Nepali Cricket Team has returned home after registering a consolation victory over United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the ACC Mens' Emerging Cup Tournament that was held in Sri Lanka after losing to India A and Pakistan A cricket teams. This match was played in two groups with Sri Lanka A, Bangladesh A, Afghanistan A and Oman in Group A and India A, Pakistan A, UAE and Nepal in Group B which spanned from 14th to 24th July this year. Earlier, it also took part in the World Cup Qualifier held in host nation Zimbabwe which was again split in two Groups. In the Group A were teams like Nepal, Zimbabwe, West Indies, the Netherlands and USA while in Group B were countries like Sri Lanka, Ireland, Scotland, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. This match was played from 18 June to 9th July. The recent performance of the Nepali Team should be assessed against this backdrop.
The traditional sport of Nepal is Dandi Biyo which is however still played in Nepal in the countryside.
Cricket is recognized as a British phenomenon but the Chinese President XI created a surprise during his visit to the United Kingdom in the year 2015 by saying that such a game was played in China in early times. Britishers reciprocated by saying that Table Tennis was played in UK in the Victorian Times after dinner which was known was whiff whaff as against the general impression that it was a Chinese find ping pong. Later, it became more popular in politics by the name of ping pong diplomacy. Whatever the truth, it started being played formally between England and Australia from the year 1876, the year of the demise of Junga Bahadur and is known as the oldest cricket rivalry. It is now being played between the two adversaries Australia and England in Old Trafford Cricket Ground of Manchester at the present.
Junga Bahadur himself was interested in sports and he is said to have jumped from Dharahara with the help of a large umbrella, an incredible spectacle of the present day sky hiking. The traditional sport of Nepal is Dandi Biyo which is however still played in Nepal in the countryside. It is sad that this sport is not encouraged even though we find in India how they have been promoting Kabaddi. Cricket has been borrowed in Nepal as is English and parliamentary democracy in Nepal. It has come to the present state after its modest start by Madan Shamsher, the son of Chandra Shamsher.
Cricket has been popular among Nepali sport enthusiasts. It can be gauged by the presence of thousands of them in the games held in the University Ground with some watching by climbing the tree after the ground proved woefully inadequate for accommodating the overpowering spectators. Its consecutive win in 11games out of 12 at a stretch culminating in the qualification for the Asian Cup speaks volumes about this reality.
It evaporated Nepal's possibility of qualifying for the super Six after being beaten by Ireland in the following match by 7 wickets.
Nepal however has not been able to maintain this winning streak presently. In the World Cup Qualifier played in Zimbabwe it lost against the Test Playing host nation Zimbabwe despite scoring respectable total of 291 runs with its opening Batsman Kushal Bhurtel missing century by just 1 run. Zimbabwe however won it through two centuries scored by its players Craig Ervine and Sian Williams. It also lost the game against West Indies which have been going through a slump despite being the World Cup winners in two occasions so intense that they could not qualify for the World Cup this time. Nepal had done well in the beginning with West Indies' 3 wickets down for a mere 55 runs and who knows what would be the outcome of the match had not the Nepali wicket keeper dropped the catch which then would reduce West Indies to 66 runs for 4. After all, it is the catches that win the matches in cricket. Later, West Indies ended up amassing a huge total of 339 runs which Nepal found difficult to score after they were bundled out for 239 runs. It evaporated Nepal's possibility of qualifying for the super Six after being beaten by Ireland in the following match by 7 wickets. It had to be content with the eighth spot after beating United States and the UAE.
Nepal's match in the World Cup Qualifier was dampened by firstly the injury to its opening bowler Sompal Kami and secondly due to its inability to play the short pitched balls. Its coach Monty Desai said that short ball is difficult to all the cricket players and so to Nepal. The first time exposure to the Test Playing nations also was a tall hill to climb for Nepal.
Nepal's showing in the Emerging Cup Tournament was also similar. It suffered a batting collapse against the Pakistan A team initially but made a bit of a comeback with its fast bowler Sompal Kami hitting a lusty 75 scoring a total of 179 runs. The front line batsmen fell like a house of cards. It would have been a different story had the Nepali team gone past 200 runs. Pakistan had to lose six wickets to go past the Nepali score of 179 runs. Against India A, Nepal enacted a similar scene bowing out for 167 runs. It would have been much worse had not the Nepali captain Rohit Paudel scored 65 runs out of 85 balls together with Gulshan Jha who made a quick fire 38. Nepali bowlers could not make a mark as the India A walked away with victory by losing just 1 wicket. It however ended the tournament with an encouraging note by beating now the regular rival UAE with the opening batsman Kushal Bhurtel among the runs and wickets. He not only scored 71 runs but also ended up taking 6 wickets.
Like a statistician is said to feel comfortable with one hand in furnace and the other in freeze, Nepali cricket team also may be feeling likewise with repeated batting collapses and solitary wins in both the tournaments.
Nepal could not play to their potential due to the unavailability of its fast bowler Karan KC, star bolwer Sandip Lamichhane and Dipak Singh Airy. Karan was rested with the batman Gyanendra Malla while Lamichhane and Airy left to play a Canadian Franchise. Again the failure to respond to the short pitched balls and the initial collapse was too much to compensate for the middle order batsmen of Nepal.
Like a statistician is said to feel comfortable with one hand in furnace and the other in freeze, Nepali cricket team also may be feeling likewise with repeated batting collapses and solitary wins in both the tournaments. However, it needs to prepare in an exponential pace with the next match scheduled to be played against Pakistan on 30th August in Multan, Pakistan to be able to face the likes of Babar Azam and Shaheen Shaha Afridi to name a few. It will then face India where it has to wage in a virtual war against Virat Kohli and Mohammad Siraj. If the Emerging Cup against the A team was like facing a feather weight boxer, the Asia Cup will be like taking the Heavy Weight boxers in the ring. It will certainly give a bloody nose to Nepal but that is what the game is all about. Sri Lanka, Bangla Desh and Afghanistan are in the other group in the Asia Cup.
The availability of Sandeep Lamichhane, Karan KC, Dipak Singh Airy and Gyanendra Malla will give some respite in the forthcoming tournament but again the Asia Cup with the participation of all the Test playing Nations will be like climbing the top of Everest who had reached the base camp with much difficulty for Nepal. But it is certainly going to be interesting for the Nepali cricket fans to watch the Nepali cricketers facing the legends of world Cricket like Virat Kohli and Babar Azam.
The author is the former Vice-Chancellor of Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST).