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Nepal is Stuck in a Time Loop
Rajan Shah laments the lack of progress from Nepal's men's team in the last one year and calls for administrative stability
“In another welcome change, Nepal’s spinners have taken a back seat and their pace battery, much like their batting line-up, has risen to the occasion. It’s been that kind of series for Nepal.
And that is why the largest fan base in associate cricket is feeling hopeful about a new and improved Nepal.”
It feels like just yesterday, but I wrote that a year ago for All Over Cricket. The hopes I had back then have not been fully realized. Indeed, the last year for Nepal’s Men’s team has felt like a time loop where they’ve taken a step forward before taking two steps back.
The recently concluded tri-series against Malaysia and Papua New Guinea almost feels like an action replay of the Netherlands-Malaysia tri-series that took place a year ago. The only setback is Nepal cricket lost another 365 days of substantial progression. Nepal squandered a World Cup berth, had mixed fortunes across a couple of Cricket World Cup League 2 rounds and fell to a few administrative and systematic regressions in this period.
They lost a World Cup-winning coach in Dav Whatmore, who left in a haste to manage Indian domestic team Baroda. This was followed by more player-board disputes, including successful skipper Gyanendra Malla being sacked as captain.
The publicizing of the dressing room atmosphere in the media was quite jarring to fans that were never exposed to such things in the Whatmore-Malla era.
Coach Pubudu Dassanayake, in his second stint with Nepal, openly stated that the ‘dressing room is not united’ and that ‘motivation is missing like previous stint’ during Nepal’s repeated batting failures in the UAE leg of League 2 matches against PNG and the UAE.
Curiously, the same management, coach and captain, were pretty vocal about wickets being flat and easy to bat on in the pre and post-match conferences. However, the stats don’t seem to add up.
Whether in Dubai or in Sharjah, all three teams struggled to bat convincingly. Rohan Mustafa, who scored the most runs in the leg, admitted that last 10 overs were the only time when batters could score freely if batting teams had wickets in hand. The surfaces had seam movement, tailor-made for the UAE’s quicks to take advantage of home conditions.
The cricket manager of the Cricket Association of Nepal, Binod Das, also agreed with the nature of the wickets supported bowlers rather than batters in his conversation with All Over Cricket. He was also satisfied with the team management’s approach regarding press moving ahead. “When you hire someone to do a job, you got to trust his working ways. I am satisfied with team management’s approach with media. [Dasssnayake’s] comments in public, as well as his reports to [the board], have been regarded as constructive for the team’s development towards a projected identity.”
As proven by Nepali batters breaking records, left, right and center in the two ODI matches played against the PNG, these criticisms appear to be overly harsh. Rohit Paudel and Dipendra Singh Airee took their batting to the next level whereas the Sheikh brothers — Aarif and Aasif — along with Kushal Bhurtel and Bhim Sharki have shown that there is quality and depth in batting for Nepal to work with.
In spite of this, the constant public criticism of batting continued until the final T20I match.
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Bowling tactics: too many part-timers?
Nepal lost both the ODI matches against PNG due to self-inflicted wounds that PNG took full advantage of.
Aarif Sheikh was trusted as the fifth bowler and the third seamer in the UAE leg of League 2. He returned with immaculate bowling figures 6-0-16-1, 10-1-21-1, and 9-0-31-1. But he struggled to replicate this success in the PNG ODIs, particularly in the second game where he leaked 63 runs in eights overs.
Nepal, playing with lone seamer Sompal Kami, struggled to keep runs down with their army of part-timers as Lamichhane had an off-series. However, Airee’s bowling has been the biggest plus throughout the season. His emergence as a genuine all-rounder with a bankable 10 overs in ODIs will help Nepal carry an extra dimension in their bowling armory moving forward.
Overall, Nepal’s bowling attack struggled to contain PNG’s batters. Nepal dearly missed the services of Karan KC, who was omitted from the ODI squad. He would go on to take 13 wickets in the Tri-nation T20I series, including spells of 3/44 and 5/21 in the league stage followed by 3/27 in the final against PNG.
It has to be noted that by the end of the T20I series, Nepal still has a familiar trio of fast bowlers with Kamal Singh Airee and Gulshan Jha forced out due to injury and form respectively. Kami, KC, Lamichhane, and Bohara remain Nepal’s go-to bowling combination in T20 cricket. Nothing has changed in the last year. However, in all this while, Nepal has failed to find a left-arm spinner that can continue the legacy of Basant Regmi and Shakti Gauchan.
Likewise, Anil Sah was recalled to keep wickets and open the batting in the ODIs. This is the same Anil Sah who is not even a regular keeper for Nepal Police Club in domestic cricket.
The impact of Airee and Paudel
For all the parallels being drawn between Paras Khadka and Dipendra Singh Airee, an impeccable stat makes the best case for it. In T20Is (minimum 20 innings), Paras Khadka has scored 20.50% (799 out of 3897) of Nepal’s runs. He is 11th overall in the world when it comes to contribution to the team total. His closest second is Dipendra Singh Airee with 19.42% (1033/5318) in T20Is. As far as Nepal's cricketing royalty goes, Airee is on the way to becoming the new King of Nepali batting.
Still new to international cricket, Bhurtel, currently on 16 innings, might have his say once he reaches 20 innings for Nepal. Similarly, Rohit Paudel, who was a casualty of the Grade-Contract atrocity only months ago, has evolved into a pillar of Nepali batting. After missing out on the squad for the Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifier A, he was included in the ODI squad. He was initially overlooked for the PNG T20I series. Thankfully, this was later corrected and he was included not just in the squad but also in the playing XI on the back of a strong ODI series that included his maiden hundred batting at number 5 in the first ODI.
Likewise, some cameos from Bhim Sharki, Dev Khanal, and Adil Ansari exhibiting composure and maturity beyond their age bodes well for Nepal’s batting future.
Salvation for Sompal
I remember having a chat with Jay Dansinghani after the controversies regarding player contracts. Sompal Kami, Nepal’s premier fast bowler, was demoted to Grade B for the second time in as many years by CAN. Jay’s reaction was, “How can you do that? It is like India demoting Bumrah if he struggles for a bit.”
Kami’s year-by-year statistics across formats explain how consistent a performer he has been for Nepal. The leader of the pace attack was subjected to unnecessary pressure, both physical and mental, before he found his mojo back after having just one less-than-ideal year in ODI cricket when he was struggling with injury.
Kami coming back to his best is good news for Nepal cricket. He is the only surviving member of the 2014 World T20 team along with coach Pubudu. Gulshan Jha’s evident struggle in converting his talent to international cricket and Kamal Singh Airee’s fitness issues make it even more crucial that Kami and his proven partner in crime Karan KC are handled with care moving ahead.
The Gyanendra Malla question
Former captain and Nepal batting stalwart Gyanendra Malla was apparently rested from both the squads ahead of the ODI and T20I series. However, there are murmurs that it could be the last we see of him in Nepal colors. The emergence of younger batters across the nation makes it harder to accommodate him in the squad.
Speaking to All Over Cricket, CAN selector Dipendra Chaudhary is optimistic that the door isn’t shut for veterans like Malla and Binod Bhandari.
“He is definitely in contention,” said Chaudhary. “The team will call up him if we find there is a role he can play for Nepal.”
Nepal may or may not have moved on from Gyanendra Malla, but he still holds the highest run aggregate for Nepal in League 2 — 286 runs in 11 matches or 14.43% of team runs. The second best is the ever-improving Rohit Paudel with 249 in 9 matches, which translates to 12.56% of team runs.
The returning charm
Nepal saw a record crowd in the final against PNG. It was a heartening spectacle considering that many fans in that crowd would have been frustrated with coach Pubudu and captain Lamichhane demanding ‘unity’ and ‘performances’ after losing the ODI series. But it was still nowhere near to what TU Cricket Ground used to have in 2013.
Nowadays, in spite of cricket becoming more accessible in the social media era, we simply don’t see the organic fanaticism of a decade ago.
Nepal’s men need better on-field performances, administrative stability, and systematic reforms if they wish to propel Nepali cricket to new heights. For the sanity of Nepal’s fan base, they need to break out of this endless time loop.
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