Having narrowly failed to qualify for this year’s ICC World Cup Twenty20 in Australia, Nepal competed in yet another qualifying tournament, ICC World Cup League 2 in the United Arab Emirates recently.
The competition provided Team Nepal a chance to rebound, make amends for the Twenty20 qualifier disappointment and make their presence relevant.
They needed a solid performance with both the ball and the bat, coupled with improved fielding and consistency, to make it happen.
They faced two contrasting but familiar opponents in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in terms of quality, strength and performance.
Comparatively the UAE presented a bigger challenge and threat to Nepal. PNG, however, was no pushover and could not be taken lightly.
Despite having played a fewer number of matches, Nepal could not afford to lose a single match to improve and consolidate their position in the points table.
Going into the competition, they were second from the bottom on points. They had to play each team twice. Given their position, it was imperative that they take home maximum points by winning all four matches.
At the end of the day, Nepal fell short of the target. Although they have 16 matches to play, they have made their qualifying chances more challenging and intriguing.
Let us not forget that the top three teams in the group advance to the next qualifying round.
Nepal ended up with a mixed result, winning two and losing two. The two wins came against lowly PNG, however, they were comprehensively beaten by the UAE in both matches.
Once again the team’s batting frailty was on full display in the competition which contributed largely to their downfall against the UAE.
Despite registering a convincing victory over PNG in the first match, they barely managed to win the second. By contrast, it was a very different story against the UAE. They suffered heavy losses due to inept and abysmal batting performance.
By and large, it was a below-par batting performance. Middle-order batsman Rohit Paudel stood out, putting in a gutsy performance.
Rohit was the highest run-getter. In four innings he amassed 159 runs with the help of a half-century. His top score was 60 which came against PNG in the first match.
It is fair to say that he batted reasonably well and came close to scoring an additional two half-centuries but fell short. In four innings, he scored 60, 44, 9 and 46.
With 113, Aarif Sheikh was the second-highest run-scorer, which included one-half century and missed another by a run. His 59 and 49 came against PNG, but he was unable to replicate his performance against the UAE, scoring 15 and 0.
Opener Kushal Bhurtel failed to reach the expected level. He accumulated a paltry 65 runs from four innings with the help of one-half century against PNG. He was not in his element. His scores are as follows: 1, 50, 5 and 11.
Experienced former skipper Gyanendra Malla, on whose shoulders the team’s batting largely rested, made an insignificant contribution.
In three innings he made a paltry 62 runs(4,30 and 28). He was a shadow of his former self. He must reinvent himself and find a form to anchor and solidify the team’s fragile batting.
The last two recognized batsmen, Aasif Sheikh and Dipendra S Airee batted miserably throughout the series.
To be perfectly blunt, it was a batting disaster. They looked out of sorts and never got going. Sheikh in three innings made a negligible 25 runs (26, 2 and 7).
On the other hand, Airee’s batting performance fell flat on his face. His struggle was epic and made a total of 12 runs in four matches. In two innings, he earned two golden ducks and scored 8 and 4 in the other two.
Pawan Sarraf who came in place of Aasif Sheikh for one match fared no better. He made a quick departure to the pavilion after scoring 2 runs.
The dismal batting performance does not bode well for the team going forward. It is a stark reminder that batting is in disarray and remains a subject of concern.
It is no exaggeration to say that specialist batsmen, be it top-order or middle-order, are lacking confidence, composure, attitude, patience, technique, mobility, discipline and consistency.
Unquestionably for Nepal, batting blues worry continues unabated. As a matter of fact, batting has been the team’s weakest link for a considerable period of time.
Over the years, Nepal’s dime-a-dozen international defeats can be attributed to poor batting. The current crops of batsmen are yet to fill the void left by former skipper Paras Khadka.
I don’t have the slightest doubt that they are talented. and can become better batsmen provided they overcome their shortcomings. The team needs to address its batting woes without wasting any time.
Otherwise, Nepal’s struggle with the bat will continue, and more importantly, impact its overall performance in international tournaments.
The bowlers were up to the task. Right-arm-fast-medium bowler Sompal Kami overlooked for the ICC World Cup Twenty20 qualifiers was at the top of his game.
He bowled consistently with venom and accuracy. He was the team’s top wicket-taker with 11 wickets in 4 matches.
Skipper and leg spinner Sandeep Lamichanne’s performance was far from his best by his standards and ended up picking 7 wickets in 4 matches.
Similarly, medium-pacer Karan KC accounted for 6 wickets(3 matches).
Bowling is Nepal’s biggest strength. There has been an endless supply of quality bowlers. Given the team’s batting fragility, the bowlers have been doing the heavy lifting and playing a pivotal role in the team’s success in the last two decades.
Having said that, there is plenty of room for improving the bowling attack. The team boasts of world-class spinners but is inadequately armed with quality pacers. The aim must be to produce genuine fast bowlers to balance the bowling attack and make it more lethal.
The bottom line is: Nepal needs depth in batting and must improve its batting performance dramatically in order to become a force to reckon with in international cricket.