Victory over the Netherlands: A one-off event?

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Nepal’s Paras Khadka defends during the ICC World Cricket League Championship in Amsteelveen on Saturday, August 13, 2016. Photo Courtesy: Cricket Europe

The Nepali cricket team recently played its fourth round matches of the ICC World Cricket League Championship. The two matches against the Netherlands at Amstelveen saw the Nepali team perform at the two extremities of the performance rating scale. After a complete humiliation in the first leg, Nepal managed to set up an amazing comeback to emerge victorious in the second leg, thereby increasing the point’s tally to 6. Cricket pundits have dubbed the 19-run victory over the Dutch in the alien European conditions as the greatest win by the Nepali cricket team in the 50-over format.

Cricket fans across the country have been utterly astonished by the stark contrast in the results Nepal managed to producewithin two days. So, which was the one-off event? Was Nepal’s victory over the Dutch a bit of a fluke? Recent performances proclaim that it might not be.

Historically, the Nepali cricket team has not performed well when it has had to play in conditions far away from the equatorial region, towards the either poles of the globe. Nepal could not get past the first round in the 2001 ICC Trophy held in Canada. A poor performance in the crunch match of the 2008 World Cricket League Division 5, held in Jersey, was a setback for the progress of Nepali cricket. But Nepal easily climbed the division when the next edition of the tournament was held at home, two years later.

Italy proved tough venue for Nepal in 2010 division 4, and the aspiration to quickly climb the ladder of world cricket was halted. But, Nepal won two back-to-back division promotions when the respective tournaments were held in Malaysia and Bermuda a couple of years later. Similar is the performance at the youth level. The U19 cricket team has shocked the world with awe-inspiring gameplay when the world cups were held in the subcontinent; the same cannot be said when the tournaments have been held away.

Pitch conditions play a big part in cricket and they drastically differ based on climatic conditions of the venue. It is very natural for a team from the subcontinent, often with turning pitches and spinner friendly settings, to have difficulty playing in the cool, breezy weather with bouncy pitches, and vice-versa. This is a reality even at the test-level cricket. It is so rarely that we see a home team lose a series against a visiting team coming from alien conditions. The cricketers from the associates and affiliate members of the ICC are bound to be affected by the unfamiliar pitch behavior, thanks to their lack of exposure in such conditions.

The current crop of Nepali players has had at least some experience of playing in such contrasting conditions. The national team comprises of players who have participated in the two U19 world cups held in New Zealand and Australia. The disappointing 2014 World Cup Qualifier and 2015 World T20 Qualifier should have surely been some learning experience.

The Nepali team followed up the disappointment of not qualifying for the T20 mega-festival in India with the round one matches of the World Cricket League Championship. The team was unfortunate to go down to Scotland by merely 3 runs in a spirited display at Cambusdoon ground, in typical UK conditions. Anil Mandal made a superb ton in an inning with strike rate over a hundred. Though the second leg match that followed was nowhere near as close, the Nepali team had a lot to learn from their over a month long stay in and around the United Kingdom.

The recent tour to England, consisting of a game at the Lord’s, should have helped the players hone their skills. The easeness with which the Nepali team defeated their opponents in the friendly match complemented the team’s noteworthy entry in its history books- winning the first visit to the Mecca of cricket. The Marylebone Cricket Club was completely outplayed in every department.

This August, the team was in much better position for the Euro trip than it was ever before. A decent start in the first match versus the Dutch was not capitalized by the batsmen that followed, and the team got bundled out for its lowest total in the competition. Media reports claim an unfortunate dismissal of Paras Khadka, the man with responsibility of holding the inning together, in the match. There is never a right time to get out in cricket but, considering the timing and the manner in which the skipper was shown the way to pavilion, lady luck seemed to have been shining brightly for the Netherlands on the day. Getting bundled out for 94 merely because one person out of eleven got out cheaply can by no means be justified. But that did have a huge role to play among the other debatable decisions that Nepal made in the day.

The start was almost similar on the second match. But this time the skipper did not become a victim of close umpiring calls. Nepali batting looks a whole lot better when other batters get to bat around him. Considering the ones and twos he scored, Sagar Pun played one of the most sensible innings ever played by a Nepali batsman. Decent enough total on the board was enough for the quality Nepali bowlers to restrict the batting line up that features some of the greatest names in Associate cricket to under 200. The Nepali pacemen picked up 4 of the most crucial wickets in the game- a hint of illustration that Nepal no more relies only on the spinners for the tough tasks.

Nepal became the first country to defeat the Netherlands in this edition of the championship. The sample size might be too low to make a firm conclusion, but Nepal’s victory over the title favorites in such away conditions is surely not a fluke. The Nepali cricket team has gone through a learning curve- the numerous tours away from the equatorial region. The results are coming up, albeit in bits and pieces.

It may be some time before Nepal gets completely familiarized with the cool breeze across the bouncy pitches. But will the players get enough match practise in such setting to hone their skills? Nepal will be playing the remaining championship matches in Kathmandu (hopefully), Hong Kong and UAE. There are no other ICC events scheduled anytime soon. It looks highly unlikely that the Nepali players will get to sweat out in the bouncy pitches as much as they would like to. A tour to these regions, once a year, would be a realistic choice for the national cricket governing body to organize. It would help the players sustain and build on to the skills they have developed over the past couple of years.

Should the much-hyped tier-system of world cricket be implemented, Nepal could get to lock its horns with Ireland or even a New Zealand. As soon as the cricket governing body solves its issues and gets functional, it should look into these areas. Nepali cricket holds a lot of promise; it is high time the stakeholders work together for its promotion. Else, on a hindsight, the recent performance in the Netherlands, in particular, and the current golden period of Nepali cricket, in general, might just be seen as a fluke!



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