Nepal batting must improve

Gyanendra Malla

Nepal’s hopes of playing in the ICC Men’s Twenty20 World Cup 2022 in Australia went up in flames after losing to the United Arab Emirates in the Global qualifiers in Oman recently.

Led by talented and experienced leg spinner Sandeep Lamichanne, Nepal played exceedingly well and was on cruise control as they swept past Oman, Philippines and Canada, only to fall at the last hurdle, to the United Arab Emirates(UAE).

With three straight convincing wins, Nepal topped the group to reach the last four. Head Coach Pubudu Dassanayake’s boys combined superb collective effort and individual brilliance to dominate the proceedings.

They batted, bowled and fielded well and made short work of their opponents. There were eye-catching individual performances.

World record holder opening batsman Kushal Bhurtel gave a full account of his talent by slamming an impressive century against the Philippines. He hit an unbeaten 104 and was declared man of the match. He also scored 34 not out against Canada.

Likewise, Kamal Airee hit a swashbuckling 83 against the Philippines. On the bowling front, frontline bowlers were up to the task. Sandeep Lamichhane, Kamal Airee, Jitendra Mukhiya and Abinash Bohara were pick of the bowlers.

Aarif Sheikh’s quickfire 38 against Oman fetched him the player of the match award.

At that point, Nepal’s chances of advancing to the final round looked promising. Going into the decisive match against old nemesis the UAE, there was no room for mediocrity, and they had to give their best performance.

Nepal had momentum ahead of the crucial fixture. More importantly, they needed to ride the momentum and give one hundred percent effort.

Expectations were high. Unfortunately, they failed to peak performance at the right time, lost their way and were comprehensively beaten at the end of the day.

Lack of focus, confidence, composure, and decisiveness, coupled with an overly cautious approach and poor batting contributed to the downfall.

It is fair to say that a golden chance went begging for Nepal. They are to blame themselves for the frustrating setback. Nothing went right for them as they failed to replicate the high performance and fell flat.

Nepal had to settle for a disappointing third position after beating Oman with ease. Bhurtel and Lamichanne’s individual brilliance stole the limelight.

Despite Nepal’s failure to qualify for the final round in Australia, the young skipper Lamichhane had a great outing and was the team’s highest wicket-taker. He concluded the competition with 12 wickets and two man-of-the-match awards.

With 205 runs from five innings, opener Bhurtel was the leading run-getter, while Dipendra Sïngh Airee displayed all-round skills by amassing 159 runs from four innings and picked three wickets.

The setback has left Nepal’s batting in the spotlight once again. Without a doubt, batting was/is the team’s weak link.

In other words, it underlines the team’s batting weakness. I will be blunt- there is no depth in batting. To make matters worse, as we witnessed there is a lack of consistency on the part of be it top or middle-order batsmen. They have been exposed and struggled at the international level, time and time again.

As a matter of fact, batting has been the Achilles heel for Nepal in all formats of the game over the years. The team does not have batsmen in the calibre of former Skipper Paras Khadkha who could anchor and steady the innings.

The urgency to address the team’s most glaring weakness is front and centre. Else it will continue to affect the performance of the team and the outcome of matches.

The search must be for young aspiring genuine batsmen. They will require proper training programs, ample playing time and adequate international exposure.

On the bright side, the bowling department has never been a serious concern. The bowlers have performed to their ability and are the backbone of the team.

That said, there is no dearth of spinners and medium pacers in the squad, however, there is a lack of quality in both right-arm and left-arm pace bowlers, always a big asset, especially in the overseas fast and treacherous conditions.

The next big challenge for Nepal is the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup League 2 taking place in Sharjah, UAE.

They will play against the UAE and Papua New Guinea two times each. The first match is against the winless Papua New Guinea who are languishing at the bottom of the table on March 16th.

Going into the league, Nepal must win all matches to bolster its table standings. Currently, with four wins and four defeats, they have 8 points and are second from the bottom. However, they have played fewer matches than the rest.

Nepal will need to put the pieces together and perform with renewed confidence and consistency.