Rajan Shah, My Republica, 1 August 2018
Nepal is set to embark on a new journey of One-Day International (ODI) with its first appearance against the Netherlands today at VRA Cricket Ground, Amstelveen, the Netherlands. The moment has finally arrived for Nepal’s national cricket team that had long craved for the elusive status -- for 22 years -- after the country became an Associate member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 1996. Nepal came close in 2001 and 2014 but it was only 2018, in Zimbabwe, when the country made that massive leap to becoming an ODI nation.
The occasion also comes with an emotional note as Nepal’s long-serving stalwart Shakti Gauchan is set to bid adieu to international cricket after playing the two-match series on August 1 and 3. The ever-smiling veteran has inspired a generation of cricketers throughout his career back in home. Thanks to his left-arm spin, Nepal will never be short of quality left-arm spinners for the time being. Gauchan’s career has been no less interesting than Nepal’s own rollicking (and sometimes restrained) ride in the international arena that has seen a lot of turfs and crests.
The hard work over the years has greatly seasoned the aging players in the squad to grow into consistent and dependable performers. However, though it is not a time to press the panic button, all eyes will be on saving the ODI status in four years’ time and to build a pool of players who are balanced in both form and fitness.
As the most successful captain of Nepal national cricket team Paras Khadka said, “The ODI is just the beginning.”
The mission will start by building the team during the matches Nepal will play until 2022 when the ICC World Cup Qualifiers 2023 will be held to decide the fate of the status for the next cycle of international cricket calendar. It is a scenario that the Netherlands understands quite well, which lost its ODI status in 2014 world cup qualifiers before regaining it in 2018.
Unfortunately, Nepal’s cricket governing body remained a mere spectator in most of the country’s achievement in international arena when it was in place. The body became defunct in 2015. Even in lack of the governing body, the performance of Nepali players has been surprisingly satisfactory. The void of administrative guardianship was somewhat filled by an unmatched fan support. Nepal kept stunning the world with an amazing fan following both at home and away tours.
Skipper Khadka has deep appreciation for the Nepali Diaspora that comes out in big numbers to support the Nepali sports teams abroad.
Becoming an ODI nation has come as a ‘massive leap’, and the next target is to win the Test-playing status. Nepal is yet to play an ICC World Cup. Today marks the beginning of that journey.
The rise of quality spinners driven by passion and hard work like Shakti Gauchan, Basant Regmi and Sandeep Lamichhane has been Nepal’s achievement at a time when domestic cricket was not in good shape. The stalwarts of Nepal’s batting -- Paras Khadka, Gyanendra Malla and Sharad Vesawkar -- will pass the torch to newcomers Anil Kumar Sah, Dipendra Singh Airee, Aarif Sheikh and Rohit Kumar Paudel in the coming days.
Nepal is known for its trademark nail-biting last-over finishes. It gained the One-Day International (ODI) status in a similar last-minute thrill. At one point, Nepal was in good position to win the ICC World Cricket League Championship 2015-17. It was a smoother and straighter way to the ODI status. However, Nepal managed to lose five out of last eight WCLC matches, including one in home ground against Kenya.
The campaign got derailed horribly and Nepal ended up in the second last position of the table and was relegated to Division Two, along with Kenya.
Then some common sense prevailed and Nepal reshuffled its squad, dropping non-performing senior players and replacing them with fresh faces that made domestic events livelier. Nepal succumbed to Namibia in the first match of the second division and lost to Oman in the second game. Many fans and experts back home were convinced that getting to the World Cup Qualifiers was not going to be a reality for Nepal.
When Nepal lost its ninth wicket for 144 runs on board chasing the target of 195 against Canada in a do or die match, Nepali fans were really worried.
However, it was one of those days when cricket proves itself to be an unpredictable game. Karan KC and Sandeep Lamichhane shared a partnership of unbeaten 51 runs in the remaining 41 deliveries sealing Nepal’s route to the qualifiers. KC became a legend back in Nepal for his miraculous 42 not out runs from 31 deliveries including three fours and four sixes aptly supported by Lamichhane’s five runs.
Nepal was back on track with optimism riding throughout the ICC World Cup Qualifiers campaign, despite contesting with stronger teams and facing defeat against Test nations. The team finished eighth after defeating Papua New Guinea in the playoff and secured ODI status. Even with Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) suspended, the Netherlands board announced couple of ODIs against Nepal in their home ground VRA Cricket Ground, Amsterdam.
Nepal first acquired the Affiliate membership of ICC in 1988. It became an Associate in 1996. The country was first awarded Twenty20 International (T20I) status by the ICC in June 2014 for two years. On March 15, 2018, Nepal gained ODI status for the first time (and regained Twenty20 International status), after winning the first playoff match in the 2018 ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier.
Nepal made its maiden appearance in the ICC global event at the 2014 ICC World Twenty20 in Bangladesh. It has been participating in international matches since 1996, including every ACC Trophy tournament except 2015 ACC Twenty20 Cup in UAE, where the country did not participate.
Nepal also participated in ICC World Cup Qualifier in 2001, 2014 and 2018; ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier in 2012, 2013 and 2015; ICC Intercontinental Cup in 2004 and 2005; ACC Fast Track Countries Tournament in 2004, 2005 and 2006; ACC Twenty20 Cup in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013; Asian Games in 2010 and 2014; and ACC Premier League in 2014.
In April 2018, the ICC granted full Twenty20 International (T20I) status to all its members. Therefore, all Twenty20 matches played between Nepal and another international side after January 1, 2019, will be a full T20I.
Led by mercurial captain Khadka, the national cricket team will mark its entry to ODI cricket. The only change in the squad, from the last time Nepal played a one-day game, is the return of international centurion Subash Khakurel in place of wicket-keeper Dilip Nath that featured in the ICC World Cricket League Division Two in Namibia and the ICC World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe.
However, Anil Kumar Sah is more likely to keep wickets ahead of Khakurel due to his sound form leading to the triangular event. The 19-year-old scored a fifty and a century in the practice matches against St Cross Cricket Club and East London XI, respectively, before failing for 9 runs in the only time he batted on Sunday at the Lord’s cricket ground.
Vice-captain Gyanendra Malla tried to shake off his poor form with bat in the last practice match against East London Sharks, smashing a well-timed fifty followed by a brisk unbeaten 12 runs keeping his place at the top of the order.
Skipper Khadka hinted of his robust scoring abilities during a big century and a quick-fire half-century in practice matches leading up to the triangular event.
Similarly, Sharad Vesawkar, who missed the closed camp, proved his fitness and form scoring a fluent 98 against the East London XI before the visit to London.
Middle-order young batsmen Dipendra Singh Airee, Aarif Sheikh and Rohit Kumar Poudel will mark their first outing in the Netherlands after English debut. At the age of 15, Poudel is poised to being one of the youngest cricket players to play an ODI.
Nepal’s veteran left-arm spinner Shakti Gauchan has announced his retirement from international cricket. He will be making his last appearance for Nepal in an overseas tour. He will not only have to compete with the high-flying Sandeep Lamichhane and ever consistent Basant Regmi, but also with newcomer Lalit Rajbanshi who has made good impression every time he has taken the field for Nepal, including the T20 games against MCC and the Netherlands at the Lord’s cricket ground.
The pace bowling will be spearheaded by Sompal Kami, who picked up couple of wickets against MCC, along with a variety of Karan KC’s right-arm and Lalit Bhandari’s left-arm pace if needed.
SQUAD: Paras Khadka (c), Dipendra Singh Airee, Lalit Bhandari, Shakti Gauchan, Karan KC, Sompal Kami, Subash Khakurel (w/k), Sandeep Lamichhane, Gyanendra Malla, Rohit Poudel, Lalit Rajbanshi, Basant Regmi, Anil Sah, Aarif Sheikh, Sharad Vesawkar
Likely XI: Khakurel/Sah, Malla, Khadka, Airee, Vesawkar, Aarif/Paudel, Kami, KC, Lamichhane, Gauchan, Regmi.
Left-arm wrist-spinning allrounder Michael Rippon has been the big returnee to the Netherlands squad. And he exactly exhibited what the Dutch team had been missing when he plundered Nepali bowlers with ease at the middle.
The onus will now be on Rippon to lead the spin bowling duties as well in the absence of veteran Reolof van der Merwe, who is committed to Somerset County Cricket Club in midst of the busy English cricket season. Rippon missed the World Cup Qualifier campaign for the Netherlands while representing Otago in the Plunket Shield, New Zealand’s domestic first-class competition.
Similarly, the new faces in the squad -- Clayton Floyd and Tonny Staal -- who were included in the squad for the T20 triangular at the Lord’s along with Tobias Visee, are replaced by experienced players Ben Cooper, Dan ter Braak and Stephan Myburgh. Visee scored a scintillating unbeaten half-century against MCC on Sunday. However, they will miss the services of mercurial Ryan ten Doeschate who returns to leading his English County Essex after a one-off appearance at the Lord’s.
Left-arm spin-bowling allrounder Pieter Seelaar will lead the team. One between Wesley Barresi and Max O’Dowd will partner-up aggressive opening batsman Stephan Myburgh at the top of the innings to unsettle the opposition opening bowlers.
Young wicket-keeper Scott Edwards showed some glimpse of his aggressive batting abilities in a small cameo against Nepal before the rain arrived. Ben Cooper, deemed as more suited to one-day format, will provide stability in the middle order.
The European team’s biggest strength lies in the quick-bowling trio of Frederick Klaassen, Shane Snater and Paul van Meekeren in the absence of Timm van der Gugten.
SQUAD: Pieter Seelaar (c), Wesley Barresi, Dan ter Braak, Ben Cooper, Scott Edwards, Frederick Klaassen, Bas De Leede, Paul van Meekeren, Stephan Myburgh, Max O’Dowd, Hidde Overdijk, Shane Snater, Michael Rippon
Likely XI: Myburgh, Max O’Dowd, Barresi, Cooper, Rippon, Edwards (w), De Leede, Seelar (c), Snater, van Meekeren, Klaassen
A pleasant day is in the offing. A cloud could make an appearance every now on then, but it should not hamper the proceedings. Even if it does, it should not be for long.
The VRA Ground has behaved friendly for batsmen who can apply themselves. The fact that Scotland, a team in the golden form, put up 221 runs in 20 overs last time the ground hosted an international match, indicates that plenty of runs are available for the takers. In reply, the home team was bundled out for 106 runs with Scottish spinner Hamza Tahir picking up a three-wicket haul. The Nepali team has three left-arm spinners in its rank but the leg-spinner Lamichhane will have to do the most talking for the team.
The Netherlands always has been a strong limited-overs outfit in the associate world. The strength is depleted with the absence of marquee players like ten Doeschate and van der Merwe but the return of Rippon has given them the much needed-edge of experience. The Dutch strength will lie in playing against Nepal’s weakness that is fast bowling. Klaassen bowled some steady left-arm pace in the match against MCC, and he will be boosted by the addition of the county second XI regulars Snater and van Meekeren. The trio of pace bowling can cause trouble to Nepal.
Like most of sub-continental teams, Nepal neither has been great travelers. Nepal would not like to remember its performance in overseas tours like New Zealand in 2014, Scotland in 2015, and the Netherlands in 2016. However, the team can take a leaf out of its last two-match series against the Netherlands when it came back to win the second match and draw the series after being one-down after the first match during the ICC World Cricket League Championship 2015-17.
The Nepali bowlers went for plenty in 16.4 overs they bowled against the Netherlands in the T20I match. However, it was much down to the consistent drizzle and wet outfield making it difficult to grip the ball.
Nepal’ strength has been bowling over the years, and the team will continue to keep it up with the rise of spinners like Lamichhane and Rajbanshi who are already pushing Gauchan out of the playing XI. Nepal’s X-factors -- Khadka’s batting and Lamichhane’s leg-spin -- will have huge roles in any positive result the team will achieve in its inaugural ODI outing. The last time Nepal defeated the Netherlands was in August 15, 2016, when Khadka smashed 84 runs. Nepal had then won the match by 17 runs with spinners (Regmi, Lamichhane, Gauchan and Sagar Pun) sharing five wickets between them.
Nepal was defeated by the Netherlands in their encounter during the ICC CWCQ 2018. The Netherlands won the seventh-place playoff in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe by 45 runs.
Who said what?
“We have worked hard for the ODI status and the games against the Netherlands are opportunities for us to explore ourselves, enjoy the experience and hopefully put up good performance.” – Paras Khadka, captain, Nepal national cricket team
“We have always respected the Nepal team. In fact, it was them that inflicted one of the only two losses we had in the WCL. So we know what they are capable of.” –Ryan Campbell, head coach, the Netherlands.