Nepal is only a few days away from facing Hong Kong in must-win matches to keep the participation in ICC World Cup Qualifiers hopes alive. Nepal is set to play two matches at the relatively high-scoring ground of Mong Kok. Some problems were addressed at the Chennai tour and few remains going ahead against the strong opposition in HK.
Sagar’s promise continues
Sagar Pun remains the most enigmatic cricket player to ever don the national cap. A player potent in all three departments but has not broken the ice ceiling at the international level yet. He can do almost anything a captain can ask from a player. He can bat at any position, at least his numbers in domestic and practice games say so. He, arguably, is the best fielder in the current set. And, by the virtue of no competitor, he is the best off-spin bowling option. Captain’s wet dream. But fact that he has to prove that at international stage remains the question Nepal spectators has been asking since five years now.
Pun had a great Chennai tour scoring runs and picking up wickets. His twin half-centuries in two matches opening the batting might have secured his spot as an opener for forthcoming Hong Kong matches. He remains the go-to option for the captain whenever the first set of bowlers fails to pick wickets again proven by a tally of his wickets in Chennai tour. The excessive dot-ball percentage in his batting remains the concern but if he can repeat similar steely performances against HK holding one end at the crease allowing the concurrent batting partner to do the dirty works at the other end just might be something that the doctor ordered for Nepal in must-win ICC WCLC contest.
More centuries, please
Gyanendra Malla has once again proven his mettle as a gigantic run scorer in practice matches by scoring another fluent and commanding hundred in Chennai. Exactly the type of innings he would be needed to repeat in HK given Sagar is going to play the more passive role at the other end. Malla, like always, needs to continue his aggressive instincts and keep the pressure on against HK bowlers in a comparatively, much-hyped, smaller ground. Century would be sweet. More of same, please.
If the vice-captain falls or fails, the ever dependable, Sharad Vesawkar can take the attack duties from Malla. He too has had a century at Chennai which speaks volumes of his good form heading into the crucial round of WCLC matches. Sharad can tonk the ball late in the innings. He should take his time at the crease to settle down and brace himself for a late assault against HK bowlers in that small Mong Kok ground.
Two of the batting stalwarts are in good form. Proper application, sheer determination and a bit of luck are all they need to register a rare century for Nepal cricketer.
The SanDip Show
Nothing beats the feeling of a breath of fresh air, organically or hypothetically. Sandeep Lamichhane and Dipendra Singh Airee have just been that for the national team since their debut. While Sandeep has grown from ranks to ranks destroying any international team on his path in last two subsequent U-19 tournaments in Malaysia, Airee has quietly and effectively cemented his place as Paras-Khadka-clone in the playing eleven. Maybe the thinking behind Paras Khadka opening in the last practice match Chennai was different but it doesn’t shy away from the fact that the skipper now can dare to experiment out-of-box on back of Airee’s destructive batting abilities at his regular batting position. Not only that, Airee can also emulate Khadka in bowling by delivering seam ups as well as handy off-spin if the situation arises.
Meanwhile, Sandeep Lamichhane continues to rise as a potential successor of the proud legacy of spin Nepal has bestowed at the Associate world so far. He is still young and raw. The sky is the limit for the ‘Asian Shane Warne’. The matches against HK will throw a new challenge to him to content batsmen from hitting big at the Mong Kok. So far so good performances for Nepal, the unknown factor of playing Lamichhane for the first time in WCLC should be an advantage Nepal should utilize in upcoming must-win matches.
The Rescue Rangers
The productive duo of two multi-talented players in Basant Regmi and Sompal Kami has bailed out Nepal in crunch situations for more than once. There is a reason they both have the most popular nick-names in Nepal cricket fraternity as ‘The Crisis Man’ and ‘The Gulmi Express’ respectively. It is about title one should coin a title that identifies their collective contributions for Nepal team be it batting or bowling. The Rescue Rangers is just about perfect from what they did in the first game of the Chennai tour when all the frontline batsmen failed. They not only made crucial partnership down the order, Sompal strengthen his case as an all-rounder furthermore with his dominating batting.
Meanwhile, Regmi continues his merry ways of making runs when everyone else fails. The bowling is in form too. The most successful spinner and the fastest bowler Nepal ever produced are looking good going into the HK matches.
Sandeep Lamichhane has been more than capable replacement for ill Shakti Gauchan in the playing XI but the amount of experience ‘The Big Shak’ could provide remains ominous at Nepal’s bowling artillery. Especially the fact that the ground Nepal will be playing against HK is high scoring one. Picking up wickets is the best way to shun the flow of runs but if the rookie leggie is taken to cleaners the miserly bowling of the veteran left-arm spinner will be dearly missed. Also, Regmi has been so effective attacking the batsmen from one end with the assurances of the good economy rate from another end that Gauchan provided over the years bowling in tandem with him. Lamichhane too is a naturally aggressive bowler. Sushil Kandel and Susan Bhari neither made any immediate must-include-in-XI claims at the Chennai tour despite having good numbers.
As of now, Basant Regmi is the only bowler in our squad who has a proven track record of turning the match on its head at slightest of opportunities. Sompal Kami and Karan KC are still in learning phase. Lalit Bhandari, Susan Bhari, and Sushil Kandel will make their debut if given the cap in either of the two matches. Carrying two left-arm spinners in absence of Shakti Gauchan despite having three regular spin bowling starters in Regmi, Lamichhane and Pun has been bizarre too. Given that only two might play out of four frontline spinners in the squad. Maybe, the think tank expected one between Kandel & Bhari to claim that vacant spot but both had decent spells at Chennai tour without making any startling headlines.
Nepal traditionally struggles with the bat than ball carrying an extra bowling all-rounder in Mehboob Alam or rocket-pocket Kushal Bhurtel could have been the difference. Again, those aggressive 20-30 runs cameos at a crucial juncture of the match at a small ground might have come handy.
It will depend on what changes the skipper makes on the field in the fresh set of matches but Paras Khadka has often been criticized for being too textbook and predictable in past. However, this is the same methods that have brought Nepal important wins in past.
In a ground, ‘small one’, where Nepal has not played before will need adjustments. For example, if the pitch is dead flat offering load of runs one might look ahead of late bloomer Sagar Pun as an opener and promote someone more of a stroke-maker. Hong Kong players are good against spin bowling; maybe, including both Karan KC and Aarif Sheikh might come handy.
Similarly, Nepal does not have that much room to maneuver in a bowling heavy squad. Pun, Malla, Vesawkar, Khadka, Airee, Aarif, and Bhandari are more than certain to composite the top seven with Sompal, Regmi, Lamichhane and one between Karan or Lalit or Kandel or Bhari to follow. The only way Kandel or Bhari or Lalit will be included in the team if Aarif sits out and Sompal or Regmi are promoted in the batting order. Mind it, this is the same team which is set to open with Sagar Pun due to lack of options. The team composition, on-field decisions, batting targets, bowling combinations, etc are going to be curiously observed for upcoming two-match series.
The curious case of Binod Bhandari
Binod Bhandari continues to struggle in front of the wickets for the national team. His bat has not yielded any fifties in any sort of match in recent memory. The lean patch has extended way beyond repair longing for same fate that happened with Subash Khakurel in past when he was ultimately dropped after an elongated poor spell with the bat.
Bhandari is termed as a match winner with the bat, course, but it is amusing to understand that his makeshift wicket-keeping is keeping him in the team barring the injured and lack of quality wicket-keepers back at home.
As much as Bhandari’s extended bad form suggest he would fail against in form HK bowlers the only thing going to his advantage is his big hitting which might come handy in “small ground” of Mong Kok. Can Bhandari have two good days in HK? Can he break the ice-ceiling: will have to wait and see?