Coach, captain counting on home advantage

KATHMANDU: Hosts Nepal would be fancying their chances of making a step further in their journey towards the 2015 World Cup by claiming one of the top two spots in the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Division-V (WCL Div-V) beginning here from Saturday.

As only the finalists will qualify for the Division-IV scheduled for August in Italy this year, the hosts would be counting on the familiar turfs and crowd support to make it to the next stage of qualification. However, it would be an uphill task for Roy Luke Dais's men to make that happen considering the tough opponents they will be up against in the six-team tournament here.

While, in Bahrain and Singapore, the home team might take some comfort considering their experience of playing on numerous occasions, Fiji, Jersey and the Unites States of America (USA) will be tough nuts to crack. While Fiji had experience of playing in both the Division-III and Division-IV, Jersey is the team who, along with Afghanistan, qualified for the Div-IV in 2008 when Nepal finished third. It would also be foolish to undermine Singapore in the light that the team is currently being managed by former Sri Lankan Test and ODI international Marvan Atapattu and the Bahrain, the team coached by former Pakistan Test and ODI international Mohsin Kamal.

Dias, who played 20 Tests and 58 ODIs for Sri Lanka, sees the biggest threat in the USA. "Fiji and Jersey have the experience of playing in the Div-IV. But I think the USA are the strong sides as they are coming straight away after participating in the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier in Dubai," said the Nepal coach adding that the team includes players from India, the West Indies and Pakistan. The USA's experience of playing in the Champions Trophy in England in 2004 also makes them a formidable opposition. When Nepal last met the USA during the Division-V in Jersey in 2008, they beat the Americans to finish third.

Despite the strength of their opponents, Dias believes that his team has all the firepower to beat any sides. "Our preparation has gone very well in the last one month," said the coach. "We have a strong team as many of our players can bat. We also have a good blend of fast and spin bowlers."

Dias rated his skipper Paras Khadka the key player in the Div-V campaign. "He is a key figure not just because he is an all-rounder but also because in the skipper," said the coach. Dias is also counting on allrounder Mehboob Alam for his explosive batting ability and the sharp bowling. Likewise, the coach believes that his team's position will also largely depend on how the opening batman Dipendra Chaudhary, young guns Gyanendra Malla, Sharad Vesawkar and Anil Mandal will perform. Dias is excepting spinner trio Basanta Regmi, Shakti Gauchan and Sanjam Regmi to weave their magic to bring in the desired success to their team. Dias, who guided Nepal to numerous age-group tournament trophies since taking over the team on September 7, 2001, takes the event as the most important of all.

Skipper Paras also considers familiar home conditions and crowd support as a big advantage for his team. "We have noticed that many teams get nervous playing against the crowd and we will have to exploit the situation," said the skipper. Paras was also optimistic of faring well in the tournament. "We have always done well at home and hope to do the same this time around as well," added the allrounder.

The skipper said that their objective is the qualification. "Our 2015 World Cup dreams will vanish instantly if we fail to reach the final," said Paras adding that they will have to consider bringing in youngsters in the team if they fail to qualify for the Div-IV. "We have about seven or eight players for the team for the last seven or eight years. If we fail to deliver, we need to give opportunity to new players for the future of the Nepali cricket," added the skipper.

Paras believes that the opening stand will be crucial for his team to fare well. "It's not that the middle orders is vulnerable but that if we get good opening, the middle order batsmen can bat freely." Paras also knows he has a huge responsibility as the captain and as an allrounder. "I have a big role to play. If I contribute, it will motivate others to follow the suit,” said Paras.

Nepal will open campaign with a match against Jersey on Saturday. The hosts then take on Singapore on February 21. Nepal face Bahrain two days later and Fiji the next day before playing against the USA on February 26. The final is on February 27 at TU Stadium.