(From left) Chitwan Rhinos captain Paras Khadka, Butwal Blasters captain Sompal Kami, Expert Dhangadhi Blues captain Dipendra Singh Airee, Biratnagar Titans captain Pradeep Airee, Pokhara Paltans batsman Binod Bhandari and Kathmandu Golden Warriors captain Gyanendra Malla pose with the Pokhara Premier League trophy during the trophy unveiling ceremony in Pokhara on Friday. Photo: Republica
POKHARA, Dec 15: The new season of Pokhara Premier League (PPL) is set to kick start the brand new domestic season of cricket in Nepal after entertaining the fans against Marylebone Cricket Club and Test nation teams like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh during the recently concluded 13th South Asian Games (SAG). The Rs 2.7 million winning prize makes the event more so rewarding for the winner team and players involved. From giving a platform to young players to the forgotten players making their returns, the PPL has all the bases covered to become a cricket extravaganza of all the ingredients. Players like Amrit Bhattarai is making a return in Nepali cricket whereas for someone like Sher Malla or Aakash Chand it will be their debut premier league campaign.
The persistent rain had pushed the group stage a further with eliminator and final dates being as it is. As the sun smiled on Saturday, the league is set to start from Sunday with a match between Pokhara Paltan and Kathmandu Golden Warriors.
Foreign Players: Harsh Tonk (India), Sivam Singh (India) and Aftab Uddin (India).
A very young and inexperienced on paper raised eyebrows when it defeated two finalists of last season in first two matches of the league by comfortable margins. The team was dead cert to reach the finals losing the top position only on the last day of group stage. The lack of experience or being handicapped by the injury of charismatic Lalit Singh Bhandari derailed Blasters’ campaign. Bhim Sarki who made his journey to the national team by his performances for the franchise in the PPL but has failed to play any matches for Nepal so far a year on. This will be another head-start for mercurial Sarki who had a mixed year. Avinash Bohara, who was hardly considered a regular for Blasters last season, will return as one of the star players for the team after making his debut for Nepal and doing well throughout the season. Likewise, Hari Bahadur Chauhan who didn’t get a single match last season will be number one choice to keep wickets for Blasters after they released Prakash KC before the second season. Rabindra Jung Shahi and Haseem Ansari, who were retained by the franchise, are the only other options to keep wickets. Siddhant Lohani and captain Sompal Kami, both, are nursing injuries. It will be interesting to see the combination Blasters goes with in the first match. In case of Kami’s absence, Sarki has been rumored to captain the side.
Shankar Rana might come to open the batting with one of the Indian openers, Blasters, roped in for the second season. Sarki, Kami, Chauhan and Lohani will look to perform their duties in the middle overs whereas Bohara is a new bowling leader than have emerged in last year or so. Bipin will continue to look to impress with his bowling after being introduced by the franchise for the first time in franchise league last year. Blasters might opt for second spinner in Samsaad if three pace attack doesn’t work-out as expected.
Foreign Players: Amit Yadav (India), SrimanthaWijeyratne (Canada), Rodrigo Thomas (Canada).
A young team with a mix of experienced players and some great overseas signing finished third during the first season of PPL. Led by Dipendra Singh Airee, players like Sandeep Jora, Kamal Singh Airee and Sagar Dhakal have grown into one of the most sought out players in Nepal. Airee, who started his career as franchise captain with Blues, went on to win Dhangadhi Premier League. Similarly, players like Sandeep Rajali and Saurav Khanal’s stakes have rose too. The two new arrivals Sunam Gautam and Anil Kharel gives Blues more spin options which it missed in the first season. Likewise, captain himself has turned into a very efficient bowler for the format. The only problem with team is not having a second good seamer to partner Kamal at the start of the innings. It is unlikely, Manjeet Shrestha will be used in either powerplay or slog overs. All the three overseas players are best known for their batting rather than bowling with an exception of Amit Yadav who can bowl decent spin. It means young fast bowler Bikram Thagunna might get a nod.
Rodrigo Thomas is a swashbuckling opener who can change the match on his day. Srimantha Wijeyratne is known for batting long as both the overseas batsmen may open for Blues this season. The strong opening partnership will be followed by equally exciting middle-order of Airee, Jora, Rajali and Khanal. Srimantha might take wicket-keeping duties whereas the bowling lineup will be led by U-19 graduates of Kamal and Dhakal. Kharel might come in as second spinner. Sunam Gautam, who plays his cricket in Australia, is more like a fourth overseas signing for Blues after he impressed in Australian local club leagues.
Kathmandu Golden Warriors Squad: Gyanendra Malla (C), Pawan Sarraf, Susan Bhari, Prithu Baskota, Subash Khakurel, Amrit Bhattarai, Basant Regmi, Amit Shrestha, Amar Singh Routela, Aadil Khan and Nandan Yadav.
Foreign Players: Jaikishan Kolsawala (India), Subodh Bhati (India), Gaurav Tomar
An experienced side led by Nepal national cricket team captain Gyanendra Malla. In fact, foreign players, Gaurav Tomar, Jaikishan Kolsawala and Subodh Bhati are fairly familiar in Nepal’s franchise cricket scene. Likewise, the returning duo of Amrit Bhattarai, who last played his match for Nepal in 2014, and Subash Khakurel, who has been out of national scene after suffering a hand injury, adds more experience to the side. Similarly, the young players like Pawan Sarraf, Susan Bhari and even Nandan Yadav have an opportunity to further their respective case for the national reckoning. One of the most successful opening batsman in Nepal, Amit Shrestha and Nepalgunj all-rounder Amar Singh Routela adds more charm to the event.
Goldens have plenty of options to choose from which is a good headache to have before going into the league. Experienced Kolsawala and Khakurel might open the batting for Goldens, followed by Amit Shrestha who has been enjoying his new role at number three for various teams in recent leagues. Likewise, the middle order of Sarraf, Tomar, and skipper himself Malla have enough fireworks to push for a better run-rate in the middle overs. Bowlers Basant Regmi and Nandan Yadav will have opportunity to impress after being fallen out of the pecking order for the national team. Bhati will lead the bowling attack with his medium-pace. He is also known for his big-hitting and had opened the batting for a Malla led franchise in past. Malla who opts to bat in the middle-order in domestic leagues may continue to do the same in the second edition of the PPL further strengthening the middle-order.
Chitwan Rhinos Squad: Paras Khadka (c), Aarif Sheikh, Karan KC, Sonu Tamang, Hari Shankar Shah, Bikram Sob, Bikram Bhusal, Sumit Maharjan, Ram Naresh Giri, Anil Kumar Sah and Bhuvan Karki.
Foreign Players: Babar Hayat (Pakistan), Sunny Patel (India) and Rohan Mustafa (UAE).
Arguably, the team with most number of match winners in the playing XI once all the assembled stars are available. Nepal’s former skipper Paras Khadka recently scored his and Nepal’s first T20I century whereas Karan KC can change a match with bat or ball. Likewise, Aarif Sheikh’s, the most valuable Nepali player in franchise leagues, recent form may mark him as most dangerous player in the team. The match-winning abilities with power-hitting like Babar Hayat and Rohan Mustafa will also bring the experience with them. Sunny Patel remains one of the best foreign players ever to have played in Nepali franchised leagues. His abilities with the bat, as well as the ball, to change the direction of the match is vaguely unmatched in Nepali cricket. He won three back-to-back player-of-the-series awards in Nepal winning two franchised leagues last year.
Hari Shankar Shah was in glorious form for Rhinos in the last edition whereas observers will be skeptical about Anil Kumar Sah’s form. Both might open for the team if Khadka opts to bat at number three which looks more suited to the skipper despite being opening for Nepal national cricket team and UAE all-rounder Mustafa moving down the order as he has done for UAE in recent times. The presence of Babar Hayat and Mustafa, if he is not opening the batting, have enough fire-power to change the momentum of the match in middle overs. Mustafa, especially with the ball, he has been in one of his career’s best form. There are three good contenders to bat at number three starting from Khadka, Babar and Aarif Sheikh. Similarly, the young guns like Sumit Maharjan, Bikram Bhusal, etc are also eager to perform. The experienced hand of Bhuvan Karki will make life easier for his skipper Khadka. Karan KC can build a good opening ball partnership with former national player Bikram Sob’s arrival.
Foreign Players: Nuwan Khan (Pakistan), Zaid Alam (Pakistan), PunitMehra (India)
Biratnagar Titans suffered the big blow before the tournament even started missing out on the trailblazer Sandeep Lamichhane. The leg-spinner is recovering from his eye surgery which made him drop out from 13th South Asian Games squad. The franchise Titans didn’t announce any replacement, however, promoted the senior most member of the squad Pradeep Airee as captain for the new season. Likewise, they acquired Dilip Nath who was released by Blues and Lokesh Bam, the U-19 national player from Dhangadhi. The presence experienced domestic stalwarts and former Nepali players in Raju Rijal, Jitendra Mukhiya, Rajesh Pulami Magar and Sunil Dhamala.
The winner of wooden spoon in the first edition of the league, Titans roped in Pakistani duo of Nuwan Khan and Zaid Alam whereas Indian all-rounder of Punit Mehra to further strengthen the squad.
Titans struggled to bat in last edition. It has addressed the issue in this edition with recruitment of Nuwan Khan, the Pakistani batsman. Zaid Alam and Punit Mehra can also lead the batting charts on their day. The captain Pradeep Airee will look to do justice to his added responsibility whereas in-form Raju Rijal will be an extended advantage. Only concern will be local bowling talent with Shahab Alam and Kishore Mahato only look sure-shot starters.
Foreign Players: Prathamesh Dake (India), Parag Khanarpurkar (India), Ravi Inder Singh (India)
The defending champion strengthened its squad in the second edition of the league with addition of most sought out youngsters in Kushal Malla and Aakash Chand. Malla, recently, made his debut for Nepal against Singapore whereas Chand was seen troubling U-19 Indian batsmen in the recent Nepal U-19’s tour to India. Malla has made his reputation of a player who is capable of smashing big shot from first ball whereas can chin in with couple of good left-arm spin overs if need be. Similarly, Chand will look to follow his compatriot Rashid Khan to partner the new ball in called up to feature for Paltan. Likewise, struggling but eager presence of Rohit Kumar Poudel and Binod Bhandari along with skipper Sharad Vesawkar makes the playing XI a very formidable Nepali unit if young guys like Ishan Pandey and Kushal Bhurtel, or Aasif Sheikh, are entrusted to open the batting for the franchise. The presence of Lalit Narayan Rajbanshi who at most times is known for topping bowling charts for any franchise team he represents makes Paltan team a well-balanced squad. The defending champion will start with every bases covered.
Paltan can maneuver with its batting lineup revolving around the statesman Ravi Inder Singh who, arguably, is the best batsman ever seen in Nepali cricket circuit. His 90 not out runs in the final knocked Chitwan Rhinos out to give Paltan the inaugural trophy of the league. The absence of Muhammad Naveed will be felt after his career came to abrupt stop due to fixing allegations. Vesawkar’s love for throwing serious pace at opposition will have to be adjusted with guys like Chand, who is still raw, and Dake, who is more of a change-of-pace bowler than express one. Apart from foreign players, the Nepali duo of Bhurtel and Rohit will have lot to play for to make sure they hand on to the national cricket team duties. Meanwhile, Rashid and Kushal will have fair opportunities to further impress the observers.