Saturday Features

The Long Innings

Nepal’s ODI debut against Netherlands this week was a cause for celebration but also a reminder of the fine margins between fairy tale runs and dreams deferred

- ADARSHA DHAKAL

Handing out a cap to a player before their debut is a long-standing tradition in cricket—a tradition that now has its own idiom: ‘to get one’s first cap’. On Wednesday, in Amsterdam, Nepali coach Jagat Tamatta handed out not one, not two, but 11 new caps to his charges. After a long, arduous 22-year journey, the Nepali cricket team was finally taking to the field for its very first One Day International game. And for the first time in their playing careers, all the players—from the young spin prodigy Sandeep Lamichhane to the wily old veteran Shakti Gauchan—were debutants together.

“It is hard to describe how special this moment is,” said Paras Khadka, the 30-year-old skipper who has been at the heart of Nepal’s cricketing exploits over the last decade, said at the ceremony, “Moments like this come few and far in between for us. Going out there and representing Nepal in a one-day international means the world to all of us. A dream come true, literally.”

Nepali cricket officially stepped into the international stage on Wednesday with the Paras-led team playing its first ever One Day International (ODI) match at the VRA grounds in Amstelveen.

And while yet another batting collapse meant that Nepal were comfortably beaten on the day by the Dutch, the day also happens to mark the zenith of the country’s cricketing history—one that has come to fruition through the contribution of three generations of cricketers.

Compared to the fairytale progress that South Asian neighbours Afghanistan have made in world cricket by elevating themselves to Test status in a short span of time, Nepal’s path to an ODI status was arduous and long. Playing its first cricket game at the 1996 ACC Trophy in Singapore, Nepal has watched teams like Afghanistan and Bangladesh transform themselves into world beaters while it continues to flatter to deceive as the perennial dark horses in age-group cricket.

It is worth remembering that eight short years ago, Nepal were languishing in the fifth rung of the World Cricket League ladder set up for Non-test playing nations under the International Cricket Council. And while Afghanistan, who began the journey together with Nepal in the same division in 2008, made the most of the WCL structure by becoming an ODI nation in 2011, Nepal took the long way there. The journey, particularly the final hurdles in recent tournaments in Namibia and Zimbabwe, were not convincing, but the eighth place finish in the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifiers, earlier this year, meant that the country now has the license to rub shoulders with the giants of world cricket.

On the historic day, Wednesday, Nepal blew a solid chance to become one of the few nations to win its debut ODI match after losing to Netherlands by 55 runs in the first of the two-match ODI series at the VRA Grounds in Amstelveen.

Skipper Paras Khadka picked up four wickets in a tight bowling display to restrict the Netherlands to 189 all out in 47.4 overs. While Nepali openers Gyanendra Malla and Anil Sah gave Nepal a modest start with a half century stand, the middle order failed to make the most of what could have been by being bundled out for just 134 runs in 41.5 overs.

This batting implosion goes on to show that while these indeed are heady days for Nepali cricket, the ground realities remain riddled with obstacles and challenges. 

 

The ODI status comes as a result of the hard work and perseverance shown by the national team despite the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN)—the nation’s governing body for the sport—remaining suspended by the ICC for the last two years. In the absence of a governing body, Nepal has had to compromise with pre-tournament preparations, with the full knowledge that the team would be competing in pitches in countries that have vastly different playing conditions than home. 

In earnest, Nepal were lucky to come through the recent tournaments in Zimbabwe and Namibia where they won three out of four group games in last ball-thrillers before entering the final as league toppers with a negative net run rate. It, therefore, is nothing short of a miracle that Nepal’s new status among the elites of the game has been achieved without proper facilities, world-class stadiums, and lately even a domestic cricket setup.

Nepal’s only international standard ground—the Tribhuvan University Stadium—is badly worn out, and is often, in jest, compared to a paddy field. It has been a decade since the second international ground in Mulpani was conceived, but that project too is yet to truly take off. Furthermore, as insult to injury, Nepal’s only domestic tournament in the past year was the Prime Minister’s Cup—a short ODI affair.

Nepal cricket has now come to a decisive stage where only a governing body with an efficient management can help the national team make the most of the hard-earned ODI status.

In March, former national team skipper and current U-19 coach Binod Das was over the moon upon hearing the news but he remained cautious about predicting how exactly the next four years will pan out. “It is really a great feeling to be an ODI nation. But, truth be told, we are in quite a precarious situation. This is the time when we need to establish relations with cricket boards from other countries. And to do that we need a decision maker that will represent a governing body. But we don’t have that at the moment,” said Das, referring to the absence of an administration.

Nepali cricket is now at a crucial juncture from where it can either be the next Afghanistan—whose management worked hard to get them their Test status—or become another Kenya who have failed to capitalise on their past glories and now languish in Division 3.

“The first issue that we need to address is setting up proper management. Every one of us—players, coaches, cricket’s stake holders and sports officials—have to work collectively now to make sure we are able to draw the maximum benefits from this achievement,” Paras Khadka has said.

But to reap benefits from the ODI status, the effort from just the cricket’s governing body, Khadka says, will not be enough, as it requires a huge amount of investment, along with a broad working mechanism to ensure Nepali cricket doesn’t lose its new found momentum.” We need to keep improving and upgrading

ourselves. This is obviously a dream come true, but things are not going to be easy for us from here on out,” the skipper added.

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I had never thought of playing cricket for Nepal. Being at the Lord’s, playing the Twenty20 World Cup was a distant thing for me. It is a great privilege to be a part of this wonderful journey. I take this as my life’s biggest achievement.”

—Gyanendra Malla

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Getting the ODI cap itself was a guard of honour. It could have been a dream farewell for me had we won but it didn’t happen. We have embarked on a new journey now.”

—Shakti Gauchan

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We should focus on infrastructure development in order to capitalise on the new-found status. We have been playing in Tundikhel (open places) for years and we made huge stride immediately after building a cricket ground at the TU Stadium in Kirtipur. Even the government has, of late, started to take interest which is a very good sign for Nepali cricket.”

—Binay Raj Pandey, former CAN president

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Playing the ODI has given everyone of us a huge motivation. We know that to lift Nepali cricket, ODI was important. More than winning (against the Netherlands), achieving the ODI status itself is a big thing for us.”

—Sompal Kami

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It was a historic moment for us to play the first ODI game. We now need  to capitalise on the opportunity in the next four years. It gives us a good ground to even earn a Test status in future. It all depends on governance, cricket board, infrastructure and the  preparations to see where we will be in the next four years. With good governance in the cricket board, which hopefully will come into existence in near future, and with proper infrastructure in place we can surely establish ourselves as a competitive ODI nation. If that happens, we can even dream of earning a Test status.”

—Pawan Agrawal, former national team captain

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The journey so far

1996: Nepal plays its first international match at the ACC Trophy in Malaysia

2001: Nepal plays its first World Cup Qualifiers at the ICC Trophy in Canada

2003: Wins the ACC Emerging Nations Cup, Nepal’s first international trophy

2004: Plays its first 3-day match at the Intercontinental Cup in the UAE

2006/7: Wins the ACC Fast Track Countries tournament

2010: Wins the WCL Div 5 on home soil

2012: Wins the WCL Div 4 in Malaysia

2013: Wins the WCL Div 3 in Bermuda

2013: Places third in the World T20 qualifiers in UAE, qualifies for the World T20 World Cup

2014: Relegated to Div 3 after placing 9th in the ICC World Cup Qualifiers in New Zealand

2014: Nepal competes in its first major tournament, the World Twenty20, in Bangladesh; earns T20 Status

2014: Wins WCL Div 3, for the second time, in Malaysia

2015: Places fourth in WCL Div 2 played in Namibia, stays afloat in the division

2018: Places runners up in the WCL Div 2 in Namibia, qualifies for the World Cup Qualifier

2018: Places eighth in the ICC CWCQ in Zimbabwe but secures a ODI status until 2022

2018: Plays its first ODI match against Netherlands

Published: 2018-08-04 08:56:45