Bayuemas Oval, Kuala Lumpur.
It was an unlikely location for neighbours Nepal and India to lock horns in sporting battle. Drawn together in Group A of the Asian Under 19 Championship earlier this month, Nepal set India a modest 186 to win in the Malaysian capital, thanks largely to an 88 from skipper Dipendra Singh Airee.
Licking their lips, India’s openers Himanshu Rana and Manjot Kalra looked in control, with no wickets down and 65 on the board. The match looked wrapped up and, for India, everything was going to script.
There was just one problem: the writers forgot to give the Nepalis the same script. Kamal Singh demolished Rana’s stumps, and the wickets tumbled.
Stumbling to 166 all out, David had beaten Goliath again. Nepali social media went into meltdown. Servers struggled to keep up with the traffic, and even the Prime Minister weighed in with his praises.
Though, a dampener in all this triumph is that Nepal remains suspended from the ICC due to government interference, in a ban that was enforced in April 2016. Heading towards the two-year mark, there looks to be no solution, as the Nepali government and the ICC continue to dispute issues with no compromise.
Despite these political problems stifling Nepali cricket, there is plenty to be excited about.
1 Grassroots and youth continue to come through
Nepal’s now famous 19-run win over India in the Asian Under 19 Championship is just the latest of many instances where youth has achieved international success. In the 2016 Under 19 World Cup in Bangladesh, the men in blue and red knocked over New Zealand and Ireland. This is not a new occurrence, with South Africa also a scalp of Nepal at Under 19 level, losing to the Asian side in 2006.
The conveyor belt of blooding talent into the Nepali national team is the youth sides, given the pitfalls of the domestic system, though the players who have gone on to player full internationals at young ages have repaid their selectors. Sandeep Lamichanne and Dipendra Singh Airee are the two latest examples of players with first eleven experience who have gone back to represent youth teams, bringing with them invaluable experience. Lamichanne took a wicket in their upset over New Zealand, and tore Ireland apart with a spell of 5 for 27 off ten overs (which included a hat-trick, no less). Airee made his name with an innings of 90 from 99 balls at last year’s Asian U19 cup, and has been the biggest contributor with the bat. A positive response of the lack of quality domestic opportunity is the fast-tracking of players into the senior team. Nepal camps before international matches are made up of over 25 players, allowing players on the fringe to develop and make their own cases for selection.
On a grassroots level, academies throughout the country have the players’ development in their best interests. Chitwan and Pokhara are two of several cities outside the capital of Kathmandu that have excellent junior talent infrastructure. Scores of kids are given coaching and opportunities that belie resource levels, which prove that those involved in player development have a passion for cricket and player development. With this, the sheer popularity of the sport, and a population bigger than Australia combine, Nepal will invariably produce international talent.
An enviable brand of team cricket is promoted around the country. Players develop trust, hunting in a pack, unfazed by opposition or adverse conditions. Even in the blazing heat, as the harsh conditions unravel others, Nepali players seem unflappable. This is a result of excellent development. The success of the national team, including the senior team’s win over the MCC at Lord’s in 2016, is sure to galvanise the next generation.
2 The power of the people can lift eleven men
At close to thirty million people, Nepal has more people than several cricketing powers, notably Australia and Sri Lanka. Combine this with cultural/geographical influences around them, and the advent of social media, and you have this wave of fanatical support for the sport of cricket. Twitter goes into meltdown when cricket is on, and cable television in the country beams hours of the from around the world every day, just to ensure the needs of the people are met.
Anyone who has tuned into a Nepal match or have read reports will have seen or felt a huge presence of its fans. As such, the Tribhuvan University ground and the new ground in Mulpani grounds could be fortresses. While international crickets should relish travelling there to play (a point this author can personally attest), the sheer support for the home team can be enough to put some of the associates’ best off their guard.
With Ireland and Afghanistan set to enter the test arena, it has opened a chance for Nepal to flourish on the associate stage. While this has taken a hit by their relegation to World Cricket League Championship division two, their demotion is merely a re-shuffle given the changes of Test playing teams. Set to fight it out with Namibia, UAE and Kenya, there is constant competition to to impress. Oman are another emerging threat set to do battle in the competition, though again, Nepal, with the incredible support of their fans may have an advantage. For associate countries Nepal can boast perhaps the most fanatical fandom as Facebook groups and Twitter hashtags for cricket are swamped with Nepali posts.
3 New facilities in Mulpani - not just a ground opening
In 2002, the ICC planned to build the Global Cricket Academy in Nepal. Mulpani was the earmarked location for the project, though it was quashed due to safety reasons. As a result, the plan moved to the United Arab Emirates, where the centre has since been opened in Dubai.
Fast-forward to 2009 and the Mulpani plan was resurrected, this time a blueprint from the Nepali government and the Asian Cricket Council. Stifled by struggling to find a working committee, building disputes and the suspension of CAN, it took a lift from members of the national team and other investors to push the project over the line. The extra funds ensured the ground met playable requirements though finishing touches are still needed to be made.
The ground will hopefully hose down doubts of levels in Nepali infrastructure for high level international fixtures, and take some of the weight off the shoulders of the Tribhuvan University Ground. The only ground used for high-level fixtures, the Tribhuvan Ground has been used nearly to its exhaustion.
4 The Everest Premier League
Many have rightfully bemoaned a lack of domestic structure in Nepali cricket. Without a national competition, national team players dropped from the team have been unable to make a case for their recall. Anil Mandal is one example of a player dropped, with little chance to make a claim for a spot in the team through strong domestic performances. Nahesh Chhetri, Rajesh Pulami and Naresh Budhayer have experienced a similar fate. Kanishka Chaugai, a hero in Nepal’s triumph over South Africa in 2006, moved to the United States for better work opportunities. A lack of first class cricket, with no reimbursement for domestic-level players has meant that very few players can continue to strive for selection, and be financially stable.
This is where the Everest Premier League comes in. A T20 tournament, the EPL uses the auction format to create its teams, in a similar framework to the IPL. While Mandal and Chhetri were not picked up, others have been thrown a deserved lifeline. Players representing regions and being payed to play is a win/win situation for everybody. Fans are treated to cricket, players who have made sacrifices to play at the highest level are rewarded in the domestic scene, and matches build competition, thus building competitors. The standard of cricket improves for everybody involved.
This competition should build on the weaknesses of Nepali cricket. Batting and fast bowling are two parts of Nepal’s game that must improve on the international stage, and hopefully two facets that will see development with the new format. Prospective batsmen will be able to test themselves against the country’s best, while fast bowlers can push themselves physically with multiple games a week. Historically, it is the latter that have struggled to find a place in the national team. Captain Paras Khadka has picked up the slack, Karan KC has struggled with injury, while Sompal Kami - the number one quick in the country - has struggled for form. More match experience and fitness would prevent both problems.
A Television deal with AP1 HD has been approved for three years for the tournament, in another boost for the game financially. 12 HD cameras and the first third umpire system in the country’s history prove that the game is moving with the times, and the country’s media are excited to have the country’s development on their screens. There is also potential that this tournament combines forces with the Dhangadi Premier League.
5 There will always be spinning options
conducive to slower, dryer wickets, spinners are in abundance. This is a good matchup against other associate teams and suits their limited overs aspirations as spin bowling has become a bigger weapon in the games shorter forms. Many now believe that taking pace off the ball has made it harder to score, a tactic employed by many around the world.
Sandeep Lamichanne is the latest exponent at senior level, though Susan Bhari and Sushil Kandel are just two of many who may also slip into the fold as eventual national team replacements for Shakti Gauchan and Basant Regmi, who are in the twilight of their careers.
For Nepali players, their skills in spin bowling, as well as dealing with slow bowling with bat in hand, may be a ticket for higher level cricket. Twenty20 franchise leagues in Pakistan and the Caribbean could be a place for Nepali players to create prosperous careers for themselves, with the skills they develop passed onto teammates a. Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan, now considered one of the best young spinners in world cricket, has made a name for himself in T20 franchise cricket. There’s no reason why a Nepali cricketer could not emulate the same success.
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