Big picture: Rain in the air once again
Rain ruined the India-Pakistan game, the first in ODI cricket between the two teams since the 2019 World Cup, on Saturday in Pallekele. A similar rain threat hangs over the India-Nepal game at the same venue on Monday, with chances of precipitation up to 80%. If Monday’s fixture in Pallekele is also washed out, India will join their arch-rivals Pakistan in the Super Fours from Group A.
Nepal will not want to return home without testing themselves against India’s superstars. If the weather clears up, this could be their biggest match yet, with millions tuning into it. Just two months back, in Colombo, a Rohit Paudel-led Nepal team came up against an India A team filled with IPL players, and suffered a drubbing.
Nepal suffered a similar drubbing at the hands of Babar Azam’s Pakistan on their Asia Cup debut in Multan, but there were some passages of play where they showed that they could compete with top teams. Like when Karan KC and Sompal Kami operated with discipline and purpose in the early exchanges. When Paudel swooped in on the ball and nailed a direct hit to run Imam-ul-Haq out. However, at the same time, they also botched a number of chances in the field.
They can’t afford any such clumsy errors – or no team for that matter – against an India side that is almost back to full strength. Shreyas Iyer looked fluent against Pakistan before his stay was cut short by Haris Rauf. But they will be without Jasprit Bumrah, who has returned home for personal reasons* to miss just one game. It was Ishan Kishan, who made the biggest splash on Saturday, with 82 off 81 balls at No. 5 against a fearsome pace attack on a two-paced track.
Going into the match as overwhelming favourites, will India give Suryakumar Yadav or Tilak Varma a chance before they announce their World Cup squad?
India WLWLL (last five completed ODIs, most recent first)
In the spotlight: Kuldeep Yadav and Lalit Rajbanshi
Since his return to the ODI side in January, Kuldeep Yadav has established himself as India’s premier spinner in the format. Among bowlers from Full-Member nations, only Wanindu Hasaranga, Mark Adair and Maheesh Theekshana have more wickets than Kuldeep’s 22 in 11 innings in ODI cricket this year. On Monday, Kuldeep can handsomely add to his tally against an opposition that perhaps isn’t used to facing high-quality left-arm wristspin.
Lalit Rajbanshi bowls the less glamorous variety of spin – left-arm fingerspin – and has spent much of his career in the shadow of legspinner Sandeep Lamichhane. But he has played his part in Nepal’s recent success with his defensive skills. Those skills were on bright display against Pakistan in Multan, where he strung together 33 dots. In a match where Pakistan rattled up 342, Rajbanshi gave away just 48 from his ten overs. Earlier, against West Indies in the ODI World Cup Qualifier in Harare, he even fronted up to bowl at the death and got rid of Rovman Powell, Shai Hope and Keemo Paul.
Team news: Shami could replace Bumrah
Kishan seemingly struggled while running between the wickets against Pakistan, but he was ready to keep wicket before persistent rain had the final say. Bumrah has gone back home as he is expecting his first child – he will likely be back for the Super Fours stage – but for now, his absence will open up a spot for Mohammed Shami or Prasidh Krishna. India have no reason to make any changes on the batting front unless they want to throw in Suryakumar or Tilak, who was particularly impressive during the T20I series against West Indies.
India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Shreyas Iyer, 5 Ishan Kishan (wk), 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Shardul Thakur, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Mohammed Shami/Prasidh Krishna, 11 Mohammed Siraj
Bhim Sharki is part of the squad as a reserve batter, but Nepal might stick to the same XI.
Nepal (probable): 1 Kushal Bhurtel, 2 Aasif Sheikh (wk), 3 Rohit Paudel (capt), 4 Aarif Sheikh, 5 Sompal Kami, 6 Dipendra Singh Airee, 7 Gulsan Jha, 8 Kushal Malla, 9 Karan KC, 10 Sandeep Lamichhane, 11 Lalit Rajbanshi
Pitch and conditions: All eyes on the skies
The conditions – both overhead and underfoot – in Pallekele challenged batters on Saturday. There could be some juice for the seamers on Monday too, but all eyes will be on the skies once again.
Stats and trivia: Nepal’s first outing vs India
“We never imagined that we would get a chance to play two back-to-back matches against Pakistan and India. We want to make such opportunities count so that the cricketing world can take notice of us.”
Nepal captain Rohit Paudel relishes the big stage
*3.08pm GMT: The preview has been updated to reflect Jasprit Bumrah’s unavailability