Nepal will face their toughest challenge in their path to qualifying for the 2018 ICC World Cup Qualifier and hence the chance to earn full ODI status as they take on the Netherlands at their home in two ICC World Cricket League Championship matches at the VRA Cricket Ground in Amstelveen.
Sitting at the top of the points table, the home side are placed pretty comfortably for a top-four finish. However, despite being unbeaten in the tournament so far, their wins have not exactly been convincing apart from the first round against PNG and will no doubt want to put two commanding wins to try and cement their place at the top. After missing out on the ODI status for this cycle and as a result losing any chance of organizing “official” matches, the Dutch clearly consider regaining the status as the bare minimum acceptable outcome from this cycle. Nepal, on the other hand, have never gained full ODI status and are eager to ensure this is the cycle that they achieve that. Nepal, though, have no one to blame but themselves.
Three of the four matches Nepal lost in this WCLC can be put down to inability to close matches. At first glance, the match against Scotland can just be seen as a close match that could have gone either way but after the PNG matches where they managed to lose matches that were seemingly over, everyone can see a pattern. It would not be a big jump to say that had the last leg against Namibia not been at the home ground, Nepal may well have bottled them too. However, with the team currently in an unbeat mood by winning all the matches in the tour of England including a victory against MCC at Lords, I suspect their enthusiasm and confidence will also boost their ability to close tight matches, should it come to that. With just four points in six matches, Nepal absolutely need full four points from this series if they are to avoid a must-win situation in the remainder of the matches this tournament.
This is easier said than done, though, as a strong Netherlands team at home is as good as they come at this level. Nepali team has limited experience in European conditions and even though the top order has looked in decent touch in the recent past they have not played an opposition of this level much. The key battle will be of the Nepali batting order against the pace attack of the home side and the first job be to prevent the famous Nepali batting collapse. If the top order manages to weather the early storm, Raju Rijal and co seem in a good position to give the score a good boost. On the other hand, Netherlands themselves have some batting woes at the top and should Sompal and Sob find their rhythm, it will not be easy for the Dutch batsmen to score freely like they’re used to. The way I see it, the toss could play a major role in the matches as Nepal would do much better chasing then batting first as they have shown countless times they can’t pace their innings well when having to set a score.
According to sources, the home captain Peter Borren is not expected to recover from the split webbing during the MCC match and is likely to miss the matches. Apart from this, the Dutch are expected to field a strong XI from the squad, which is void of Tom Cooper who is looking to break into the Australian team. The collapse against Afghanistan exposed Netherland’s top order and the aggressive approach they bring to their batting, led by Myburgh at the top, might as well bring their downfall.
The promising new fast bowler Bikram Sob, who is all but certain to open the bowling alongside Sompal Kami, will look to cripple the Dutch top order. With Dhamala a talented but still raw prospect, Anil Mandal and Gyanendra Malla look certain to open for Nepal, followed by Vesawkar – the second leading run scorer of the tournament and Paras Khadka. The only real question is if they will choose youth over experience in the spin department but given the importance of these matches, it would be a surprise if Tamata and Khadka choose Sandip Lamichhane over Shakti Gauchan.
This tournament is particularly important because with Afghanistan and Ireland being arbitrarily handpicked among the six ODI nations to remain in the truncated 12-team ODI rankings table from the original 16 (despite repeated ICC claims that it is a upgrade from 10, which it’s not), being in the top bracket at the end of this cycle becomes very important, especially with the talks of reforms in cricket that are going around. It is more so for Nepal, the bias towards whom ICC has made no effort to hide, as a good standing in the tournament coupled with administrative reforms back home might yield much richer dividends than they deserve on pure merit with a high chance of other countries being leaped over for the second time.
But it all needs to start with a couple of wins over the Netherlands and it will take quite some doing.