Arguably the best format of one day cricket kicks off once again. A couple of pivotal ICC World Cricket League Championship matches for Nepal against unbeaten Netherlands in their own backyard looms. A certain victory or defeat can change the complexion of league standings. Given the shortcomings of Nepal in overseas conditions, especially the last T20 tour of the Netherlands, it demands Nepal to play out of their skin to entertain thoughts of winning the next set of matches. However, with the current form and recently rediscovered confidence Nepal can conjure something, if not all, from next couple of WCLC matches.
- Thank you Gauchan!
There is no scale to measure the magnitude of contribution Shakti Gauchan has done for Nepal. He has been the ambassador of cricket, a role model, an icon, and an inspiration. The only player who has been part of every transition Nepal team came across. From being the best batsman in the side to being the best bowler in the side, he has done it all. No one can point a finger to his cricket. But every good thing comes to an end. And what better way to bid adieu when you can. With rising talents like Lamichhane, Kandel and Bhari continuously knocking on the door for that playing XI place this just might be the right time for the champion cricketer to pave way. Let young spinners see that vacant spot to grab and bring that extra edge to their performance.
Incredibly, he is way fitter for his age and there is no specific reason why should he stop now. But retiring on your own terms when nobody can question your place in the XI sounds the best kind of retirement for legendary players like him. In a few years’ time even Basant Regmi will be among the old guards of the team and given his fitness it is likely that both Gauchan & Regmi might have to retire simultaneously. So to avoid such circumstances where we might not have couple of good spinners to step up abruptly it sounds fairer that Gauchan makes way for younger legs in the XI. About time that Gauchan takes that mentor role and helps groom youngsters back home.
- Let Sompal bat more
Being a close observant of his game from the very early part of his career, I always thought he is a better batsman than a bowler. His world record batting at number nine, so many crucial cameos down the order for Nepal and his techniques . There are no shortage of experts and well-wishers who don’t find his batting exuberant. Despite his better and consistent performances with bat over his bowling (which was not bad either), he was given the red cherry to spearhead our non-existent fast bowling department. He looked good because other fell flat in his comparison. But his limitations with ball are catching up now. Maybe not having a potent partner is one reason. Best we can do is allow him to bat higher up the order. That gives him breathing space. The feel good factor after getting a few runs under his belt will allow him to bowl with a bit more freedom (without that must-perform pressure). For a guy who idolizes Sachin Tendulkar there has to be something he truly loves about batting. Let him bat. Let him express himself and be his true self. And above all, it’s not like we have a queued batting order fighting for places. He will easily fit in. Give him a few matches and we can always revert back if need be. An allrounder is always likely to carry his confidence in both departments. Also, I already have new nick-name ready for him: ‘Gulmi Blaster’.
- Let Sagar bowl more
Here is another curious case; man who By far the best fielder in the team, his batting has been highly inconsistent whereas his bowling has made up for it in most cases. He is the ultimate utility player. Just the kind of player any cricket team in the world would love to have given he is used adequately. Despite having batted at almost every position in the lineup, he has failed each time to live up to the expectations. Even the times he has batted well and made some useful scores his strike rates have been very poor. Ironically, some of his best performances for Nepal have come with the ball. Suggest he could better do being a bowler first in the XI. It just may be the time to focus more on his ever economical off spin bowling and allow his career to develop as that of a specialist. There were times when There aren’t many quality off spinners in Nepal right now. Now that Sompal bats higher up in my XI, Sagar will take that number eight role. Let him work on his strike rate coming late in the innings and trying to collect some quick runs. He has the muscles which Sompal didn’t have. We lacked a good off spinner from quite long. With not many knocking on the door and the bundle of first team experience, he might just be the answer.
- Groom future
We already know what a refreshing addition Sandeep Lamichhane and Raju Rijal have been to our national team.
Lamichhane clearly showing us there is life after Gauchan whereas Rijal has made sure Binod Bhandari and Subash Khakurel stay on their heels. But why stop there? Sunil Dhamala and Aarif Sheikh are equally potent too. Mostly, the exclusion of ‘Mr. Invisible’ of Nepali cricket Aarif Sheikh is baffling. He hardly put a foot wrong in his short stint with the national team and a successful one with the U19s. However, miraculously, he is nowhere to be found in short or long term plans in national setup. A protégé of Paras Khadka, he needs to be taken care of and helped to grow his potential. A seam bowling allrounder is as rare as they come. We better not mess up when we have one. And who can forget Siddhant Lohani (expect the whole Nepal cricket management), the only glimmer of hope from last year’s horrendous run of matches. It’s time to involve them in the mix and increase the competition for places to grab. Take some relentless chances out of Baskotas, Khakurels and Bhandaris to give these deserving youngsters have their good run with the national team. It’s only win-win for Nepal.
- Stick with Mandal
Anil Mandal has often been dropped at first sight of his failure. Nepal management needs to assure him of his place in the side for better results. Nepal needs to say Mandal, “Hey, listen up. You are our new Khakurel, so take your time.” That will help him prepare better. That will I am not saying he is the almighty option but a bit of backing from the skipper and the management can bring best out of him. Mandal and Malla looks good combination of aggression and stroke-making with adequate experience. On his day Mandal can match stroke to stroke with his best counterparts. The two times national centurion has a lot more to offer to Nepal.
- Rest/drop Khakurel for good
Well, where should I start? I won’t be able to end it. Not sure who is to blame for Khakurel’s current problems. Nepal gave him or Nepal, who kept giving him opportunities without any solid reason to do so. The case has gotten worsen now. He needs a good rest and simultaneously a good season behind him; an overseas contract would be great. But Not only are we hurting his form by taking him in and out of the team but also his confidence. We are compromising a youngster’s place too. Imagine if Dhamala was carried for our last England tour. It would have been a lot good for his confidence and would have prepared him well for upcoming competitive matches. The only way Khakurel will be at his best and ideal to make a true comeback is when he makes a monstrous score(s) in some kind of domestic competition game(s). Until then, the safer option would be to groom a youngster for future competitions and build those competitions among the players eying a place in the XI.
It is no hidden fact that our captaincy was exposed inside-out last year. Be it toss, tactics, plan B, playing XI or giving appropriate opportunities to youngsters, it all fell apart. Rings of change in captaincy started to ring out. But things have restored since then. Change in batting order, emergence of couple of young guns, . Captain needs to think on his feet which Paras Khadka has often failed to do in pressure situations. The secret is to keep changing, innovating and imagining. Now that real test waits in the form of superior outfits in Netherlands, it will be interesting to observe our approach on their own backyard after a year of preparations. A commanding home sweep against Namibia puts our skipper in good shape ahead of all important and difficult Dutch challenge.
I am not saying we are going to win both the matches comfortably but it gives us the best chance. Rest depends on Nepal cricket team, skipper and players selected to represent us in Netherlands. I, for one, am very optimistic about our chances given our recent performances.
This article was written before the national team was announced for the Netherlands tour. The 15 men team includes: P Khadka, G Malla, S Vesawkar, A Mandal, R Pulami, S Pun, S Kami, S Dhamala, B Bhandari, R Rijal, S Lamichhane, B Regmi, S Gauchan, B Sob and Karan KC.
( Note : All Photos © Raman Shiwakoti )