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27 January 201619:27

Free-spirited New Zealand U19 runs into Nepal U19

Finnie’s lads want to take a leaf out of the McCullum-led entertaining senior side

Free-spirited New Zealand U19 runs into Nepal U19
 - Cricket News

Nepal players watch the action.

Thanks to Brendon McCullum’s attacking leadership and the free-spirited nature of the entire unit, New Zealand has been the most watchable team in recent times. Its style of play has been so infectious that it has become almost every neutral’s favourite outfit.

The style and flair has obviously influenced Josh Finnie – New Zealand’s Under-19 skipper. Having lived through the moments, Finnie knows how much the perception of cricket has changed in New Zealand after its stellar show in the last one year, and he wants to carry forward the culture to the junior level.

“We are trying to base our strategy at the way they go about it. The (2015) World Cup brought a pretty good feel to playing cricket in New Zealand,” Finnie said. “It wasn’t really recognised as a major sport there for a while, but over the past year or so it has really captivated the nation. We are looking to do what they did.”

Finnie’s aims are long-term and sustained excellence from New Zealand cricket at all levels could have a huge ramification on participation levels in the sport in the country. In the here and now, Finnie has a chance to put his thoughts into practice in New Zealand’s opening fixture of the ICC U-19 World Cup 2016 against Nepal at the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium in Fatullah on Thursday (January 28).

Aware that spin will be a big factor in Bangladesh, New Zealand has prepared itself well with a triangular series against Pakistan U-19 and Australia U-19, which withdrew from the World Cup because of security issues, in Dubai.

New Zealand beat both its opponents in the first two games before losing the respective return legs.

While the team finished second on the table, there were a few individual takeaways too. Glenn Phillips was scored more than 200 runs in the series, and Christian Leopard finished as the second-best batsman with 185 runs.

Leopard was particularly influential in the last game when he hit a century off 61 balls against Pakistan.

Chasing 280 for a win that would have put it ahead of Pakistan in the final standings, New Zealand was reduced to 67 for 5 when Leopard, batting at No. 7, took charge.

He singlehandedly took New Zealand to the brink of a win with 12 fours and seven sixes during his 71-ball 116. He, however, became the eighth wicket to fall in the 34th over, and New Zealand fell short by 31 runs.

Finnie, who is appearing in his second World Cup, was clearly impressed by his team’s adaptability and Leopard’s hitting abilities.

“We have just been in Dubai and found out how we are not too fazed with batting on those wickets. We faced a lot of spin there,” he said. “It was pretty special watching that (knock from Leopard) from the sidelines. We were in the dumps there with five or six down and thought the day might be over early, but he just played his natural game.”

Cricket-wise, Nepal may not yet have the bandwidth to match up to New Zealand’s ability, but the manner in which it has stood up after the devastating April 2015 earthquake is an inspiring tale that transcends sport.

The junior team showed that it had put the past behind by winning the qualifying tournament in Kuala Lumpur. As many as 12 players who were a part of that campaign are in the squad, and their experience will decide how the team shapes up in the tournament.

Nepal has shown in the past, especially in junior cricket, that it can surprise bigger teams on its day. There is no reason why it can’t do that against New Zealand on spinner-friendly pitches if it applies itself well in all departments.

Teams (from):
New Zealand: Josh Finnie (capt), Finnley Allen, Josh Clarkson, Zak Gibson, Christian Leopard, Felix Murray, Aniket Parikh, Dale Phillips, Glenn Phillips, Rachin Ravindra, Talor Scott, Ben Sears, Nathan Smith, Daniel Stanley, Ross ter Braak

Nepal: Raju Rijal (capt), Dipendra Airee, MD Sunil Dhamala, Himanshu Dutta, Saurabh Khanal, Sushil Kandel, Yogendra Karki, Sandeep Lamichhane, Ishan Pandey, Shankar Rana, Prem Tamang, Arif Sheikh, Sandeep Sunar, Dipesh Shrestha, Rajbir Singh.