International cricket is finally back in the Associate region after a long Covid break as Namibia hosted Uganda at Windhoek, last week. While Namibia clean swept the home series against the visitors 3-0 in T20Is and 2-0 in 50 overs format, the eyes of Associate fans will now be upon Nepal’s Home of Cricket; TU International Cricket Ground, where the hosts will be challenged by the invitees the Netherlands and Malaysia from 17th of April, and lasting for a week.
The squads of Dutch and the Malay cricket team have already been announced, though we wait for the final fourteen of Nepal’s squad. Before I write down Nepal’s probable XI, you will be interested to know about the 20 men enclosed in the training camp for the tri-series. This piece also might provide you some information about what to expect from the boys here in Kathmandu who are ready to welcome their friends from the associate nations.
After taking charge of the Nepal Cricket Team, the upcoming series will be the one to start for World Cup Winning Coach Dav Whatmore. This is important because it will also allow him to understand the strengths and weaknesses of Nepal in the T20 format of the game. The coach is quite familiar with the One Day scenes in Nepal after having closely watched the domestic tournaments; the Prime Ministers Cup and the Kathmandu Mayors Cup.
The only T20 national tournament in Nepal post-Covid was held the last December, the Gautam Buddha Cup where Abinash Bohara was awarded the prestigious Player of the Series award, Kushal Bhurtel and Karan KC bagged best batsman and best bowler awards respectively. The youngsters were seen in a great touch along with Shahab Alam who rose to the cricket scene, once again. Pre-Covid, Nepal had participated in the ACC Eastern Region Asia qualifier where they were denied to qualify for the Asia Cup after being beaten by Hongkong and Malaysia in the tournament.
It’s quite a challenge to pick an ideal XI with more One Day formats of the game being played at the Nepalese scene but then, here is what you can expect in the series.
Nepal’s top order will see experienced Paras Khadka and Gyanendra Malla, the iconic duo who have been the run machines for Nepal over the years. Skipper Malla is the highest run-scorer for Nepal in the overall World Cricket League system, the highest runs scorer in the Nepalese T20 franchise leagues (overall), and the second-highest run-getter for Nepal in the ODI and T20Is for Nepal (after Paras Khadka). But then, he had some rough patches in between and will be expected to continue his batting numbers from 2019 where he ended the year scoring 319 runs in 12 innings with a strike rate of 139.
Paras Khadka is in great touch. In 2019, he scored 541 runs in 18 innings with a strike rate of 145, the highest run-getter in T20Is in a single calendar year for Nepal and the 12th man overall in T20Is. The TU pitch knows its biggest devotee who also scored one of the finest innings of his domestic career scoring a century in the Kathmandu Mayor’s Cup.
They will be joined by one or two (in max) of the young cricketers Kushal Malla, Aasif Sheikh, Kushal Bhurtel, and Lokesh Bam at the top. Kushal Malla, the 17-year-old left-hander has five T20I caps and bats with an SR of 126 in the format. He can provide Nepal an extra option in the spin depart if the team requires, and also has experience of playing in the T10 League, in the recent edition. Aasif Sheikh has been back in the form as an opener in the domestic one-dayers. And to add, he had scored 716 runs off 45 innings in the Nepalese T20 franchise leagues with an SR of 92.87 and has a 4:6 ratio of 2.16. But this was until the pre-COVID era who seems to have changed himself considerably in the post-COVID times. He can also provide an option in the wicketkeeping department with only Binod Bhandari being the first-choice wicketkeeper in the 20 men squad.
Lokesh Bam is flamboyant with the bat and is still an uncapped player with lesser matches in the domestic setup. He gained his major limelight after scoring 62(36) against Chitwan Rhinos, led by Paras Khadka in the Pokhara Premier League 2019. He bats freely at the top with a Strike rate of 156 [calculated from 7 of his T20 innings in the PPLT20(4) and the Gautam Buddha Cup(3)]. Kushal Bhurtel had a fantastic series as an opener in Gautam Buddha T20 Cup where he bagged the best batsman award scoring 110 runs in 3 innings. In Nepal’s major franchise leagues he has scored 400 runs in 38 innings with his boundaries contributing 66% of his total runs. But his recent performances in the PM Cup and Kathmandu Mayor’s Cup have been quite average.
Nepal’s middle order will see vice-captain Dipendra Singh Airee batting at number 4. He is evolving to be the most dependable batsman for Nepal at the middle overs and has a better strike rotating ability with only 38.79% of his total runs being contributed by his boundaries. He has scored 330 runs in his 18 T20I innings and averages 20.62 with a Strike rate of 107.14. He is known to build the innings and has a non-boundary strike rate of 72.40 in T20Is. To add to this, he has scored the most number of fours(100) in Nepalese franchise leagues(overall) and has a 4:6 ratio of 3.45. Aarif Sheikh, who was injured the last couple of months has recovered and is fit to play as per the officials. Although he has played fewer matches than others in the domestic setup recently, his continuation can provide Nepal a better partnership in the middle order. Sundeep Jora, the 19-year-old, can offer Nepal a crucial partnership at the middle order. His recent form has been fantastic at the nationals and has already represented Nepal in 6 T20 Internationals, scoring a half-century 53*(46) vs UAE in 2019.
Nepalese fans will see Binod Bhandari donning the gloves for Nepal Cricket Team. And, If the visitors are reading this piece, be aware that a clean shaved Bhandari at the TU Ground can be more dangerous than you expect him to be. So before you step in for the match, make sure to confirm if he enters the ground clean shaved. Was a bad joke though. But yes, Bhandari and TU Ground are one of the best love stories written in Nepal Cricket. So on his day, the Army-man can do anything on this ground. It’s better to expect the unexpected from the in-form Bhandari who has been converting his innings into the bigger milestones in the domestic one-dayers recently.
At the lower middle order, the team is most likely to be joined by Pawan Sarraf and Sompal Kami. Recently, Sarraf hit a 13-ball-50* at the TU ground in the domestic one-dayers Mayor’s Cup and has been very effective with his role as a right-arm-off break bowler. He was the joint top wicket-taker in Kathmandu Mayor’s Cup picking up 13 wickets and averaged just 7.30 and had an economy of 2.93. So, that offers Nepal a better striking option with the bat and an extra spin option in the spin-friendly TU wicket. Sompal Kami might have some tricky and multiple businesses to do once again. He has recently opened the innings in national one-dayers and has performed decently, but most probably we will get to see him bat at the lower middle order and will have responsibilities to guide the team in creating partnerships at the lower middle order and finish the innings with crucial runs on the board.
Karan KC’s fitness seemed to be an issue in the Kathmandu Mayor’s Cup but he has a pool of experience and enough power on his wide shoulders to do the job for Nepal, both with the bat and the bowl. He has gained extra experience from the Pune Devils in the T10 league and will be seen playing his role as a pinch hitter if not seen much as a bowler. Sandeep Lamichhane, the right arm leggie needs no introduction and will lead the spin attack for Nepal, and guess what? He can also slog the ball over the fielders’ head now.
While the team has plenty of options in left-arm spinners, the uncapped bowler Shahab Alam has really evolved over the years in Nepal’s domestic circuit. His growth as a bowler in a supportive role to taking the main lead has been fantastic in the domestic setup. Lalit Rajbanshi and Sushan Bhari, both have already been representing Nepal in international matches, either both or at least one, and are well experienced.
Abinash Bohara’s medium pace, clever thinking, and perfect executions at the death over make him the death over specialist in Nepal. The 23-year-old has so much to offer to Nepal especially at the death overs. As for seamers, Nepal has options in Bikram Sob and Kamal Singh Airee who can bowl and hit those biggies down the ground when needed. All in all, Nepal has fantastic 20s at the closed camp right now and out of which picking 14 will definitely be a tough task to make for the selectors, coach, and management.
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