Pakistan vs Nepal: Preview and Prediction
The Asian cricketing giants have assembled on the same battlefield to claim continental supremacy as the 2023 Asia Cup is all set to go underway. The 16th edition of Asia’s biggest competition will be taking place in a 50-over format in consideration of the upcoming ICC World Cup scheduled in the same year.
We will be witnessing the co-hosts and the two-time Asian champions Pakistan squaring off against the assailant Nepal side preparing for their debut campaign. The inaugural clash will be the only fixture of this edition to be hosted by the historic venue of Multan Cricket Stadium this Wednesday.
The Shaheens have made a solitary change in their squad with the addition of the batting all-rounder Saud Shakeel in place of Tayyab Tahir. Tayyab who did not play a single game in the Afghanistan series will be still travelling with the main squad as a reserve player. Pakistan team management rested key members of their roster for the dead-rubber third ODI as all of them are expected to return to the playing XI for preparations ahead of the much-awaited Indo-Pak clash.
As the ongoing rape trial of Sandeep Lamichhane has been deferred, the star leggie has got the green signal to join the Nepalese squad for the ultimate test. The inclusion of the 23-year-old former captain has boosted the Everesters’ preparations owing to his acclaimed spin prowess across the globe. Meanwhile, the bowling trio of Karan KC, Sompal Kami and Lalit Rajbanshi is also likely to return after being excluded from the lineup in the last Emerging Asia Cup game.
What have they done so far?
The Men in Green kick-started their ODI cricket season with a five-match bilateral clash against New Zealand and registered a comfortable 4-1 series win in home conditions. Skipper Babar and his Shaheens then travelled to Sri Lanka to take on Asian counterparts Afghanistan in their secondary home ground in Hambantota. A convincing 3-0 triumph over the neighborhood rivals gave a major boost to Pakistan in the ICC rankings and earned them the crown of top-ranked ODI side.
On the other hand, the Nepalese Rhinos qualified for the Asian carnival through one reserved spot for the champions of the ACC Men’s Premier Cup competition. It was a ten-nation tournament between all associate combatants of the continent where the Everesters defeated UAE in the finals and claimed the inaugural title with an unbeaten record. Nepal recently participated in the ACC Emerging Asia Cup and once again registered a memorable victory against the rivals Arab Eagles by 3 wickets.
After years of diligence and struggle in the lower divisions of world cricket, Nepal was awarded the ODI status as an associate member by ICC in 2018. The Everesters made it to the qualifying rounds of this tournament four times earlier but couldn’t succeed and finally achieved it in their fifth attempt. Hence, they have never faced the Men in Green on the international stage and this forthcoming clash will be the first encounter between two South Asian nations.
However, there was one instance in November 2015 when the representatives of these two nations graced the same battlefield in a Tour Match in Abu Dhabi. The Pakistanis thrashed the visiting Nepalese side by 121 runs after posting a humongous first-innings total of 326 starring captain Azhar Ali’s robust 73-run stand. Interestingly, the current Pakistani skipper Babar Azam was also part of that friendly fixture and played a dazzling knock of 43 not out in 29 balls with a strike rate of 148.
Babar Azam: Pakistan has recently regained the No.1 position in the ICC ODI rankings and the 28-year-old skipper has contributed a lion’s share in their rise in the 50-over format. Azam was the third-highest run-getter of the recently concluded Afghanistan series after fetching 113 runs from 3 innings along with two half-centuries. It is quite evident that the fate of Pakistan’s batting unit heavily revolves around Babar and it’s necessary for him to be in his top form at this time.
Kushal Bhurtel: The Nepalese Rhinos are blessed with this 26-year-old talent who is touted to fill the big shoes of Paras Khadka for his nation. In his most recent appearance, the Bhutwal-born all-rounder scalped a six-wicket haul and played an instrumental role in restricting UAE to the final score of 157. Bhurtel then opened the second innings and held one end until the end to turn it into a successful run chase despite not getting enough support from the other end.
Pakistan: Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam ©, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Agha Salman, Iftikhar Ahmed, Shadab Khan, Usama Mir, Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah, Haris Rauf
Nepal: Kushal Bhurtel, Arjun Saud (wk), Rohit Paudel ©, Bhim Sharki Kushal Malla, Gulsan Jha, Pawan Sarraf, Karan KC, Sandeep Lamichhane, Lalit Rajbanshi, Sompal Kami
Whether it’s home advantage, current form, or on-paper strength, the Men in Green are way ahead of their South-Asian counterparts in each and every aspect of the prediction. Pakistan may also come up with experiments to test its own strengths and weaknesses before going all-out for the next stages of the tournament.
However, the young skipper Rohit Paudel and his Rhinos are high-spirited and will be leaving no stone unturned to pull off an upset against the highest-ranked ODI side.