An opportunity for young Nepali players to learn from the bests
Nepal’s marquee cricket event Everest Premier League (EPL) is set to commence today with a match between last year’s winner Biratnagar Warriors led by Paras Khadka and Lalitpur Patriots led by Gyanendra Malla at Tribhuvan University International Cricket Ground in Kirtipur.
Arguably, a host of foreigners have arrived in Nepal for the first time to play professional cricket, and not to trek or climb mountains which used to be the norm in the past. Players from England, Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands, among others are set to represent respective franchise teams in a bid to get the trophy which was unveiled on Friday in presence of all six captains, during an official event held in Kathmandu.
Nepali players like Rohit Kumar Paudel and Anil Kumar Sah first came to prominence after their commanding performances in the EPL. The brand new season will be no less than that. The expert eyes and observer’s senses will be looking to find more such talents who can go on to represent Nepal in the next year’s ICC Asia Region Qualifiers and subsequently ICC Global Qualifiers for the ICC T20 World Cup.
An opportunity for players like Dilip Nath to learn from John Simpson during their stint for Chitwan Tigers has been made possible due to the EPL. Both are left-handed wicket-keeping batsmen who like to open the batting innings. Similarly, Bikram Bhusal, the aspiring leg-spinner will have ample opportunities to learn from Indian Premier League player Pradeep Sahu’s, who is also a leg-spinner, during the 15-day league. Likewise, Sunil Dhamala, someone continuously knocking on the doors of the national team will further learn the nuisances from the best in the business Richard Levi and Kyle Coetzer, both proven opening batsman for their respective nation and county teams, playing for the same team Pokhara Rhinos in the EPL.
To add further, Aarif Sheikh will share the dressing room with Ryan ten Doeschate for next two weeks for Bhaiarahwa Gladiators. Both are naturally middle order batsmen who like to finish the innings. A moment spent together, on or off the field, will be an opportunity to learn from the best.
The managing director of EPL Pvt Ltd, Aamir Akhtar, has also emphasized on giving fans the best experience to realize the entertainment value of the sports they are passionate about. “We are getting more value for the spectators. We are getting cheerleaders on voluntary basis from London. They work in the IPL as well. The crowd needs to get entertained in the ground as well,” said Akhtar in conversation with Republica. The EPL also announced to provide Rs 50,000 to the spectators who can catch the ball in crowd with one hand.
Similarly, he added to improve the broadcast value as well to match the quality of cricket set to be played in the field which seems to be stalled in quality since past editions. “We are working a lot on production and broadcasting value. We are getting foreign commentators so that Nepal cricket is now open for the world. Our tagline is our theme, “the world meets Nepali cricket”. The overall management, hosting and prize money will be improved.”
Experts like Andrew Leonard and former New Zealand woman cricketer Frances Mackay has been announced as commentators for the forthcoming season. Fraveez Maharoof, who played for Kathmandu Kings XI in last season, is also joining in as commentator for the second half of the tournament.
Likewise, globe-trotting players like Kevin O-Brien, ten Doeschate, Richard Levi and Kyle Coetzer are all set to contribute for the EPL to attain that next level in world cricket. O’Brien wants to win it for Kings XI because he hasn’t won a T20 tournament in his career. Ryan ten Doeschate revealed that he wanted to play in Nepal in last season itself but had to miss it due to unfavorable schedule.
With the involvement of aforementioned overseas names in the EPL for this season, one can expect the ball game to further advance in future. West Indies team may or may not tour Nepal in imminent future but the growth of the EPL could bring the known stars like Chris Gayle or Kieran Pollard for future editions and it won’t be a far-fetched or distant dream.
The EPL will run from December 8 to 22 this year. The new season will be three days longer than the previous edition. On a double-header day, the first match starts at 9 AM and second match of the day will start at 1 PM. The last two matches and the playoffs matches will be played in the second week of the tournament where only one match will be played on a day starting from December 16.
Last season: Winners
Captain: Paras Khadka
Coach/Director: Umesh Patwal (India)
Foreign Players: Roelof van der Merwe and Paul van Meekeren (the Netherlands), Babar Hayat (Hong Kong)and Smit Patel (India)
Rest of the Squad: Aasif Sheikh, Anil Kumar Sah, Pushpa Thapa, Sumit Maharjan, Hari Bahadur Chhetri, Karan KC, Basant Regmi and Ram Naresh Giri.
Probable XI: Aasif (WK), Anil, Smit/Hayat, Khadka (C), van der Merwe, Maharjan, Giri, Chhetri, Karan, van Meekeren, Regmi.
Verdict: An unbeaten team in the EPL has grown stronger with the addition of proven player like Roelof van der Merwe. Babar Hayat remains the X-factor in the team but his arrival is delayed due to Hong Kong’s participation in the ACC Emerging Nations Cup. Hayat was player of the series in last season. The left handed Indian allrounder Smit Patel has been roped in as Hayat’s backup. Similarly, van Meekeren’s pace will be a spectacle this season. The home-grown core led by Khadka and Regmi is stronger on paper than other teams in the tournament. Warriors are top contenders to once again lift the trophy, another final appearance is the least they can do under the motivational leadership of Nepal’s most successful captain Khadka.
KATHMANDU KINGS XI
Last season: Fifth place finish
Captain: Sompal Kami
Coach/Director: Binod Das
Foreign Players: Kevin O’Brien (Ireland), Rohan Mustafa (the UAE), Pradeep Sahu (India) and Aanand Subramanium (India)
Rest of the Squad: Naresh Budhayer, Siddhant Lohani, Sagar Pun, Raju Rijal, Amit Shrestha, Amar Singh Routela, Samsaad Sheikh, Bikram Bhusal, Puran VK, Neetesh Thapa and Jeetendra Mukhiya
Probable XI: Subramanium/Mustafa, Shrestha, Budhayer, Pun, O’Brien, Kami (C), Rijal (WK), Routela, Sahu, Mukhiya, Samsaad.
Verdict: A young team made up of genuine allrounders disappointed largely last season with their underperformance. However, the addition of few more international allrounders like Kevin O’Brien and Rohan Mustafa has given them further edge. Whilst Mustafa will arrive late facing same problems like Hayat, Pradeep Sahu and Aanand Subramanium will do the honors till his arrival. Sahu, the Kings XI Punjab leg-spinner who was released ahead of the upcoming IPL auctions can prove to be the X-factor in their bowling lineup which lacks quality spinner. Kings XI boosts the likes of skipper Sompal Kami and Sagar Pun who can bat or bowl anytime in the match. Much will depend on the shrewd tactics of Binod Das and how the team executes it. Das recently won the Pokhara Premier League with Pokhara Paltan and reached the second qualifier in last Dhangadhi Premier League season with Mahendranagar United.
Last season: Lost in Qualifier 2
Captain: Gyanendra Malla
Coach: Raju Basnyat
Foreign Players: Gaurav Tomar, Sunny Patel and Jaikishan Kolsawala (India)
Rest of the Squad: Sandeep Lamichhane, Lalit Rajbanshi, Kushal Bhurtel, Sundeep Jora, Yogendra Singh Karki, Rashid Khan, Shankar Rana, Pawan Sarraf, Sonu Tamang, Narayan Joshi and Sumit Jha.
Probable XI: Kolsawala (WK), Rana, Tomar, Malla (C), Jora, Tamang, Sarraf, Bhurtel, Lamichhane, Rajbanshi , Rashid.
Verdict: Patriots ran close last season but only to miss out in second qualifier against the Gladiators. They have retained the core which did well last season and further strengthen the batting with addition of Gaurav Tomar. The Indian batsman proved his mettle by winning batsman of the series in Pokhara Premier League. Similarly, Sunny Patel remains the most successful foreign player in the Nepali premier leagues. The young and rising bowling lineup of Rashid Khan, Lalit Rajbanshi, and Nepali globetrotter Sandeep Lamichhane can be the X-factor for the Patriots in the upcoming season. However, Lamichhane will be leaving after first two games and in comparison Patriots’ international quota is low-key than host of stars signed by other franchises. The team lacks genuine batting apart from Tomar and skipper Malla himself. Kolsawala’s form has waned off recently. Patriots might finish between top and bottom two.
Last Season: Lost in Eliminator
Captain: Kyle Coetzer
Coach: Nathan Dodd
Foreign Players: Kyle Coetzer (Scotland), Richard Levi (South Africa), Sunny Bhimsaria (Hong Kong) and Paul Coughlin (England)
Rest of the Squad: Shakti Gauchan, Binod Bhandari, Rajesh Pulami Magar, Sunil Dhamala, Susan Bhari, Saurav Khanal, Bipin Khatri, Kishore Mahato, Shubendu Pandey, Dev Shah, Bikram Sob and Nandan Yadav.
Probable XI: Levi, Dhamala, Coetzer (C), Pulami, Bhandari (WK), Coughlin, Khanal, Gauchan, Bhari, Sob/Yadav, Mahato.
Verdict: Shakti Gauchan is set to play its last tournament as a player in Nepal. Pokhara Rhinos will be looking to give a senior statesman a fitting farewell. The coaching of Australian Nathan Dodd and the captaincy of Kyle Coetzer should be a breath of fresh air for all involved in the franchise. There is little room for many changes for a small squad but few changes here or there can make drastic improvements in their fortunes. Rhinos were going well last season as well but the edge has been provided by the world record-holder Richard Levi and English Cricket’s most sought out allrounder Paul Couglin. Rhinos, arguably, has most effective left-arm spin bowling lineup in Gauchan, Bhari and Khatri. The team from Pokhara can seriously mount up a title challenge to Warriors. But it will be thereabout at the end as batting looks slim apart from top three of Dhamala, Levi and Coetzer. Bhandari, Pulami and Khanal have been struggling for consistent form for some time now. Rhinos will make it to playoffs but might struggle to win the trophy.
Last season: Lost in final
Captain: Sharad Vesawkar
Foreign Players: Ravi Inder Singh (India), Ryan ten Doeschate (the Netherlands) and Muhammad Naveed (the UAE)
Rest of the Squad: Pradeep Airee, Aarif Sheikh, Rohit Kumar Paudel, Hari Shankar Shah, Prakash KC, Krishna Karki, Dipesh Shrestha, Bhupendra Thapa, Bhuwan Karki.
Probable XI: Shah, P. Airee, Vesawkar (C), Inder Singh, ten Doeschate, Aarif, Paudel, Prakash KC/ Bhupendra Thapa (WK), Naveed, B. Karki, K, Karki.
Verdict: The biggest talking point for Gladiators is its captain Sharad Vesawkar. The most consistent captain in Nepal franchise cricket history reaching every final. Vesawkar has lost twice in the final match to Khadka and won once. The signing of match-winning batsmen Ryan ten Doeschate and Ravi Inder Singh boost the batting lineup that failed to chase in the final last time. Surely it is an upgrade from Pratham Salunkhe or Rahul Yadav. Gladiators further boasts the likes of Aarif Shiekh, the most valuable player of domestic leagues, and Rohit Kumar Paudel. The left-handed opening batsman Hari Shankar Shah has improved leaps and bounds from last season. The bowling will be led by Muhammad Naveed who might not be available for first few games but his arrival and inclusion will further boost the side. Gladiators will be a tough nut to crack once again especially under the leadership of Vesawkar. The 30-year-old is known to get the best out of the talents under his disposal. The journey to final looks set after than it will be anyone’s game like last time.
Last season: Last place finish
Captain: Prithu Baskota
Coach: Kalaam Ali
Foreign Players: Paul Stirling (Ireland), John Simpson (England) and George Scott (England)
Rest of the Squad: Dipendra Singh Airee, Dilip Nath, Lalit Bhandari, Kamal Singh Airee, Shahab Alam, Sagar Dhakal, Aadil Khan, Bhim Sarki, Sandeep Sunar, Aakash Thapa.
Probable XI: Stirling, Nath, Simpson (WK), D. Airee, Baskota (C), Scott, Sarki, L.Bhandari, K.Airee, S. Alam, Dhakal.
Verdict: Tigers were most marred with controversies last season. The announced skipper Baskota missed the whole tournament last time is set to captain the side once again this season. The unknown absence of Subash Khakurel will be replaced by Paul Stiring at the top of the innings. The Irish is set to be the X-factor for the Tigers. His form in recently concluded T10 has been encouraging as well. Dipendra Singh Airee and Baskota will steer the middle order with the growth of Bhim Sarki in last year being an added strength for the side. Lalit Bhandari and Kamal Singh Airee are rapidly growing pace bowlers in the country whereas Tigers have enough reinforcements in the spin department with the inclusion of Sagar Dhakal and Shahab Alam. The performances should improve this season but the fact that other teams have equally improved their rosters; it will be difficult for Tigers to qualify for the playoffs with a changed/unchanged leadership group. Likewise, Simpson and Scott are not familiar with the alien sub-continental conditions which might work against them.