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    ICC U19 CWC16 Preview: The breath of fresh air

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    Kathmandu- It is not a coincidence that Nepal struggled to produce good young players in the last 4 years or so in the same period Nepal failed to reach U19 World Cup in 2014th edition. Nepal featured for successive six times from 2000 to 2012. Barring the Indian background of Sompal Kami’s success, no other young player stood out. In addition to that, the struggle of 2012’s batch (Avinash Karn, Prithu Baskota, Sagar Pun, Naresh Budhayer, Subash Khakurel, Pradeep Airee, etc) has left us with a weakened pool of players to repeat the feats that trio of Paras Khadka, Gyanendra Malla & Sharad Vesawkar transformed from U19 level to seniors.

    Amid all the various reasons like constant turmoil at CAN & the Nepal senior team’s see-saw achievements on the international stage, a bunch of young players surpassed all the expectations and emphatically sealed their participation in ICC U19 World Cup four months ago in Malaysia. The welcome change has brought a breath of fresh air among the fans, spectators & well-wishers of Nepali cricket.

    Making a sort of comeback, this will be the seventh time Nepal will participate in a stage tailor-made for future stars. Nepal qualified for the tournament after defeating Ireland in ICC U19 Cricket World Cup Qualifiers in Malaysia last month. Nepal is placed in Group D for the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup to be held in Bangladesh from January 22 to February 14, 2016.

    Batting

    Batting always has been Nepal’s Achilles heel, seniors or juniors. However, the players like Sunil Dhamala, Raju Rijal, Aarif Sheikh & Dipendra Airee boast some confidence with their consistent display of skillful batting in recent times.

    Dhamala’s century against HPCA at Dharamsala (also in SPA Cup 2071), Rijal’s record-breaking international century against Uganda at Malaysia in ICC U19 World Cup qualifiers, Yogendra Karki’s unbeaten hundred in the domestic Super League tournament at TU ground speaks volume of their appetite to make runs & hints us at a talented set of batsmen.

    Aarif Sheikh’s invaluable experience, Sandeep Sunar’s half-century in the final of World Cup Qualifiers, Dipendra Airee’s consistent brisk 40+ cameos down the order & late order hitting capabilities of Prem Tamang & Kushal Bhurtel is sure to make some interesting readings of Nepal’s batting this term.

    Bowling

    Nepal’s bowling is usually always based on the spin as strength. This time is no different. With only one frontline pace bowler in Dipesh Shrestha, the seam bowling duties largely depend on the comparatively experienced shoulders of Aarif Sheikh. While Nepal will miss the prolific seam bowler in Saurav Khanal, his replacement Khusal Bhurtel will have to bring his top game to match the injured fast bowler’s effectiveness. Dipendra Airee has opened the bowling in past and has been more than capable of rattling opponents with his deceptive pace bowling. However, the international stage is a whole different level. For some reason, selectors backed Shrestha, Sheikh, and Airee to do the seam bowling duties as a supporting role for our spin bowlers.

    Reverting back to spin, this has to be one of Nepal’s finest spin bowling collections. The likes of left-arm spinner Sushil Kandel have been immaculate with his line & length. Often teams have struggled to score runs off his bowling as evident from the world cup qualifiers in Malaysia. Off-spinner Prem Tamang inclines more towards attacking the stumps and bowls than asking the line to the batsmen. Tamang compliments Kandel. A new sensation back home but still untested leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichhane makes a trio of interesting options for skipper Raju Rijal. The more than effective part-time off-spin bowling of Sunil Dhamala further adds depth to our spin attack. The best part is we will have more than enough bowling options in our playing XI to choose from.

    Fielding

    Naturally, a gifted bunch of individuals in the field, Yogendra Karki, Dipendra Airee & Aarif Sheikh stand out as the best ones. Fielding will be crucial in Bangladesh as pitches are all set to assist batsmen. A good effort in the field is certain to change the course of the match.

    Raju Rijal’s wicketkeeping will be under scanner at the biggest tournament of his life. So far so good, he is tipped to replace Subash Khakurel in the senior lineup after his string of effective performances leading the junior side from behind the stumps. Another good tournament will further add feathers to his cap and the voices advocating for him will get only louder. Himanshu Dutta was included to give Rijal a cushion for any unexpected injuries behind the stumps.

    Strengths

    -Barring 2 or 3 players, the current crop of players have been playing together for more than 3 years now. A blessing in disguise, the inability of CAN to host U19 tournaments made sure that not many players were shuffled over the years. Eventually, the players got time to gel and form an effective squad as evidenced by improving good performances by each year. This is quite a mystery but maybe not to disturb their balance none of the U19 players were selected for Nepal’s UAE tour a couple of months ago. Both Nepal lost against PNG.

    -The spin bowling has grown too. Before it was Kandel’s misery spells complemented by Tamang’s wickets. Dhamala is always there to utilize the conditions. Adding to that, leg-spinner Lamichhane has been the perfect foil to already effective spin bowling, giving more options to skipper in helpful conditions. We can assume how strong our spin lineup is to oversee the man of the match of the ICC U19 world cup qualifiers’ final Lalit Rajbanshi & already senior national off-spinner Irshad Ahmed.

    -Sunil Dhamala, Raju Rijal & Aarif Sheikh’s experience in batting is a real bonus for a traditionally weaker side in batting. While Rijal & Aarif had their stint of batting with the senior side, Dhamala has been opening for the U19 setup for quite a long time now. Dipendra Airee’s consistent lower batting has impressed them immensely.

    Weaknesses

    -Despite a load of options in seam bowling, lack of out an out strike bowler will hurt Nepal’s chances opening the bowling & in death overs. Injury to experienced Saurav Khanal has farther dampened Nepal’s pace bowling options. One would have thought Nandan Yadav could have been roped in after Khanal’s injury to partner Dipesh upfront but management persisted with another lower order untested allrounder in Kushal Bhurtel.

    -Lack of stability in batting order is another major concern for this U19 team. Rajbir Singh, Ishan Pandey & Shankar Rana has not been into runs as much as they were supposed to. Sunar had couple of good innings along the way but Himanshu Dutta remains the unknown entity as more of wicket keeping back up. Yogendra Karki is still a work in progress as a specialist batsman from a genuine allrounder in domestic setup. The batting heavily depends on Dhamala at top, Rijal & Aarif in middle & Airee in lower order. The absence of Saurav Khanal is set to hurt further more.

    -Bowling is traditionally Nepal’s strength at any surface. But the way pitches are made these days & players from full nations improvising batting to next levels it will be a difficult ask for our batsmen to match them shot to shot and runs to runs. Our bowling has largely covered for our batting for so long now but batting will have to take the center stage at some point.

    Prediction

    Nepal avoided the group of death this edition after Australia pulled out of U19 world cup due to security reasons replaced by Ireland. Nepal defeated Ireland twice while qualifying for the U19 event in Malaysia. New Zealand’s struggle in spin wickets is vivid to most of cricket fans. Barring India’s superiority against spin & Nepal’s reputed ‘Giant-Killers’ tag, Nepal can push Ireland & NZ on their day. With right amount of skill and luck there is a slight possibility Nepal can finish 2nd in the group and qualify for quarter-finals. Or at least finishing 3rd is a must for the confidence of the current U19 players aiming for senior colors.

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