INTERVIEW

Are administrators ready to take on the same amount of accountability that I take as captain?

  • Interview Paras Khadka

Mar 26, 2018-

Nepali cricket scaled a new height this month securing one-day international (ODI) status for the next four years.

The historical achievement was made possible when Nepal beat Papua New Guinea in the seventh-place playoff during the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifiers in Harare, Zimbabwe on March 15. The achievement is remarkable considering that Nepal only just made it to the Qualifiers by virtue of making it to the final of the ICC World Cricket League (WCL) Division 2 in Namibia where they lost to fellow qualifier United Arab Emirates in the final. The ODI status means that the country now has the license to rub shoulders with the giants of world cricket, bringing the team a step closer to the ultimate dream of becoming a Test-playing country. Remarkably, the recent successes come amidst a scenario where Nepal’s cricket governing body—Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN)—is non-functional. CAN has been under International Cricket Council (ICC) suspension for the last two years due to internal disputes. Adarsha Dhakal met with Nepal’s talismanic skipper Paras Khadka to talk about the significance of the recent achievement and the challenges that lie ahead.

What does ODI status mean for Nepal?

Achieving ODI status has been very important for laying a solid foundation for cricket in the country. It is something we have strived to achieve. It is also an important mark to reach internationally. When we were labelled as Associate cricketers, we were always considered a “B” level team, even within this group. Now, after reaching ODI status, we are counted as one among the “A” category. This means that not only can we play against our ODI peers, if we plan and prepare for it, we can compete against Test playing countries as well. Having said that, ODI status comes with a lot of responsibilities. It is probably the biggest challenge Nepal cricket has faced. Reaching the World Cup Qualifiers was satisfying, but this entails a four-year period of sustained presence among ODI countries. This is the best foundation for Nepal cricket to build on.

How do you view your own journey—from the time that you were introduced to Nepali cricket to the present?

Initially, I did not want to become a cricketer. But I’ve always tried to give my best on the field. All these years, we have had a lot of ups and downs. There were times when I thought about giving up playing. Even before Division 2 in Namibia, the seniors in the team had a talk. We were discussing whether we should give it up, and perhaps leave the team and the sport to the youngsters. Even in 2010, we had a similar conversation. In between, a lot of things have happened. And Nepali cricket has grown ten-folds. Eventually, things panned out. There have been a lot of sacrifices, not just by myself but by the whole team and the coaches. I think that we have reached a good place now. But as you go higher, your dreams get bigger. 

The turning point was in 2011 (in the lead-up to the World Twenty20 Qualifiers). We finished seventh at the end of qualifiers but we missed out as only the top six teams qualified. I was thinking then that if we rose to rank seven from 14, we could definitely come within the top six the next time we were given the same chance. And we did (in 2014). Between now and 2022, I really hope that Nepal will qualify for the 50-over World Cup, and that we will also get a shot at qualifying for the T20 World Cup. We have definitely been given an opportunity to grow and succeed.

Nepal was once playing Division 5 in 2008, and again in 2010. So how did this turn around in performance occur?

Hiring Pubudu Dassanayake as coach was probably the biggest turning point for Nepal. Because we did not know what to do or how to go about things before hiring him, we were lost. Once he came, he set a clear path with points to achieve in order for us to reach our intended destination. We followed the path and ended up breaking many barriers.

What does Nepali cricket require to make the most of this opportunity?

First of all, we need to face the reality that although we are performing reasonably well, the results were very close to being completely different. In Division 2, we won three of our matches on the last ball. So, if any of those balls had gone differently, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about the potential of Nepali cricket for the future. The team has to improve. But more importantly, we should not be basing the future of Nepali cricket solely on what the national team does. We are already a full-fledged cricketing nation with support from corporate houses, the media and the people. Now we have to work to change the structure of Nepali cricket. The structure should be consistent regardless of the players, coaching and administrative changes, and as importantly, even the government changes. In the next four years, if we are not successful in building a concrete system to support the sport, we might as well pack up. Cricket may remain in Nepal, but we will lose all aspirations of being a Test-playing country.

What do you think should be your role in the current crisis that has unfolded in the cricket governing body, CAN?

I want to score a lot of runs and win matches for my country. That is something within my control. Beyond that, I want to help bridge a gap between the parties involved. ICC has been involving me in the process in a very small way. It is important that everyone comes together with the right picture in mind. I cannot do everything and it is not my sole responsibility to do so either. Unfortunately, things have come together in a way that makes me somewhat related to the situation. I will act as the bridge, but I believe that people need to let go of any self-interests that they may harbour. Now is the time to put differences aside and to put cricket in the forefront. None of us involved—including players, coaches, admins and even former players and coaches—can claim to be a part of Nepali cricket if we do not manage and plan things together.

Is it only up to the cricketing authorities to develop infrastructure and a domestic set-up for the sport, or does the government have a role to play?

The government has to keep cricket in the forefront, because the sport has done more than enough for it to be considered a priority. Cricket has given the country an identity. Just having a good team is not going to be enough to guarantee good performance. Whoever comes into a position to dictate the future of cricket has to be answerable for his/her decisions. As a cricket captain, I am answerable for every match that we play. But are our administrators ready to take on the same amount of accountability and responsibility for their actions? We need a strong network in place so cricket can grow further. 

When looking at age-groups, Nepal has performed well. This was validated by our performance in the under-19 World Cup. However, the senior side has faltered in many tight situations. Will having ODI status help us become more consistent?

It will obviously give us a bit of confidence. The world cricket league is very tough. Through all the hurdles faced, we could be performing very well for six months and then have the performances become undone six months later. Securing ODI status for four years allows us room to build our strength. It will help the players gain confidence and have mental stability, because ODI status means that a few bad performances will not result in us falling down the ranks immediately. That cushion is important. For Nepali cricket to go further, it needs expert coaching and good facilities. We also need the players to feel secure. I know that having ODI status will increase the funds received by Nepal from ICC. But it is not just about increasing money, it is about getting the right people in and then keeping them. Six months or a year down the line, the situation may come where Nepal will need a new captain. However, the system should be able to identify and secure a new captain when needed. It should be less about a particular person and more about the structure. 

If all things are settled, in terms of infrastructure and the domestic set-up, what would be the state of Nepali cricket in the future?

In the next eight years, I believe we will become a Test-playing country. The most important thing for this to happen is that the structure has to be put in place. Also, our human resources (HR) approach has to be strong. If we look at cricket right now, the most important human resource has to be the players. In any successful organisation, the most important employees are taken care of. The coaches and players have to be well cared for so that they do not deviate. Strengthening the backbone of the organisation should be the most important agenda. First of all, we need to get a proper cricket pitch. Instead of following a step-by-step approach to strengthen cricket, people always attempt to jump to the end. In the next three months, we need to focus on re-laying the pitch and field at our current grounds in Kirtipur, Mulpani, Pokhara and elsewhere. Talks of a large stadium are premature.

Who do you want to host as an ODI nation, and why?

The Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland and the UAE have always wanted to come here. But in the next year or so, if we really develop our infrastructure, I would probably want one of the bigger Test-playing countries to visit. I am not degrading Ireland or Afghanistan, who have just been promoted to Test-playing status, but hosting the more seasoned Test-playing nations (it could be Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Zimbabwe) would show the world what Nepal is trying to achieve in cricket.

Published: 26-03-2018 08:00

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