Photo/ICC. Nepali cricketers celebrate a wicket of Zimbabwe during the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018 at the Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe on Sunday.
KATHMANDU, Mar 8: Many believed it was the easier group when Nepal entered Group B after losing the final playoff match of ICC World Cricket league Division Two against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last month.
However, previous assumptions have been proved wrong by two back to back wins for underdogs Scotland and pre-tournament favorites Afghanistan losing two in a row.
Nepal is playing Scotland on Thursday in their second group match at Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo. Nepal played against Zimbabwe on Sunday losing it by 116 runs. Scotland is in great form and sitting on top of the table with four points. The host nation Zimbabwe has four points but at second place with lower run rate to Scotland whereas Nepal, Afghanistan and Hong Kong are yet to secure a point.
The two losses for Afghanistan have opened the doors for Nepal or Hong Kong to make their claim for the third team to qualify for Super Sixes. Hong Kong will face Afghanistan on the same day.
Scotland has won two matches against Afghanistan and Hong Kong by seven wickets and four wickets respectively. Scotland boosted their net run rate in a win against Hong Kong chasing the paltry score of 92 runs with 26.3 overs to spare.
Nepal succumbed to a 116 runs defeat in their opening match against the host Zimbabwe. The biggest loss in terms of runs in the tournament with eight matches completed so far. Nepal’s bowling struggled to content Brendon Taylor and Sikandar Raza as they went on to make centuries in the match.
In last two meetings with Scotland, Nepal lost both matches back in 2015 under recently concluded ICC World Cricket League Championship.
Scotland’s Calum MacLeod has continued his form of hitting centuries in important matches. After scoring twin centuries against the UAE and, highest individual score of 175, Canada in last qualifier in January 2014 which took them to ICC CWC 2015, he scored unbeaten 157 runs against Afghanistan. He negotiated Rashid Khan, the number one ODI and T20I bowler in ICC Rankings, with sweeps and reverse shots to deliver crucial two points for his team.
The Scottish off-break bowler Tom Sole picked up four wickets in Scotland’s second win against Hong Kong. Regarded as good players of spin HK batsmen struggled against the slow bowler playing five maidens and scoring 15 runs in Sole’s 10 overs.
Nepal’s Gyanendra Malla is struggling to get fluent runs on top of the order for Nepal. While most of the batsman scored freely in only match against Zimbabwe, Malla struggled his way through 32 from 59 deliveries. Nepal will need one of their major batting stalwarts to hit form in must-win match against Scotland to keep the hope of Super Six alive. He can take inspirations from Anil Mandal who scored a century in last match Nepal played against Scotland. Nepal lost the match by three runs in ICC WCLC.
Sandeep Lamichhane has been omnipresent in every tournament he has played for Nepal in junior or senior cricket. He was highest wicket-taker in Division Two. He started well against Zimbabwe registering a maiden-wicket in his first over. However, the experienced Taylor and Raza proved to be too good at this level for the 17-year-old. Nepal will back on the leg-spins of Lamichhane to cause troubles against Scottish batsmen.
Zimbabwe plundered 380 runs in the opening game against relatively weaker bowling attack, for their likening, of Nepal at Queens Sports Club. They defended 196 against evenly-matched Afghanistan in a two-run thriller. Pitch has been sporting as it can get with both pace bowlers as well as spinners getting rewards for putting the ball in right places. Rain is predicted to stay away for the day with another perfect sunny day for both, Nepal and Scotland, teams waiting for them.
Scotland will look to continue same winning combination unless any injury or illness comes up. Nepal will be looking to include Karan KC after Nepal struggled with second pace bowling option against Zimbabwean run-fest in place of debutant Lalit Rajbanshi. Rajbanshi did well against Zimbabwe but Nepal already has two match winning spinners in Sandeep Lamichhane and Basant Regmi as well as variety of spin bowling part time options in Sharad Vesawkar and Dipendra Singh Airee. KC can boost late order batting too proven by his last-wicket heroics against Canada.
Scotland is on a roll and looks dead-cert to reach Super Sixes with one more win in remaining two matches. Scotland chased the target of 92 runs in 23.3 overs but lost six wickets, three falling to off spinner Ehsan Khan. Similarly, three wickets that fell against Afghanistan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman picked two and Rashid Khan claimed one.
Nepal needs to improve their bowling. Sompal Kami and Sandeep Lamichhane need to step up led by Basant Regmi. Nepal’s strong spin bowling can put pressure on Scotland. Barring the opening, Nepal’s batting is improving in recent matches. Their dependence on Paras Khadka has been slightly eased by emergence of Aarif Sheikh and Rohit Paudel down the order and Sharad Vesawkar’s improved performance in last match.
Scotland starts as favorites but will be wary of dominating bowling performance by Nepali bowlers.