World Twenty20 Qualifier 2015
Nepal set out to surprise again
Nepal enter the World T20 Qualifier a far from settled side, an extended warm up tour in India and Europe culminating in a four match T20 series in the Netherlans was intended to settle some vexing selection issues as much as to acclimatise the team to European conditions but only ended up throwing up more questions.
Setting off on tour hoping to find a stable second opener to partner Subash Khakurel, Nepal now have two vacancies at the top of the order. Having been paired with a rotating cast of would-be partners Khakurel himself has entered something of a slump, culminating with his axing for the final Match against the Dutch. It is difficult to remember an example of a player being dropped whilst facing less competition for his spot.
With opening partnerships across the four match series producing 38 runs in total and Nepal failing to pass 30 in the powerplay in four of their last six matches the question of the opening pair has turned from conundrum to crisis.
It is not the only opening question facing Nepal; the question of a second opening bowler to partner Sompal Kami also remains open. Karan KC has been rather on the slide since a promising performance at WCL Division 2 in Namibia, and he finds himself under pressure from Avinash Karn, who bowled an excellent - albeit wicketless - spell in the series opener.
The veteran slow-bowling unit of Regmi and Gauchan at least have looked dependable, and Sagar Pun's performance with the ball has far outstripped his batting. The decision to open the bowling with the with the all-rounder's offspin in the final match looks game-changing in retrospect, his return of 3-24 for 4 overs setting the tone for a far more competitive performance from the visitors in the field.
But batting remains the primary concern however, the top order's reliance on Gyanendra Malla and Paras Khadka seems only to have increased and both failing effectively means certain defeat for Nepal. The Nepal skipper has not been failing often though, his form at number four certainly the most positive aspect of the recent tour.
The lower order has also been a source of encouragement, the returning Pradeep Airee improvisation and free-scoring strokeplay down the order even under pressure suggesting he may even be coming in too late, and Sompal Kami looking increasingly like a genuine all-rounder, finishing off their solitary win in the Dutch series after his skipper had done the heavy lifting, and his 40 from 31 balls against Hong Kong the highest score ever in T20Is by a number 10.
Short on confidence perhaps, but high on ambition, Nepal came to the last Qualifier as unfancied underdogs and booked themselves a trip to Bangladesh. They will be aiming lower this time only in a geographical sense, with their eyes fixed on India and thousands of eyes fixed on them.
Star Man: Paras Khadka. Khadka's form has been exemplary, scoring his maiden T20I fifty last week in a match-winning innings, but Nepal risk slipping back into dependency on their iconic captain.
Players to watch: Pradeep Airee has a wide array of shots and has been scoring freely under pressure, and Sompal Kami has looked dangerous with both bat and ball in hand. Gyanendra Malla's performance will be crucial to Nepal's fortunes, the key to holding a faltering top order together.
Cricket Europe verdict: Nepal come into the tournament unsettled and struggling, though there is plenty of talent in the side. Expect a couple thrilling games, a couple of calamitous blow-outs, and Nepal to fall just short.
NEPAL: Paras Khadka (captain), Pradeep Airee, Binod Bhandari, Shakti Gauchan, Sompal Kami, Karan KC, Subash Khakurel, Siddhant Lohani, Gyanendra Malla, Anil Mandal, Jitendra Mukhiya, Rajesh Pulami, Sagar Pun, Basant Regmi, Sharad Vesawkar