The first matches of the post-Paras Khadka era, Nepal is set to lock horns against Oman and the USA in the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cricket League Two tri-series.
The national training camp in Kathmandu came to an end on the August 22, and the team is expected to travel to Oman on the 24th. Nepal will play two ODIs against Papua New Guinea, followed by two ODIs each against the host and the USA in CWCL2.
Things are not going to be easy as the team stride on without their stalwart batsman Paras Khadka, who announced his international retirement three weeks ago. It has also been more than a year since they played their last ODI series against the same teams at home. The transitioning team of Nepal, under their head coach Dav Whatmore, has just announced their 17-men squad for the tour.
Nepal’s top order will be led by captain Gyanendra Malla, who has been the second-highest run-scorer for Nepal in the ODIs and T20Is after Paras Khadka. Scoring 1539 runs in the entire ICC World Cricket League Division Cycle, he was the highest run-scorer for Nepal and the third-highest run-scorer overall in the WCLD cycle. His experience of representing Nepal for sixteen years will be key. Apart from Malla in the top order, Nepal has continued two fearless young openers Kushal Bhurtel and Aasif Sheikh, from the last T20I Tri-Nations series.
Although the duo is yet to receive their ODI caps, they are expected to give Nepal a good start utilizing the first Powerplay. Kushal Bhurtel had set a record for scoring three consecutive half-centuries from his T20I debut which also earned him a nomination in the T20I player of the month by ICC in April. 20-year-old Aasif Sheikh had scored 310 runs off 10 innings in the domestic one-day set up this season with a Strike rate of 105.4. His boundary hitting contributed to 73.4 percent of his total runs in the nationals where he scored a boundary (six or four) off every six balls on average.
Nepal’s middle order will see vice captain Dipendra Singh Airee who has been a great strike rotator in the team, capable of building long innings. Airee who recently scored a maiden domestic one-day ton (140) against departmental sides Armed Police Force, will have a major responsibility to carry in the middle order, in the absence of Paras Khadka. He is yet to score a milestone in the One Day Internationals, and is eager to score as many runs in the series. Sharad Vesawkar is backed by the selection committee based on his experience will have a major role in the middle order if Nepal is to steal important points from the opponents. Out of the last eleven innings he played this year in domestic setups, he has only scored 160 runs with a strike rate of 50. His higher dependency upon the boundaries and conceding more dot balls might cost Nepal extra pressure in the next end.
If we are to look upon the non-boundary strike rate (NBSR) in the domestic one-day leagues this year, his NBSR of 30 is the lowest among all the batsmen in the current squad. However, his experience as a part-time right-arm spinner will be very handy in picking up crucial wickets at times.
Kushal Malla, the youngest ODI half-centurion will be another one to look after in the middle order in the series. With the experience he has earned being a member of Team Abu Dhabi last year, he might turn out to be a match-winner for Nepal somewhere down the line. Also, the left-handed batsman can provide Nepal with an extra option in the part-time left-arm spin department, picking some wickets in the middle overs. Similarly, Nepal has options in young middle-order batsmen like Aarif Sheikh, Pawan Sarraf, and Rohit Paudel in the middle order. Rohit Paudel has made a comeback in the national team after his forgetful form since 2019. Having made his national debut against the Netherlands in the first ODI in 2018, he has played 5 ODI matches scoring 85 runs including his half-century (55) against UAE in January 2019. Having an in-form batsman like Sundeep Jora at the middle order could add benefits to the team had he not been injured before the series.
Nepal’s lower middle order will see hard-hitting man-in-form Binod Bhandari. Bhandari has scored two consecutive one-day centuries this year in domestic setups once championing his team in the Prime Minister’s Cup. Bhandari scored 358 runs averaging 44.8 with a strike rate of 95.5 in this year’s national tournaments. Alongside Bhandari, Karan KC has enough powers on his shoulders to rescue the team from any circumstances the team might go under. Karan KC will be joined by Sompal Kami who has proved time and again that he can equally contribute with the bat if the team needs him. The bowling all-rounders duo will also lead the team’s seam attack. Bikram Sob, who has earned the trust of coach Dav Whatmore as a bowling all-rounder, will be eyeing to make his debut from the senior national side. He was on the national radar since 2015 but is yet to receive a debut from the senior side. If necessary, Sob can also contribute some crucial runs through his bat along with his consistent line and length bowling as a medium pacer.
Sandeep Lamichhane will be crucial in this stint of the road to the World Cup. Having experience playing with world class cricketers in various T20 franchise leagues, Lamichhane will be expected once again to turn out as a match-winner for Nepal. Left-arm off-spinner Sushan Bhari who played a major role in collapsing the USA last year for 35 is needed to step up with the bowl in his hands. Having been mentored by Nepal legend Shakti Gauchan, he has big shoes to fit in as the left-arm spinner. Abinash Bohara, the right-arm medium pacer had an average performance in the last T20I tri-nations series but his one-day statistics have been phenomenal. He took 24 wickets in 10 matches with an economy of just 3.9 in the national tournaments. However, he will need to find his consistency in the death overs. His role as a death-over specialist will be key in holding the opposition to limited runs in the last ten overs. After just two domestic matches , Gulshan Jha has surprisingly earned his berth in the squad this time. The 15-year-old has fierce bouncers as his weapon in the arsenal. He championed his team Nepal Police Club in the Kathmandu Mayor’s Cup picking four wickets in the final. His tall height, ferocious pace, and hard-to-play bouncers instantly grabbed the attention of everyone in the domestic league.
Post-Paras things will not be easy for Nepal as his presence would always give an all-around boost and hope to the team. However, Nepal has a formidable squad to produce good results in the series provided they set the pitch blazing with their performances like in the T20I Tri-series at home. The team that played in the ODI format more than a year and a half ago needs to be cautious but play without fear about its performance in away conditions.
At home, they lost both ODIs against Oman despite being in commanding positions, they could not capitalize on the momentum when it mattered. The team is in a transitional phase, with the ODI Cricket World Cup League Two starting off once again, every member of the squad will have to turn up when match day arrives if Nepal is to come out with flying colors. As Nepal marches towards glory, it will be interesting to see Dav Whatmore’s playing set and tactics in different matches during the tournament.
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