Amidst the daily dose of never ending and frustrating news of Nepal’s political and economic woes, once in a while Nepal’s young bring positive news and show that all is not lost. Indeed, the hope of Nepal’s cricket team is in strong contradiction to the general mood of despondency in the country.
Recently, Nepal’s senior cricket team qualified for the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup 2015 qualifiers and ICC Twenty 20 World cup 2014 qualifiers. In a country where success stories abound but are often ignored by the media, the achievement of Nepal’s cricketers offer hope and fills us with a sense of national pride. Never has any sports team ever made the country prouder than the current cricket squad.
Despite domestic limitations and challenges, Nepal has got a foothold in world cricket through hard work and determination. It is a lesson that if we set goals, have a sense of passion and train hard, there is nothing that is not within our grasp.
Cricket was first popularized in Nepal by Madan Sumshere Rana in the 1920s. The youngest son of Prime Minister Chandra Sumshere was so passionate about the game that he had a cricket field in his palace, and used to travel to Lahore, Delhi and Lucknow to watch and play cricket tournaments. It was only in 1950s that cricket broke out of its elite circle, and the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) subsequently tried to spread the game’s popularity. CAN became a member of the National Sports Council in 1961 and it was only after 1980 that the game started being played outside Kathmandu. CAN got ICC affiliate membership in 1988, and by 1996 it had acquired associate membership.
Analyzing the new success of Nepal’s national cricket team, we can see that there are five factors that have been the key ingredients for success.
STRONG YOUTH CRICKET FOUNDATION
The foundation of the current senior national team is quite balanced and is brimming with talent and experience. Most of the players have represented Nepal in various age group levels such as Under 15, 17 and 19, and have had a taste of success. The Nepali youth cricket team is ranked one of the best in Asia after India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It has won all the major Asian Cricket Council’s (ACC) competitions, and have taken part in five Under 19 ICC cricket world cup finals. Credit goes to the players as well as the contribution of CAN and ACC coaches.
The success of the youth teams at international events have proved to be milestones in enhancing the popularity of game in Nepal. This has led to interested youth getting involved in cricket, entry of much needed sponsors for the game, increased fan following and a sense of national pride and unity. Our Under 19 youth team has already won cricket matches against cricketing powerhouses such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and South Africa. The biggest win came in the 2006 ICC Under 19 World Cup, held in Sri Lanka, where Nepal won the plate championship by beating New Zealand in the finals.
POSITIVE ENERGY AND WINNING ATTITUDE
Despite the youth team’s dominance at every level in international competitions, the national side has failed to replicate the success. This is mainly due to the lack of an adequate pool of senior players due to which an increased reliance is placed on younger players.
The seniors have come a long way, however, and the youth cricketers have graduated to become senior players. Nepal also has a separate pool of players for the youth team which proves that we are maturing as a cricketing nation. The senior side has been performing consistently well since 2010 and reaching the finals of the ACC trophy that year (this is the Asia Cup for non-test playing cricketing nations) after a long drought of six years. Similarly, the team won the ICC World Cricket League Division 5 in 2010 keeping the dream alive for the ICC world cup 2015 qualifiers. The Nepali team started off 2012 finishing 7th at the ICC world Twenty20 qualifier, which boosted the morale of the players. The team then went on to win the ICC World Cricket League Division 4 convincingly showing that the team does belong to a higher level. The biggest win came at the end of the year where it won the ACC trophy 2012 with strong and matured performance.
The national team performed even better in 2013 going on to final of the ACC Twenty 20 cup for the first time in history, and qualifying for the ICC world Twenty 20 world cup 2014 qualifiers. Moreover, the team was able to prove its strength at the newer version of the game. The biggest win came at Bermuda, where Nepal went on to win the ICC world cricket league Division 3 and qualified to play the ICC world cup 2015 qualifiers to be held in New Zealand next year.
Nepal has been lucky in having the right coaches at right time. The role played by two ex-Sri Lankan national cricket players and former coach Roy Dias and the current coach Pubudu Dassanayake has been phenomenal. Dias coached Nepal for almost a decade, and was responsible for shaping the team by harnessing youth talent with emphasis on strict discipline. On the other hand, the current coach who was in the Canadian national cricket team in the 2011 world cup, has been an aggressive risk taker, and this approach has yielded results. Since his arrival in 2011 the national side has already won three major tournaments. The current coach has unleashed the full potential of our players, arranging and creating opportunities for them to be trained at world class facilities and play for various international clubs. He has also helped set up the National Cricket Academy (NCA) to provide a platform for upcoming cricketers.
In addition, Paras Khadka has had the experience of being a captain from a young age, and has played a formidable role in grooming the team into professionals of the highest quality. The zeal and hunger to win games, a positive and winning attitude has made him the griving force. Good leadership, team spirit and strong bonding among players have been the key element for success. Khadka is now the face of cricket in Nepal, and has inspired many young players to pick up the bat and ball.
INCREASED FAN FOLLOWING AND MEDIA SUPPORT
One of the biggest assets of Nepal’s national team has been its fan following, and wall to wall coverage in the media. From a simple Facebook page with 11,000+ followers to a blog exclusively dedicated to cricket, and numerous websites, Nepali cricket fans are always there to cheer their team on. Cricket fans keep awake all night to follow live text commentary from the other side of the world, a phenomenon so far restricted to football World Cups. In the 2013 ACC Twenty 20 cup tournament, CAN initiated a ticket system for the first time in history and a record 20,000 fans showed up for the match against Afghanistan.
Cricket has become the second most popular sport in Nepal, and is swiftly catching up with football. We may not have Tendulkar or Malinga but we now have our very own Paras Khadka and Shakti Gauchan. The fans may not be as obsessed as fans in other countries, but when the team comes home it is a festive parade all over the capital.
A lot of this is due to the media’s coverage of games, and the advent of satellite tv. Cricket has brought a sense of national pride and a boost to Nepali self-esteem. During an ACC trophy final played at Sharjah UAE in 2012, there were more than 5000 people from the Nepali diaspora in the stands supporting the team waving the Nepali double triangle flag. Even at the ICC Division 3 tournament in Bermuda, the national team was surprised to see die-hard Nepali cricket fans with national flags in the stadium. “If we have supporters in Bermuda, we will have supporters anywhere in the world,” Khadka said then.
With the current success, Nepal can now confidently aim to take part in future One Day Internationals.