Do or die in the Group of Death for Netherlands and Nepal


ICC MEN’S T20 WORLD CUP 2024

Grouped together, the Dutch are on a hat-trick against South Africa at World Cups.

Grouped together, the Dutch are on a hat-trick against South Africa at World Cups. © Getty

Already flagged as the “Group of Death” as soon as the draw was revealed back in January, Group D sees the Netherlands and Nepal drawn alongside three full members in South Africa, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The decision to seed the tournament on rankings rather than qualifying resulted in the Dutch being designated a fourth-tier team despite qualifying directly, putting them and Nepal into what is on paper the toughest group of the cup. On current form however, none of the teams look in the greatest shape coming in, and the group is consequently perhaps the hardest to predict. Indeed it earns its ominous label as much thanks to the grueling logistical schedule imposed on the teams as strength of competition, with the Dutch especially set to earn some serious air miles over the course of the group stage.

Netherlands

The Netherlands’ recent record at global events, both in qualifying for the recent 50-over World Cup and a top-eight finish at the 2022 T20 World Cup has raised expectations rather, with many tipping the Dutch as the most likely of the Associates to claim a place in the Super 8 stage. It’s still a tricky proposition however, despite beating South Africa at both the aforementioned tournaments they’ll still start as underdogs in that match, Sri Lanka have a record of inflicting chasening defeats on the Oranje, Bangladesh may look beatable but have a habit of holding on for scrappy wins against the Netherlands in particular, while Nepal first up could easily derail their campaign as it rolls out of the station.

Preparation too, often so crucial to Dutch performance, has been less than ideal. One can’t read to much into the win over Sri Lanka at Florida in their sole completed warm-up, though details are scarce it’s clear Sri Lanka rested practically their entire front-line bowling attack. Heavy rain in Dallas washed out their second warm-up against Canada, while first opponents Nepal at least got a look at the venue in their match the week before. The absence of head coach Ryan Cook was perhaps felt at the Netherlands home tri-series against Ireland and Scotland two weeks ago, where the Dutch finished bottom of the pile on a 1-3 record, a result that also effectively ended their chances of qualifying for the 2026 World Cup through the rankings meaning another top-8 finish at this edition is their only route to direct qualification for the next.

At least as big a blow at the European tri-series was the loss of southpaw spearhead Fred Klaassen, who has been unable to shake a chronic back complaint, and of the prodigal Daniel Doram, the looming left arm spinner’s return to Orange forestalled by a broken right hand suffered during the series. The losses to injury are further compounded by the absence of Roelof van de Merwe and Colin Ackermann, who remain with their counties for the T20 Blast.

It’s not all doom and gloom for the Dutch however, at the top of the order youngster Michael Levitt has hit the ground running in his short T20I career, taking some pressure off the able but out-of-form Max O’Dowd, with the option of Vikram Singh dropping to three allowing the insurance against early wickets of what’s effectively an opening trio. Bas de Leede’s all-round threat creates the space in the side for that extra bat, and while Ackermann’s absence in the middle will be felt keenly, SA Engelbrecht or Wesley Barresi may be able to make up a degree of the experience and resilience Ackermann provided.

The return of left-arm spinner Tim Pringle also lends some depth and late hitting ability to a line-up that has lacked it, and both he and offie Aryan Dutt are a couple of years older and wilier since their teenaged debuts. In-form seam all-rounder Logan van Beek likewise adds some depth to the batting, as well as crucial experience with the ball at the death. Depsite the sidelining of Klaassen, Brandon Glover, Ryan Klein and Timm van der Gugten as they come back from injury, the Dutch pace bowling stocks are far from depleted. The long-serving Vivian Kingma has been in fine form both at home and on a recent tour to Nepal, rangy enforcer Paul van Meekeren adds both troubling bounce and Caribbean experience, and Klein’s younger brother Kyle has also been in the wickets in the lead-up to the tournament.

While the Dutch haven’t quite hit their stride in the run-up to their tournament opener, and a first-match flop is entirely possible, they remain a team that will back themselves against all comers in the group, and potentially beyond.

How they got here

Memorably and before the eyes of millions. The sole Associate to skip regional qualifying, the Netherlands earned their place at this T20 World Cup with their showing at the last one. Two wins in the preliminary group against the UAE and Namibia at the 2022 World Cup followed by a fighting defeat to Sri Lanka got them through to the main phase, though they needed some help from the UAE on that front. Namibia might have claimed the spot off the back of an emphatic win over the Sri Lankans in their first match had they not bottled their last against the Emiratis. Once in the Super 12s the Dutch struggled early but then won their last two games against Zimbabwe and most famously South Africa, securing a top-8 finish and a free pass to the USA and West Indies.

World Cup Record

Established purveyors of humiliation to more illustrious opposition, the Netherlands have a bagful of memorable wins at the highest level to point to, but it’s hard to top the last-ball classic of 2009 where a then still largely amateur Dutch side brought down hosts England at the home of cricket in the tournament opener. The Dutch missed the next two tournaments but came back all the stronger, and it was a lot less close when they beat England again at the 2014 edition after traumatising Ireland in a then-inconceivable group stage net run rate heist at Sylhet to make the main event. While the winless, hapless showing at the 2021 World Cup remains a stark reminder of just how bad the Dutch can be when things go against them, the most recent tournament was evidence enough they can still mix it with the big boys.

Realistic Ambitions

While a popular tip for surprise Super-eighters, the Dutch will be well-advised to take the group stage one match at a time. If they can see off Nepal in their first game they’ll perhaps start to look at routes to the next stage, and there’s still every chance they’ll find one. Anything less will be at best a perhaps cretitable but certainly costly failure that would likely see them banished back to regional competition.

Why tune in?

They’re on a hat-trick against South Africa at World Cups. They’ve a habit of pulling stunningly improbable net-run-rate-busting run chases out of nowhere. They’ll be wearing gorgeous orange ’96-throwback kits. Logan van Beek might do a little dance at some point. You don’t want to miss all that, do you?

Squad: Scott Edwards (c), Max O’Dowd, Michael Levitt, Vikram Singh, Bas de Leede, Sybrand Engelbrecht, Teja Nidamanuru, Wesley Barresi, Logan van Beek, Paul van Meekeren, Kyle Klein, Saqib Zulfiqar, Tim Pringle, Aryan Dutt, Vivian Kingma

Nepal

A return to the world stage for the first time in a decade, Nepal clinching qualification by besting favoured foes the UAE in the decisive semi in front of a home crowd at the Asia Qualifier sparked wild celebrations in the packed Mulpani ground, the hilltops, rooftops and treetops around it, and soon across the country. The team carries on their young shoulders a weight of expectation unlike any other Associate, with a fanatical following at home that indeed should spark envy in more established cricketing countries.

They also carry the fatigue associated with an extended touring schedule that has barely given them a break since heading off in March, immediately after home trilateral series hosting the Netherlands and Namibia, to Hong Kong, then the Asia Premier Cup in Oman, then back to host West Indies A, then off on a preparatory tour against Windward Islands, the to the States for official warm-ups, forgive us if we’re missing a tour or two. The usually indefatigable young side looked flagged in their warm-up against Canada, though a look at the conditions should not be underestimated as an advantage ahead of their opener against the Netherlands, and an extended pause courtesy a washed-out second warm-up against the hosts may not be unwelcome.

Jet-lag aside, Nepal’s chief concern ahead of the tournament is a near-universal lack of form with the bat. Skipper Rohit Paudel, who looked in phenomenal touch against West Indies A, and to a degree his dependable deputy Dipendera Singh Airee are the notable exceptions on the front. Nepal’s young captain has been carrying the batting of late, and will need at least some of the top order to find touch if Nepal are to have any hope of success at the tournament. Openers Kushal Bhurtel and Aasif Sheikh have both looked inconsistent at best, while Anil Sah has made only an unconvincing case at three.

Options in the middle and lower order abound thanks to an abundance of emerging all-rounders of all varieties, left arm spinner and teen batting prodigy Kushal Malla chief among them, but too often are left too much to do. Vice-captain DS Airee remains Nepal’s indispensable middle-order marshal, without question the most complete all-rounder in the side and arguably at the entire tournament, a canny offspinner and explosive bat who would make most teams on the strength of his fielding alone.

On the bowling side there are questions aplenty too, a pace unit led by Sompal Kami (the sole survivor from the 2014 squad) and cult hero Karan KC are more than capable at associate level but may lack for penetration a step up, while death-overs specialist Abinash Bohara has arguably held onto his place largely thanks to a lack of competition. In the spin section the elephant conspicuously absent from the room is of course former skipper and star legspinner Sandeep Lamichhane, who was denied a US visa despite having seemingly put his well-documented legal troubles behind him.

While Bhurtel has been developing his legspin as a second skill, he remains still a long way from the finished article, which leaves a lot riding on left arm spinner Lalit Rajbanshi for both containment and threat. With runs on the board they’ve the varied and increasingly experienced attack to trouble any team in the group, but getting those runs looks the toughest challenge for this Nepal side on current form.

How they got here

A switch to straight regional competition didn’t make things much easier for Nepal, and nor did the five-run loss to Oman in the group stage of their home Asia Regional Final which landed them in an all-or-nothing semi-final with Nepali cricket’s favourite heels – the UAE. Mulpani was the scene of a cathartic triumph for the home side, Kushal Malla the stand-out with the ball as the Emiratis were held to 134-9, Aasif Sheikh with the bat as his unbeaten 64 off 51 saw Nepal home to spark the celebrations that even a super over defeat to the Omanis in the the just-for-fun final two days later did little to temper.

World Cup Record

A single appearance at the 2014 World T20 (as it then was) has lived long in the memories of Nepal fans, even if it ended in a preliminary group stage exit on net run rate, narrowly behind Bangladesh. Their nine-run win over Afghanistan at that tournament remains a high-point for Nepal, but it’s one they’ll be looking to surpass at this edition, and fair to say their legions of supporters are ready for some fresher happy memories.

Realistic ambitions

With what’s likely to resemble a home crowd at Dallas cheering them on in their opener against the Dutch it’s easy (and so very tempting) to imagine Nepal getting a win early to set up a dream run, but realistically the big prize is a full member scalp on the biggest stage. A fair chance that Nepal analysts’ laptops will have been trained on Bangladesh for weeks if not months, and plenty of less partisan observers rate their chances of picking up a big win too. Even two wins likely won’t be enough to book an onward rather than homeward flight though, and progression to the Super 8s is probably too much to ask for this tournament.

Why tune in?

Because it’s Nepal. Of course we’re all tuning in.

Squad: Rohit Paudel (c), Aasif Sheikh, Anil Kumar Sah, Kushal Bhurtel, Kushal Malla, Dipendra Singh Airee, Lalit Rajbanshi, Karan KC, Gulshan Jha, Sompal Kami, Pratis GC, Sundeep Jora, Abinash Bohara, Sagar Dhakal, Kamal Singh Airee

© Cricbuzz

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