By Bharath Ramaraj
With those majestic mountains, thundering rivers, frozen valleys and forested hills, Nepal is a spectacularly beautiful country for an adventure tourist. These days, the landlocked country isn’t just famous for its tourism; with the advent of cable television in the late 90′s; people across rural areas of the country have been hooked to a game called cricket. There is feeling that cricket will soon overtake football as the most popular sport in Nepal. An average turnout of 11,000 raucous supporters during the ACC T20 Trophy held in Nepal this year, which tells you how cricket is a game that binds the entire nation.
Cricket was introduced to Nepal almost a century ago by the Rana dynasty, but it was mainly played among the elite in Kathmandu. It was only in the 90′s, when the sport grew in stature, and became extremely popular outside the confines of Kathmandu. They were granted ICC affiliate status in 1988 and since 1996; Nepal has been recognised as an Associate member of ICC.
Nepal has consistently participated in World Cricket Leagues (WCL) and ACC Trophies. They took part in the Inter-continental Cup twice, but couldn’t make it past the first round. In their defence, it has to be said that Nepal was unlucky in ’05, as in spite of upsetting the apple-cart by defeating their formidable foes United Arab Emirates (UAE), they didn’t progress. Last year, Nepal’s cricket team brought cheers to millions of fans across the length and breadth of the country by winning the WCL Division Four. In the ACC elite 50-over trophy final, in a nail biting thriller against UAE, they managed to tie the game, and share the trophy with UAE.
Despite all those encouraging results in 2012, Nepal’s cricket cognoscenti reckon the Cricket association of Nepal (CAN) haven’t given the kind of infrastructure that is required to take the game to greater heights. To make matters worse, CAN isn’t professional in its set up. The board is run on an amateur basis, one can find a school teacher or a Principal running the day to day operations of the board. When promising youngsters like Kanishka Chaugai get disillusioned with the system, and look for greener pastures elsewhere, you know there are loopholes in the system that have to be plugged.
In 2010, Nepal’s firebrand captain Paras Khadka and his teammates even went on a strike against the board. A few of Khadka’s detractors accused him of being brash, but the move to go on a strike has in many ways helped Nepal’s cricket to come out of virtual darkness. A National Academy was set up in January 2013. There are at least 17 turf wickets, and 65 cricket grounds in Nepal today.
There has never been dearth of talented cricketers in Nepal. The likes of Khadka, Vesawkar, Binod Das, Alam, Subash Khakurel, Anil Mandal, Malla, Basanta Regmi, Bhandari, Shakti Gauchan, Baskota and company have proved their mettle time and again in the lower rungs of world cricket. Both Khakurel and Mandal impressed cricket enthusiasts with their raw talent in the World Cricket League Division 4. In the recently concluded ACC T20 trophy, the firebrand captain Paras Khadka made the cricketing world to sit up and take notice of his all-round prowess by amassing 207 runs at 41.40, and taking four wickets. He signed off the tournament in a grand fashion by scoring a half century in the final against Afghanistan.
The impressive performances chalked up by Nepal last year, and in the just concluded ACC T20 tournament shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel. One man, who has been responsible for the remarkable turnaround is the former Sri Lankan wicket-keeper, and current national coach of Nepal, Pubudu Dassanayake. When he took over as the coach of the team, Nepal found themselves in choppy waters. Under his watchful guidance Nepal’s cricket team has gone from strength to strength. Dassanayake also played a key role in setting up of the academy.
The way Nepal’s cricketers banished their inner demons, and exorcised the ghosts that haunted them in the past, bulldozed Malaysia in World Cricket League Division Four last year, augurs well for the future of Nepal’s cricket. Interestingly, the coach of Malaysia is Roy Dias — former Sri Lankan batsman who coached Nepal for more than a decade. During his stint as a coach, Nepal’s cricketers lacked the big match temperament which resulted in disappointing results. But hope springs eternal. Nepal cricket is taking small strides towards development.
Everyone talks regarding the amazing story about the rise of fearless giant-killers Afghanistan. In a short space of time, the Afghanistan team leap-frogged other Associate nations to become a force to reckon with. With home-grown talent, Nepal too can become a major cricketing force among associate countries. But for that to become a reality, they need a professional set up which focuses on grassroots cricket and domestic cricket.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)