that had already accounted for 43 runs, was on the verge of being a footnote in history after four Cecil Pervez yorkers turned the last over equation that started with eight off six needed into eight off two. But in a mano a mano staredown for a place at the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe, Pervez blinked first. Karan stepped back to carve him over extra cover for six, a wide down leg levelled the scores before a full toss was swatted over the leg side to see Nepal through.
Even with the deck stacked heavily against them on all three occasions in Namibia, Nepal waited patiently for the bowling side to falter and then pounced ruthlessly. Friday was different, though. And not just because it was Nepal in the field.
With two needed off the final two balls, the last Dutch pair at the crease and the ball in Khadka's hand, the field was brought up to cut off a single. The shoe was truly on the other foot when Khadka floated one down the leg side to Fred Klaassen. With fine leg up, all that was needed was a slight tickle for the winning boundary but he whiffed off the pad flap, negating a wide to rub salt into the miscued shot attempt.
Still, Klaassen had one more chance. Khadka floated up a juicy half-volley on off stump and Klaassen didn't hold back in smashing it past Khadka before he could get his hand down to stop it. Mid-on and mid-off were up and the ball looked certain to bisect the gap for a game-winning four.
Instead, three wooden sticks anthropomorphised into Nepal's 12th man. It was divine intervention that the stumps behind Khadka not only blocked the drive but provided the perfect carrom relay to the captain, who was only too grateful to pick up the ball and best Klaassen in a race to the non-striker's stumps, ripping one out briefly before chucking it to the ground as he ran towards a delirious Nepal team tent. When that happens, it's hard not to think Khadka has got Nepal's opponents under a magical drug-induced spell.
When asked at a press conference before the 2001 World Series if there was a particular "mystique and aura" at Yankee Stadium that was responsible for the New York Yankees dramatic wins at home during the playoffs, Arizona Diamondbacks pitching ace Curt Schilling scoffed at the idea. Schilling famously quipped that mystique and aura "are dancers at a nightclub".
Schilling pitched a marvellous Game Four in New York and exited holding a two-run lead for the bullpen to close out. The Yankees were down to their final out in the ninth inning when Diamondbacks closer Byung-Hyun Kim gave up a game-tying home run to Tino Martinez. It happened again the following night in the ninth inning with two outs to Scott Brosius after which Kim sunk to his haunches, looking on the verge of tears on the mound, and was immediately taken out of the game. The Yankees won both games in extra innings to take a 3-2 series lead as broadcast cameras panned to a fan in the crowd holding a sign that read, "Mystique and Aura, Appearing Nightly!"
Nepal might not have mystique and aura, but perhaps another mystical combination is behind their winning magic: madal and momo. The first is the drum that can be heard in the background played by the fans while Nepal is on the field, giving them the rhythm to keep them performing in sync. The second is the food that fuels them.
As happens from time to time after indulging in certain chemical habits, the munchies can periodically come on. For Nepali cricket fans, that means feasting on momo, a traditional dumpling. A speciality food tent set up at the VRA Ground was producing them like a factory line during both ODIs. In Kathmandu, they can be had almost for a dime a dozen, but at the VRA they were going being sold in trays of five for five euros, as though it was a Ritz-Carlton delicacy.
On Friday, the owners of the makeshift momo tent had planned to stop selling them as soon as the match ended in order to pack up and get home in quick time. But when the final ball left the visiting Nepali supporters high as a kite, fans were thumping a madal and the rush was on for more momos, and more money for the owners. After a while though, they had to put a stop to sales as a member of the staff shouted, "We've got to keep some for the players!"
On this day, the mind-bending experience was a communal one shared between players and fans at the VRA. After handshakes were exchanged between the players and Kami was presented his Man-of-the-Match award, Khadka broke out a bottle of champagne. The initial spray was contained within the circle of the 15-man squad, but Khadka saved half the bottle. He then sauntered over to the fans hooting and hollering with "NE-PAL! NE-PAL!" and gave them a champagne shower to remember.
Team manager Raman Shivakoti usually has a habit of toting around a selfie stick for post-match team photos, but on this occasion he brought it over to the fans. A spontaneous selfie shared by fans and players with Khadka smack in the middle of it all, getting a rush from all the adulation.
The Nepal cricket junkies and their dealer have scored a mutual fix. Witnessing it all made it clear how hard it is to break the addiction, though Khadka says he'll do his best in future to wean the fans off "600-ball" wins.
"To the fans, I know it's very hard to get that nail-biting finish," Khadka said. "It's hard I can understand. Having said that as players we are pushing ourselves. We are trying our best and hopefully, in future, we can try and get victories with bigger margins, which can help the fans as well as ourselves.
"They're very, very vocal. We can hear them as we are batting, bowling and on the field and that really motivates us. For us to get our first victory and to celebrate it among them adds it up. More victories, more champagnes, more victory laps, more cheering and a lot more smiles."