Nepal had crossed over the Indian Ocean across to Sri Lanka for participation in the Asia Cricket Cup last month of August which is being played with six nations distributed over two groups. Nepal incidentally fell in the tougher group alongside cricket Giants India and Pakistan both of whom have bagged the World Cup and Asia Cup awards several times in the past. In the other group are Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan featuring only one Asian and World Cup winner in Sri Lanka. It would have been slightly easier for Nepal had they been in the second Group instead of the first. Despite this Nepal showed spirited performance both against Pakistan and India in parts and if not in the whole.
Some of the Parliamentarians outburst in the running session of the Parliament regarding the need to deliver whatever has already been promised shows how indifferent is the Government for the development of cricket in Nepal.
Nepal showed tremendous promise by sending two the opening Batsmen of Pakistan Mr.Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq. Whilst Mr. Zaman was bowled and caught Mr. Haque was run out to hit wicket throw from Nepali skipper Mr Rohit Paudel. Had the Nepali fast bowler Karan KC taken the simple return catch from Babar Azam, the Pakistani skipper when he was at 55 the nature of the Nepali Innings would be a different entity altogether. M. KC will rue for this failure for the rest of life. Here was the opportunity to out Babar, the number one Batsmen in the 50 over games. The Pakistani inning which was otherwise marching in an arithmetic pace now assumed an exponential pace with the result that it bloated to 343 runs. The following Nepali innings folded very quickly in 104 runs against the pace battery of Palistan which is acknowledged as the best in the world led by Shaheen Shah Afridi and assisted by Naseem Shaha and Haris Rauf.
For the Nepali players, an opportunity to bowl to greats like Babar and bat against the likes of Afridi and company itself was a great achievement. One of the sparks in the otherwise gloomy bowling of Nepali cricketers was certainly the show of the pavilion to the Pakistani opening batsmen within the score at 25.
The Nepali Prime Minister had spoken to the Nepali players before the start of the game. But more than shedding such a crocodile tear, the management of proper facilities to the player would be a real boost for the players. But the situation is such that they have not received the facilities even committed to them. Some of the Parliamentarians outburst in the running session of the Parliament regarding the need to deliver whatever has already been promised shows how indifferent is the Government for the development of cricket in Nepal. Other sports have suffered still worse a fate.
They had to wait for four years to register their first win against East Africa. Pakistan played their first match against New Zealand in 1973.
After the match against Pakistan, the captain Rohit Poudel in particular had said that they have learnt lesson from the Pakistani game and they want to use this learning in the game against India. Nepal were gifted with three easy catches by India. Perhaps, the team India was not motivated to stretch to their best against the Cricket minnows like Nepal. Riding on the dropping of three catches, Nepali batsmen put their tail up and scored quite considerably. 38 runs scored by Nepali opening batman Kushal Bhurtel over 25 balls was the main highlight of Nepali batting. The score of 58 by another opening batsman Mr Aasif Sekh was another notable performance. Again the score of 48 by Sompal Kami, the Nepali fast bowler was yet another stand-out performance putting the score at 230. Had the batsmen, Mr. Bhurtel, Mr. Sheikh and Mr. Kami batted few more overs Nepali score could go well past 250.
Rain played a spoil sport as it has been doing since the beginning of the tournament. Plans are underway to shift the future venue to Colombo instead of ever raining Pallekele sports ground. It meant that India had to score 145 runs in 23 overs. As such, they had already cast a spell on Nepali bowlers especially Sompal Kami who was hit for three fours in the second over by Indian opening batman Shubman Gill. Later, Rohit who was otherwise kept in check by Karan KC in the first over also followed suit by raining fours and sixes following the rain that had stopped just before. India ended scoring the required 145 runs without the fall of a single wicket which would not be the case had Gulshan Jha held the catch off Rohit Sharma which later ballooned in the form of a six. Though Nepal performed comparatively well against the Indian bowling, they did not have answer to the Indian batting.
The passion of cricket among Nepali people has been incredible indeed. In the match against India, Mr. Rabi Lamichhane, the president of the fourth largest party in the Parliament, the Rastriya Swatantra Party and Balen Shaha the Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City were seen among the Nepali crowds. Mr. Balen has committed to bear the expense of cricket stadium given the land required for it. In fact, the lack of cricket playing facilities in Nepal coupled by low payment as reflected by the failure of the Government to pay even the committed money has been the main stumbling block in Nepali cricket's march towards the desired performance.
It remains to be seen when Nepal will secure the first ever victory against the Test playing nations even though it has won against the associate countries like United Arab Emirates.
India played their first One day international in Leeds England. Then it used to be a 60 over game as against 50 overs today. India scored 266 runs. England won this game by 4 wickets. They had to wait for four years to register their first win against East Africa. Pakistan played their first match against New Zealand in 1973. They just had to wait for a year to win the first ever 50 over match which was against England in the year 1974. Nepal has played against the Test Playing nations for example Zimbabwe and West Indies in the World Cup qualifier but ended up losing against them. It remains to be seen when Nepal will secure the first ever victory against the Test playing nations even though it has won against the associate countries like United Arab Emirates. Nepal had got this opportunity to play against the Crickets' greats such as India and Pakistan after winning 11 matches among 12 matches. This shows Nepal's successful cricketing campaign.
Looking at the popularity of Cricket in India, it is said that Cricket is an Indian game discovered accidentally by the British. Now against the backdrop of the passion of this game in Nepal, it has to be said that Cricket is a Nepali game discovered accidentally in Britain. Such is the following of this game. The Government has however been showing only a lukewarm response which needs to be intensified for the future of cricket in Nepal.
Nepal's cricket coach Monty Desai is something of a blessing to Nepali Cricket. Since he took over as the coach, Nepal has made tremendous stride in the cricketing arena. But the lack of genuine fast bowler who can bowl consistently in the speed of more than 140km per hour has been a stumbling block. Afghanistan cricket has made a dramatic progress in a short time. It is due to the raw strength of the Afghans partly. Nepal also should groom cricketers among the Sherpa trekking youngsters who will have the stamina to bowl fast. So could be the lanky and tall Chowdhury boys of the Madhesh Terai.
Islands of excellence could be seen in the two games that Nepal played against India and China. The inning of Kushal Bhurtel followed by those of Asif Sheikh and Sompal Kami were few of these. But the ocean of mediocrity stared equally in the lack of bowling penetration in the match against India due to which it had to lose by a wide margin of 10wickets. These are some of the weak spots that should be of concern for Mr. Desai.
The author is the former Vice-Chancellor of Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST).