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Into the BIG STAGE again

When Nepal made a historic appearance in the 2014
ICC World Twenty20, everyone started seeking more. But it has been a roller
coaster ride for the senior national team which has gone through more failure
than success. Nepal miserably failed in the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers finishing
ninth but more than losing a spot in cricket’s extravaganza, it was the loss of
one-day international status that hurt Nepal the most.

Then came ACC Premier League where Nepal finished
third and winning the ICC World Cricket League Division-III — for the second
time in a row — just seemed customary although it carved avenues to join top
Associate nations in following months. The one and only notable achievement was
marked with the fourth-place finish in Division-II that helped Nepal qualify
for the Word Cricket League Championship.

Nepal are now among the non-Test playing teams
who battle in a three-year round robin league program between eight countries.
That success, however, was overshadowed by the failure of replicating their
2014 achievement, Nepal disappointed in the 2015 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers
crashing out from the group stage with just one victory to their name.

The failure in Ireland continued in Scotland and
the UAE with Nepal losing both their opening two rounds (four matches) of the
WCLC against the Scots and Papua New Guinea. Back-to-back failures, no doubt,
have raised several questions and one of them is: Is the golden generation of
Nepali cricket has begun to decompose? And this question has the tendency to
ask more: Is Nepal ready with the replacement of that golden generation?

As questions flared out, the Nepali youth team
came up with what could be anticipated as an answer that can serve as an
inclined plane to lift cricket from a slide. The answer requires further
modification. But for the time being Nepal would love to celebrate watching its
youths in collision course with Test playing giants.

Nepal are making a return to the U-19 World Cup
after a four-year hiatus. Prithu Baskota had qualified Nepal for the 2012 World
Cup in Australia and after Bhuwan Karki failed to repeat the feat, Raju Rijal
has guided Nepal back into the big stage for the seventh time in Nepal’s
cricketing history.

A majority of players in the current senior
national team have risen from the ranks of U-19 cricket which actually is the
barometer to check the progress it can make in future. Raju & Co have given
Nepal an opportunity to confidently prepare a generation that is now ready to
test themselves in competitive cricket.

A tough group

Nepal are pitted against Test heavyweights India
and New Zealand along with fellow Associates Ireland. The Irish side, beaten by
Nepal in the U-19 World Cup Qualifiers in Malaysia, got the opportunity to rub
shoulders with Nepal, India and New Zealand in Bangladesh after Australia
decided to pull out from the tournament due to security issues.

When Prithu-led Nepal last played against
Australia in the 2012 U-19 World Cup, they were murdered by a brutal innings
from Colin Bancroft who is now knocking the Aussie senior team doors. Nepal
also went on to lose against England and Ireland and performed to their lowest
in history finishing 13th in the 2012 edition.

Nepal are so far the only Associate teams to
qualify for the second round and they also share the most glorious history in cricketing
world by stunning some of the big Test playing nations. South Africa had been
their favorite foes defeating them twice in the past, while they marked the
beginning of their giant killing stunning Pakistan. They had also defeated
Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in the past.

But things have changed as Nepal now have to
struggle for their existence in the U-19 cricket after the emergence of
now-settled giants Afghanistan. While they failed twice to qualify for the
World Cup, their cricket prowess is also on a wane, a fact that Raju-led team
needs to cancel out.

“Yes, we have a glorious history and there
is a slight pressure on us to prove ourselves as a better team. We are drawn
against the best teams in the world and playing a better game against them will
be our major focus,” said Jagat Tamtta, who will now be the first
home-grown coach to look after the team in World Cup.

Raju just wants to prove that Nepal play a better
game of cricket. “Bangladesh (World Cup) is going to be very tough for us
but it will also give us the much-needed exposure of competitive cricket. We
just want to go out there and prove that Nepal can also play better game of
cricket and let the world know the kind of game we play,” he said.

The team

Raju became the first batsman to score a century
in four years in age group cricket when he slammed a ton against Uganda during
the U-19 World Cup Qualifiers in October last year. His innings has relieved
many who believed that Nepal’s batting has stopped finding solutions. Raju’s
ton was followed by a 170-run opening wicket stand between Sunil Dhamala and
Sandeep Sunar against a strong Irish team.

Tamatta believes that his team has a batting
depth that also includes the likes of Aarif Sheikh in middle order led by Rijal
himself along with Rajbir Singh and Shankar Rana. Dipendra Singh Airee and
Kushal Bhurtel are pinned to cut loose in the slug overs, while Himanshu Dutta
has also posed himself as a possible contender for making cut in final XI after
he impressed during the warm-up game against Sri Lanka that Nepal lost by 65
runs. Left arm top order batsman Ishan Pandey is another new face in the
batting order.

Nepal’s biggest weapon has been spin and once
again much will be expected from the slow bowlers. Left arm orthodox bowler
Sushil Kandel, leg spinner Sandeep Lamichhane, Prem Tamang and Sunil Dhamala
will be expected to have a go at the Bangladeshi pitches. Nepal will expect a
lot from Dipendra, Raju and Aarif who have been playing together with a haul of
experiences.

Dipendra was the most impressive among all during
the two warm-up games against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. He had made 42 against
Pakistan and 33 not out against the Lankans.

Dipesh Shrestha is the lone fast bowler, while
Aarif and Dipendra will take care of the medium pace attack. Nepal were jolted
by the loss of all-rounder Saurav Khanal who was ruled out from the tournament
after suffering a knee injury during one of the practice matches in India prior
to the Bangladesh tour.

The group and ahead

Considering the might of the opponents in the
pool, Nepal’s journey in Bangladesh could once again be all about the Plate
Championship albeit they do wonders in group stage. Nepal need at least one
shock result which could be another surprise in age group history. They had
beaten New Zealand in 2006 Plate Final but by an experienced team.

Nepal’s biggest achievement was winning the Plate
Championship in 2006 and a runner-up finish of the same in 2008. The
expectations will be there but on ground reality, a better fight against Test
giants this time will appease everyone around, playing against them will still
be a bonus for Nepal and the entire tournament: a great experience for the
budding cricketers of the country.

Nepal U19 VS Pakistan U19

January 23, 2016 at Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protisthan No 2
Ground

(Nepal U19 VS Pakistan U19 full scorecard is here)

 

Pakistan U19 : 291
for 7 in 50 Overs

Zeeshan Malik – 83 (85 balls, 12*4, 2*6)

Umair Masood – 59 (36 balls, 7*4, 2*6)

 

Sandeep Lamichhane – 76 for 3 in 10 overs

Sushil Kandel – 47 for 2 in 10 overs

Prem Tamang – 57 for 2 in 10 overs

 

 

Nepal U19 : 181 for 9
in 50 Overs

Dipendra Airee – 42 (40 balls, 3*4, 3*6)

Aarif Sheikh – 35 (62 balls, 4*4)

Raju Rizal – 28 (62 balls, 5*4)

 

Saif Ali – 9 for 2 in 4 overs

Sameen Gul – 17 for 2 in 6 overs

Arsal Sheikh – 19 for 2 in 7 overs

Shadab Khan – 42 for 2 in 9 overs

 

Pakistan U19 won the match by 110 runs

Nepal U19 VS Sri Lanka U19

January 25, 2016 at Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protisthan No 2
Ground

(Nepal U19 VS Sri Lanka U19 full scorecard is here)

 

Sri Lanka U19 : 230
for 9 in 45 Overs

Sammu Ashan – 81 not out (74 balls, 4*4, 4*6)

Charith Asalanka – 71 (68 balls, 10*4)

 

Sunil Dhamala –  27
for 2 in 9 overs

Sushil Kandel – 38 for 2 in 9 overs

Sandeep Lamichhane – 61 for 2 in 8 overs

Prem Tamang – 27 for 1 in 4 overs

Dipendra Airee – 33 for 1 in 5 overs

 

Nepal U19 : 165 for
10 in 42.1 Overs

Dipendra Airee – 33 not out (44 balls, 4*4)

Raju Rizal – 31 (55 balls, 2*4)

Sri Lanka U19 won the match by 65 runs

 

Photos – Raman Siwakoti / CAN

(The story is published in nSPORTS monthly
magazine)

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