What’s behind the swift shift in Team Nepal’s batting formUntil December, a major headache for the Rhinos was their consistently inconsistent and shaky batting line-up.
The senior national men’s cricket team earned heaps of praise following a run of successive victories starting mid-February, their dream run interrupted by a sole defeat against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the first week of March.
In the period between February 14 and March 16, the team won 11 of the 12 One-Day International (ODI) games, performing better than even their own expectations and coming up with sensational outcomes.
The team’s target before the beginning of February’s home series was to retain ODI status by securing a top-five finish among seven teams of League 2. But Nepal finished third on the final day of the League 2 games on Thursday and also earned an automatic berth for the World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe. Now they could rub shoulders against giants of global cricket like South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Ireland for a place in the Cricket World Cup.
Following their nine-run triumph over the UAE under the D/L method, former national cricket captain Gyanendra Malla wrote on Facebook: “…..Congratulations, #NepalCricket fans & everyone for this day! And Thank you for standing behind us throughout this journey of #TeamNepal. A month ago, it felt like a dream & today, we have achieved the impossible! ….”
Until December last year, a major headache for Team Nepal was their consistently inconsistent and shaky batting line up. While they had accumulated only 18 points from 24 matches until then, they managed 22 points from the last 12 matches, which included two home series sweeps and three wins among the four matches in the UAE series.
All of a sudden there was a drastic change in the team’s batting performance. Almost all members of the squad, not only top and middle order batsmen but also the lower middle order and tailenders, batted the team to victory at crucial junctures.
The most visible change in Team Nepal was the appointment of new coach Monty Desai, who replaced compatriot Manoj Prabhakar. Though he was officially appointed on February 6, he had been mentoring the team for almost two weeks before that.
But the question is: can a coach alone make a drastic impact on the team’s performance or are there other factors as well contributing to a spectacular rise in its batting and confidence levels?
Coach Monty Desai
Former national coach Jagat Tamata, the head coach of U-19 national cricket team that recently qualified for 2024 World Cup, believes coach Desai needs to be credited for making the team mentally strong.
“He had a really short period to prepare the team. The players, grounds and supporters were all the same. And, it's a miracle to win 11 of the 12 games played. Rather than making the team technically sound, he focused on making the mental aspects of the players strong and that got reflected on the pitch,” said Tamata, also a former head coach of the team.
The day he was formally unveiled as the head coach of Nepal, Desai said he would try to create a happy dressing room. According to national captain Rohit Paudel, coach Desai managed the team well. “He has created a very sound environment in the team and given us the freedom.”
Tamata also believes that the win streak momentum boosted the team’s confidence. “After sweeping the Nepal-Namibia-Scotland series at home, we got a different mindset and a much required winning momentum which had a big impact on the upcoming games,” said Tamata.
Desai’s mantra of ‘express yourself’ and ‘bat with your head high’ instilled much needed confidence in the team. “I have done nothing more than sincerely doing my duty and so is the case with other players,” Desai said after Nepal defeated the UAE on Thursday and secured a berth for the World Cup Qualifiers.
Former national cricketer Sanjam Regmi credits the sudden change in the team’s attitude to coach Desai as well. “The coach himself is a good batter and had worked as a batting consultant with Nepal’s age group teams in the past. He knew the Nepali team very well. He is a major factor in Nepal’s change in batting approach.”
The deep rooted division in Team Nepal’s dressing room was one big reason for Sri Lankan coach Pubudu Dassanayake’s unexpected departure in July last year after just seven months on the job.
Sandeep Lamichhane was named the captain by Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN), sacking the then skipper Gyanendra Malla and his deputy, Dipendra Singh Airee, in December 2021. The sole reason for their sacking was their leading a protest over players’ grading.
Since then, there was a division in the team with senior players versus Lamichhane and others. But following rape accusions against Lamichhane, he was stripped of his captaincy and his deputy Rohit Paudel was promoted to captain.
Though members of the team deny any division in the team, captain Paudel indirectly hinted at it. “The team is glued now and every player celebrates the other members’ success,” he said recently, after one of their victories in League 2.
After the victory over the UAE on Thursday, former captain and cricket manager at CAN, Binod Das, wrote on Facebook stressing the importance of the team. “It has been quite a spectacle… Thank you cricket fans for this memorable day. Congratulations to the “TEAM” that has made the impossible, possible.”
Cricketer Regmi, however, said division and dissatisfaction of an individual player was not the reason for the team’s inconsistent performance in the past. “An individual player might be dissatisfied, but that doesn’t hamper the whole team’s performance when they represent a nation.”
Sandeep Lamichhane factor
Leg spinner Sandeep Lamichhane, the most sought after Nepali cricketer, had amassed great fame and fortune in a short time. And he was the superstar of the team.
His stardom added to his arrogant nature that made the seniors and his contemporaries angry with him, say cricket insiders. “There were a lot of such incidents on the pitch and during training sessions, which had made many teammates angry with him,” said Regmi.
But he joined his teammates with an all-time low confidence after being released on bail. “All members of the team welcomed him wholeheartedly and tried to restore his confidence. Thereafter, there was much better balance in the team,” said a member of the current squad.
Lamichhane’s inclusion contributed to making the team a strong bowling unit and he made an instant impact by claiming 30 wickets in the last 11 games he played. He also played a match winning innings against Papua New Guinea (PNG), scoring 35 not out in the UAE.
ODI status at stake
Nepal were in a do-or-die situation to deliver in the last three series – the last 12 games – to retain their ODI status. They needed to win at least nine among the 12 games to retain the status.
Losing ODI status would have been a big debacle for the national team as well as for the country’s cricket administration. They left no stone unturned to get results in their favour.
“They were under pressure to retain the ODI status and everyone played a positive game,” pointed out Tamata.
Home ground and support
Nepal swept all eight matches of the home series, apart from winning three of the four games in the UAE series.
Former Nepali international Regmi believes that home ground and home supporters could be one major factor behind Nepal’s dream run. “They got to play in very familiar conditions and in front of a supportive home crowd in two series, which gave them an advantage over the opponents.”
Coach Tamata also heaped praises on the ground staff of Tribhuvan University ground for turning the pitch into an unexpectedly favourable one for batting. “The ground staff worked hard to make the wicket. The score was around 270/280 in almost every match.”
“Unlike in the past, we had a long batting order, with different players performing with the bat in almost every game,” said Tamata.