Sandeep Lamichhane and Jaskaran Malhotra whet appetite for return of World Cup qualifying

Cricket World Cup League Two set for resumption in Muscat after 19-month break because of the pandemic

Nepal's Sandeep Lamichhane has emerged as one of the next young stars of global cricket. Courtesy Johan Jooste
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To suggest it is the irresistible force going up against the immovable object might be pushing it a little.

But when Cricket World Cup League Two resumes after a 19-month hiatus in Muscat on Sunday, it will certainly pit two forces of nature against each other.

On the one side, there is Sandeep Lamichhane, global T20 star aged just 21, and now eyeing a piece of history for himself.

And on the other, Jaskaran Malhotra, an overnight sensation having become just the second player after Herschelle Gibbs to hit six sixes in an over in one-day international cricket.

The fact this competition has been in the sidings since the pandemic took a grip of the world in February 2020 has meant the thread of the narrative has been lost somewhat.

The league decides which sides will advance to the global qualifier for the next 50-over World Cup.

UAE had a troubled start to the campaign, starting with them rebuilding after a corruption scandal, then swapping head coaches, before losing matches to rain in Sharjah and the death of Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

The national team are fifth in the seven-team table, and are expected to return to action in December.

The tournament itself starts again in Al Amerat – at a ground which will play host to T20 World Cup matches later this year - with a tri-series that coincidentally reunites the three sides who played the last series before the Covid-enforced break.

Monday’s opening ODI is a rematch of the record-breaking mismatch in Kathmandu last year, when Nepal sent the United States crashing to 35 all out, the joint lowest ever ODI score.

In some ways, not much has changed since then. Lamichhane remains a pre-eminent force.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - March 25, 2019: USA's Jaskaran Malhotra bats in the game against the UAE. Monday the 25th of March 2019 at the Sevens in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Back then, he took six for 16 to send USA tumbling to defeat. Two days ago, he bettered those career best figures, as he took six for 11 against Papua New Guinea.

The leg-spinner has now taken 33 wickets in his first 12 ODIs. Seventeen more within his next seven games, and he will overcome Ajantha Mendis’ record to become the fastest player to 50 wickets.

Having played IPL cricket, and many other franchise leagues besides, Lamichhane is very much a known quantity.

Malhotra, who will be in opposition for the United States, is far less so. Until he blazed his record-breaking effort, which included 36 off the final over, against PNG this week, the India-born wicketkeeper was scarcely known at all.

In that game, he hit 173 not out, with the next highest score in the innings being 22. If anything can give USA hope of avenging their loss to Nepal last time out, it is Malhotra’s emergence.

Updated: September 12, 2021, 8:02 AM