Nepal and the Netherlands roll out the young guns for Tri-Series with Malaysia

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Sandeep Lamichhane will lead Nepal's spin attack while Paras Khadka will be out of action (File Photo)
Sandeep Lamichhane will lead Nepal's spin attack while Paras Khadka will be out of action (File Photo) © Getty

The tri-nations series, which is set to get underway at Kathmandu on Saturday, will see Nepal, the Netherlands and Malaysia return to international action after a hiatus of over a year. With ICC T20 and One-Day qualifying competitions still on hold, the tournament will be only the second time any Associate would have managed to get back on the field since the pandemic struck (the first being Uganda's tour to Namibia earlier this month.

Nepal's legions of fans will be gearing up for what will be their first chance to see their heroes in action in over a year. Nepal's last home internationals saw Oman and the United States visit in early February of 2020 to contest a triangular ODI series as part of the ICC's CWC League 2. Their most recent T20 matches were also over a year ago at the ACC Eastern Regional T20 Qualifier in Bangkok, which was also Malaysia's last competitive outing. Malaysia, coming off a remarkable 5-0 series win against Hong Kong, scored a remarkable upset in their opener against Nepal in that tournament and would finish them in third place, though both fell short of qualification. Nepal's most recent encounter with the Dutch was during a pentangular series at Muscat in October 2019, when Karan KC struck 31* from 14 to seal a surprise win for Nepal, their second in six matches against the Netherlands, the Dutch having won 3, with one memorable wash-out at Lord's. Malaysia never faced the Netherlands in T20 international cricket, and their match on the 18th will be the first meeting between the two countries in a generation. Their most recent match at the 1994 ICC Trophy in fact featured Tim de Leede and Marimuthu Muniandy, respective fathers to current players Bas de Leede and Sharvin Muniandy.

For the hosts and the Dutch the trilateral tournament offers a rare chance to experiment with selection away from the pressures of ICC competition, while for up-and-comers Malaysia the series will be a welcome opportunity to test themselves against two top-flight Associate sides.

For Nepal especially, the tournament is an opportunity to push ahead with the process of transition already begun before the pandemic, bringing in several new names as coach Dav Whatmore looks to the future. Nonetheless, late breaking news that former skipper Paras Khadka is set to miss the tournament, reportedly owing to a shoulder injury, will come as a huge blow, leaving his successor Gyanendra Malla to shoulder a still greater share of responsibility both in terms of leadership and, together with experienced keeper-bat Binod Bhandari, with the bat. Malla will also look to senior seamers Karan KC and Sompal Kami, both increasingly capable batsmen, to provide more than the occasional cameo. Bar the still young but already seasoned all-rounder DS Airee, the rest of the Nepal batting card is comparatively green. Potential debutants include 'keeper/opener Aasif Sheikh who joins his brother Aarif in the side and Kushal Bhurtel, also opening option, though Nepal may prefer 17-year-old spin all-rounder Kushal Malla at the top as the only left-hander in the top order.

Nepal's most potent weapon remains globe-trotting legspinner Sandeep Lamichhane, who will bring a disproportionate degree of experience for a 20 year-old playing what will be, remarkably, his first home T20I. He will spearhead a new-look spin attack, with left arm spinners Sushan Bhari and newcomer Shahab Alam preferred over Lalit Rajbanshi or the veteran Basant Regmi, with young Malla offering another spin option. Death overs specialist Abinash Bohara will likely round out the pace attack, though Kamal Singh Airee has reportedly been making a case for himself in the nets.

The Netherlands contingent looks similarly experimental, missing seven of the 14-man squad that won the 2019 T20 World Cup Qualifier. With half an eye on difficult discussions with counties coming up in regards to their CWC Super League commitments, most notably their series against Ireland in June, the Dutch have opted to leave out all of their county-contracted players for the tour, though it's likely that even absent such considerations coach Ryan Campbell would have opted to draw primarily from the Netherlands-based pool of players that have been training over the winter.

The 2019 top three of Toby Visee, Max O'Dowd and Ben Cooper remains an option, though youngster Vikram Singh at the top is another possibility with O'Dowd or Cooper dropping down to shore up the middle order in the absence of stalwarts van der Merwe, ten Doeschate and Ackermann. With 17-year-old off-spin (and occasional seam) all-rounder Aryan Dutt in line for a debut and former under 19s skipper Bas de Leede also back, the Dutch middle order doesn't lack for talent, but in conditions likely to suit him, skipper Pieter Seelaar himself will likely play more of a role with the bat than he has in the past. With the less-experienced Tonny Staal or Seb Braat likely to be given more license to play their shots, 'keeper Scott Edwards, arguably the side's most dangerous bat against spin, will also shoulder more responsibility.

Seelaar's wily left arm spin will likely also be key at the back end of the tournament, with the off-spin options of Dutt and Julian de Mey both untested at international level, while promising legspinner Philipp Boissevain is also comparatively new to the side. Conversely, quicks Paul van Meekeren and Vivian Kingma are both experienced campaigners, and will doubtless relish the chance to lead the attack in the absence of the usual competition for what are otherwise keenly-contested spots in the Dutch seam section. Braat or de Leede are both capable of filling the role of third seamer, while Dutt and Singh are also pace options open to Seelaar.

Malaysia start their campaign as underdogs, though with both Nepal and the Netherlands understrength, Ahmad Faiz Noor's side will doubtless scent the opportunity of scoring some upsets, and a chance to dramatically bolster their position in the rankings. Key to their hopes will be young 'keeper-opener Virandeep Singh, at just 22 years old already the stand-out bat of the side. Singh led the scoring during Malaysia's intra-squad preparatory matches, while striking at a rate of over 135. He'll likely be partnered at the top by ex-skipper Anwar Arudin, with the experienced Khizar Hayat at three. Captain Faiz, Aminuddin Ramly, and seam all-rounders Syed Aziz and Sharvin Muniandy round out a middle order that, while brittle, is capable of rapid acceleration.

Like their hosts Malaysia enjoy an abundance of left arm spin options in Muhammad Anwar Rahman, Pavandeep Singh and Fitri Sham, who will doubtlessly relish the prospect of bowling in front of big crowds on what will likely become slow, turning decks. Dhivendran Mogan, Syazrul Idrus and southpaw Muhammad Irfan Wafiq provide the seam options. The latter, rumoured to have gained a yard or two of pace over the enforced hiatus, may prove a handful if conditions are lively early in the series.

What's at Stake: Unusually for Associates cricket, there's little on the line but prestige and ranking points for the three teams. Bilateral series organised outside of ICC competitions are by necessity becoming more commonplace outside of Full Member cricket, but remain a comparatively rare opportunity to blood younger players without risking future qualification, funding or international status. Nonetheless, T20I rating points can at times be consequential for Associates - it is for example by dint of their ranking that Nepal will be able to skip regional qualifying for the 2022 T20 World Cup. For the players individually, especially the Dutch, the series represents a chance to stake a claim to a regular spot in the side going forward.


Nepal vs Netherlands - April 17, 01.15 pm local time

Netherlands vs Malaysia - April 18, 12.15 pm local time

Nepal vs Malaysia - April 19, 01.15 pm local time

Nepal vs Netherlands - April 20, 01.15 pm local time

Netherlands vs Malaysia - April 21, 12.15 pm local time

Nepal vs Malaysia- April 22, 01.15 pm local time

Nepal vs Netherlands - April 17, 01.15 pm local time

Where:Tribhuvan University International Cricket Ground, Kirtipur

What to expect: With some welcome recent rain in Kathmandu aiding preparations, the word is the TU pitches ought to be a shade livelier than usual at the outset, and will likely offer a bit more pace and carry early in the tournament than what is normally seen at the ground. The outfield should be quick across the surface, though aerial shots have been known to plug. Conditions are expected to progressively revert to the low, slow mean that is customary at the TU Ground as the series wears on, with spin likely to become increasingly dominant as the final approaches. Passing showers are forecast throughout the coming week too, but are unlikely to unduly disrupt proceedings. The rain has also helped to clear much of the haze that had threatened to mar the series, though forest fires continue to burn through the country and air quality could dip again.

What they said:

Ahmad Faiz, Malaysia captain; "We are ready for the Tri-Series in Nepal. This is going to give us an opportunity to move up the ladder in the T20 ranking. The team and I are looking forward to excel outside of our Home Ground Kinrara Oval and to meeting Nepal and Netherlands."

Ryan Cambell, Netherland Coach; "After such a long break between international fixtures, the squad selected represents the future of Dutch cricket. I am extremely happy to announce Aryan Dutt, our U/19s all rounder, will join Vikram Singh as our two youngest tourists. These two are exciting prospects, Aryan can bowl off spin, medium pace as well as being a really special batting prospect and we all have seen what talent Vikram has. Those two will also be joined by exciting youngsters Bas de Leede and Philippe Boissevain."

Chatur Bahadur Chand, CAN President "I would like to thank both Netherlands Cricket and Malaysia Cricket for working closely in a very short duration to get this series happening. We are delighted to announce the return of international Cricket in Nepal"


Nepal: Gyanendra Malla (c), Paras Khadka, Dipendra Singh Airee, Binod Bhandari, Sompal Kami, Karan KC, Sandeep Lamichhane, Abinash Bohara, Aarif Sheikh, Aasif Sheikh, Kushal Bhurtel, Kushal Malla, Kamal Singh Airee, Sushan Bhari, Shahab Alam.

Netherlands: Pieter Seelaar (c), Tobias Visee, Ben Cooper, Max O'Dowd, Bas de Leede, Vikramjit Singh, Scott Edwards, Aryan Dutt, Philippe Boissevain, Paul van Meekeren, Vivian Kingma, Tonny Staal, Sebastiaan Braat, Julian de Mey.

Malaysia: Ahmad Faiz Noor (c), Virandeep Singh, Syed Aziz, Sharvin Muniandy, Anwar Arudin, Mohd Shafiq, Syazrul Idrus, Muhammad Irfan Wafiq, Pavandeep Singh, Fitri Sham, Khizar Hayat Durrani, Ainool Hafizs, Aminuddin Ramly, Dhivendran Mogan, Muhammad Anwar Rahman.



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