Nepal, Netherlands gear up for new challenge on their return to Lord's

Nepal, the world’s newest ODI country, have been waiting a long time for their formally recognised international debut in the 50-over format. But before they play their first full status 50-over internationals in the Netherlands next week, they will stage their return to T20 internationals on Sunday against the Netherlands at the home of cricket, the MCC having invited both countries for a frenetic single-day T20 triangular at Lord’s.

While the rest of the ICC’s Associate members will have to wait until next year for the roll-out of universal T20I recognition in January, Nepal won back that status along with the ODI equivalent at the World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe back in March. The day’s final match against the Netherlands will be the first recognised T20 international for Nepal since a disappointing showing at the World T20 Qualifier in Ireland saw them forfeit their status in 2015.

It will be Nepal’s first visit to Lord’s since 2016, when they recorded a 41-run win in a one-off one-dayer, and their first T20 against the MCC since the club’s tour of Nepal the previous November, when the MCC came out 40 runs on top in Kathmandu. They will face sterner opposition this time round, however, with the MCC having put together an intimidating roster of current and former internationals under the captaincy of for Sri Lanka skipper Mahela Jayawardene.

For the Netherlands, it will be a return to the scene of one of their most famous victories, a dramatic last-ball win against England at the 2009 World T20 by a still largely amateur side. While 2009 marked the start of a remarkable professionalisation in the Dutch set up (a second WT20 win against England five years later was altogether more clinical), new captain Pieter Seelaar, who took over from the long-serving Peter Borren after the World Cup Qualifiers, leads a comparatively green side on his first overseas trip in charge.

Barring late inclusion Ryan ten Doeschate, who was added to the squad just on Thursday, Seelaar will be the only member of the side to remember their last trip to Lord’s, and indeed one of only six in the squad who had made their international debuts at the start of last year. Ten Doeschate’s inclusion adds some much-needed experience to a side missing seasoned campaigners Timm van der Gugten and Roelof van der Merwe, both on county duty, Wellington’s Logan van Beek, who won’t be making the trip, as well as Stephan Myburgh and Ben Cooper who are rested for the UK leg and of course Cooper’s prodigal elder brother Tom, who remains in Australia.

Otago’s Michael Rippon returns to the side, however, providing some fashionable left arm wrist spin as well as bolstering the batting. Somerset seamer Paul van Meekeren will also be available, with Shane Snater (now with Essex) and left armer Fred Klaassen rounding out the pace section. Max O’Dowd and Toby Visee, who made their debuts during Nepal’s 2015 T20 tour to the Netherlands, are now comparatively senior members of a squad featuring just four players aged over 25. Three new names on the roster are Clayton Floyd, Voorburg CC’s 21 year-old leg-spinning all-rounder, and two young prospects both from HCC den Haag, batsman Tonny Staal and seam all-rounder Hidde Overdijk, who have impressed in the Dutch domestic competition and inter-regional Pro-Series.

Despite the experience of Seelaar, ten Doeschate and Wesley Barresi, the Netherlands side headed to Lord’s retains something of a developmental look, very much still a team under construction. By comparison, the Nepal side led by iconic skipper Paras Khadka looks comparatively settled. Nepal had their own (arguably overdue) overhaul ahead of World Cricket League Division 2 back in February, with familiar faces such as Binod Bhandari and Sagar Pun making way for youngsters such as Rohit Kumar, Lalit Rajbanchi and of course the latest teenage legspin sensation Sandeep Lamichhane, but despite featuring no less than six teenagers in the squad, the side has had two successful major tournament campaigns behind them.

The newcomer in the side that won through WCL Division 2 and took home ODI status from Zimbabwe is the returning keeper and opening bat Subash Khakurel, after a three-year absence from the side, having struggled both for form and fitness since the 2015 WT20 Qualifiers in Ireland that saw Nepal lose their T20I status.

With Khakurel’s return, the principle question for Nepal is again who will partner him at the top of the order, though that familiar quandary may well have been settled today by teenaged opener Anil Kumar Sah, who just struck an assured 131 from 118 in a warm-up against an East London XI. His form is a reassuring contrast to that of Gyanendra Malla, who has retained his place after a disappointing showing in Zimbabwe but continued to struggle for runs.

Despite Malla’s difficulties, however, the rest of experienced core of the side – middle-order stalwart Sharad Vesawkar, canny off-spinnner Basant Regmi and of course captain Khadka – have all looked in decent nick in the run up to the games, and veteran left-arm spinner Shakti Gauchan is also on-hand for what will be his last tour.

Though a run-out at the home of cricket would be a fitting tribute to the evergreen Gauchan, his role in the side of late has generally been as mentor to the youngsters in a side that finally looks to be building for the future. Of these, Lamichanne of course is the most celebrated, but fellow teenagers Rohit Kumar and DS Airee have also rapidly acclimatised to the senior side, both having already put in match-winning performances for Nepal in major tournaments, whilst left arm seamer Lalit Bhandari looks a promising understudy to the pace pairing of Sompal Kami and Karan KC.

Though Kami and KC have been a reliable new-ball pair for Nepal, the pace department remains Nepal’s biggest weakness, with Khadka’s own medium pace often the most effective wicket-taking option. Yet against a Netherlands side that remains in that dreaded state, the “transitional phase”, an upset or two either at Lord’s or in Amsterdam next week is entirely within the grasp of this Nepal side.

Probably the toughest match for both, however, will be their games against the intimidating side that the MCC will be putting out for the occasion. Aside from three youngsters from the MCC’s own Young Cricketers academy, leg-spinner Kashif Ali, former New Zealand youth international right-arm quick Ben Sears, and left-arm seamer Dominic Manthorpe, the remainder of Jayawardene’s side is made up of current or former internationals. The Scottish trio of Ali Evans, Dylan Budge and Mark Watt return for the hosts, having represented the MCC in two T20s against the touring Australian Aboriginal XI at Arundel last month, whilst Zimababwe keeper-bat Peter Moor has also been called up. The remainder of the side is made up of former England internationals, Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, James Foster and Ian Bell.

Of those it will likely be Bell’s inclusion that will be costing Dutch and Nepali bowlers the most sleep. By a distance the most in-from batsman in England at the moment, Bell is averaging a faintly ridiculous 96.25 in his seven T20 outings this month, and indeed there’s probably a fair few current England bats that the tourists would prefer to bowl too. Equally intimidating will be Bell’s Warwickshire team-mate Jonathan Trott, who hasn’t played a great deal of T20 in recent years but whose own form is nothing to sniff at, averaging over 100 across formats in the last two months.

All told, the MCC have put together a side that will likely start as favourites come Sunday morning, but for all the prestige of an outing at Lord’s, Nepal and the Netherlands won’t be there just for the taking part.

Nepal: Paras Khadka (c), Gyanendra Malla, Anil Kumar Sah, Subash Khakurel, Rohit Kumar Paudel, Sharad Vesawkar, Dipendra Singh Airee, Arif Sheikh, Sompal Kami, Basant Regmi, Shakti Gauchan, Lalit Bhandari, Karan Khatri-Chhetri, Lalit Rajbanshi, Sandeep Lamichhane.

Netherlands: Pieter Seelaar (c), Tobias Visee, Tonny Staal, Max O’Dowd, Wesley Barresi, Ryan ten Doeschate, Michael Rippon, Scott Edwards, Hidde Overdijk, Bas de Leede, Shane Snater, Clayton Floyd, Fred Klaassen, Paul van Meekeren.

MCC: Mahela Jayawardene (c) Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Dylan Budge, Peter Moor, James Foster, Mark Watt, Kashif Ali, Ben Sears, Dominic Manthorpe, Ali Evans.

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