Bertus de Jong
The Netherlands will host Nepal for two crucial World Cricket League Championship matches at VRA in Amstelveen on Saturday and Monday, as the competition crosses the half way stage. The Dutch currently sit in pole position on the table, their only dropped points coming from two washed-out matches against Scotland last year, whilst Nepal languish in sixth place on four points, having lost their first four matches before bouncing back to beat Namibia twice in Kathmandu.
The last time the two teams met in a 50-over match, at World Cricket League Division 2 in Namibia last year, Nepal shocked the tournament favourites by clinching a nerve-wracking 2-wicket win. The Dutch would recover to win the tournament, but the result was nonetheless key to Nepal securing third place and retroactive promotion to the World Cricket League Championship alongside Kenya when Ireland and Afghanistan were lifted out of the competition.
Since then the two sides have only faced each other in the T20 format, with the Dutch hosting Nepal for a four-match series last summer. The hosts comfortably won the first three matches, the first two at the same ground that will host the upcoming WCLC games, though a captain's innings from Nepal's talismanic skipper Paras Khadka saw them grab a consolation victory in the final match.
The Netherlands opened their WCLC campaign in dominant fashion, with a pair of convincing wins over Papua New Guinea, but despite remaining undefeated in their next three matches have looked far from invulnerable. Both Scotland and the UAE succeeded in showing the brittleness of the Dutch top-order, with rain and a record-breaking 6th wicket partnership saving the Netherlands' blushes against the Scots, whilst in their second match against the UAE another middle-order rescue job was only just enough to see the Dutch to a defensible total, closing out a nervy 6-run win in Sharjah.
Conversely Nepal were arguably unfortunate not to pick up any points from their opening four matches, only narrowly failing to defend two 200+ scores against Papua New Guinea - the first time that Nepal had set targets over 200 in List A cricket since posting 240 against Uganda in 2014 - andAnil Mandal's 93-ball century getting them to within 3 runs of beating Scotland away.
As in that case, Nepal's best performances have generally come batting second, and they finally opened their account by successfully chasing twice against Namibia at Kathmandu in their most recent two games.
With just three rounds remaining after this, however, Nepal can ill-afford to leave the Netherlands without adding to their points tally if they are to achieve their goal of a top-four finish. They currently trail fourth placed Scotland by three points and third-placed Papua New Guinea by four, and with their fixtures against those teams behind them must hope for other results to go their way if they are to catch up.
For the Dutch anything less than a first-place finish will be a disappointment, and with Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea trailing them by just one and two points respectively will look at two home fixtures against Nepal as an opportunity to solidify their position at the top of the table.
Nepal have prepared for the match with an extended tour to the UK to acclimatise to European conditions, winning all of their matches - including a victory over the MCC at Lords - and will play a final warm-up against a Netherlands A side at Salland CC in Deventer tomorrow. The Dutch meanwhile are coming off the back of a comprehensive defeat at the hands of Afhanistan in the Intercontinental Cup, but bounced back to record a comprehensive win over the MCC on Monday at Rotterdam.
The World Cricket League Championship acts as a pathway to the World Cup Quailifer, slated to be held in Bangladesh early in 2018. It is generally thought that the top four teams from the WCLC will secure automatic berths at the Qualifying tournament, though thus far ICC press releases have stuck with the rather vague formulation "top teams". Qualifying teams will likely be joined by the top two sides from 2018 World Cricket League Division 2, and as many as four teams from the bottom of the ODI rankings table - which on current rankings would be Pakistan, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Ireland - to compete for two spots at the 2019 World Cup in England.
Read more: Netherlands vs Nepal: how they line up