Nepali Cricket: Challenges and Potential
The last time I wrote an article on Nepali cricket - exactly two years before - Nepal had just bid farewell to an extraordinary performance on ICC World Twenty20 tournament in Bangladesh. It would be an understatement to say that the resounding performance in Bangladesh was one of the best cricket matches that the Nepali team had produced over the years. There were quite a few incredible moments in the tournament that Nepali cricket fans will cherish for a long time. Sompal Kami’s spirited Caribbean style celebration, Jitendra Mukhiya’s barrage of inch-perfect Yorkers, Paras Khada’s exemplary leadership were just few of many highlights that truly introduced Nepali cricket to the world. From the spring of 2014 in Chittagong until today, Nepali cricket fans have gone through a roller coaster of emotions. Besides some isolated victorious moments, the cricketing environment in the country has been marred with some unprecedented administrative blunders. Amidst all these administrative inefficacies, a doom and gloom state of grassroot cricket, a below par cricketing infrastructure, there are few relentless individual efforts and some innate qualities of Nepali cricket that have continued to provide hope for the future of cricket in Nepal.
This article will serve to emphasize on those efforts and ingredients, focus on some of the major challenges concerning Nepali cricket, and hopefully bring out a renewed sense of optimism among all of us Nepal cricket fans.
Unwavering passion for the game
Throughout the stumbles and setbacks that Nepali cricket has had to experience over the years, one element that has kept the cricketing spirit alive in the country is the unwavering passion for the game. And this uncompromising passion exudes from both the players and from the fans. Whether it is reflected through mimicking a contemporary cum trendy celebration after crucial moments in the game or giving a spirited post-game interview, Nepali cricket’s biggest strength lies in the passion for the game. Arguments can be made on whether an overwhelming extroverted passion could at times be detrimental to the team’s performance; but it is important to realize that it is that innate passion for the game that brings the best out of our players. It is the same passion and support from the fans that inspires our players to overcome setbacks and get the best out of themselves. The passion in various forms has contributed in keeping the sport ticking in the country.
Emergence of individual raw talent
One of the fundamental metrics of a team’s success is the player’s individual skill level. This is mainly why sports franchises all over the world spend tons of money in signing quality players, very often described as “match winners.” Despite all the administrative inadequacies and below-par grass root cricketing structure, Nepali cricket has been blessed with a constant supply of individual talents. Mehboob Alam, Binod Das and Paras Khadka are few of the many top class talents to have emerged in Nepali cricket in the past. More recently, exceptionally talented players like Sompal Kami, Raju Rijal, Sandeep Lamichhane, Pradeep Airee and the Sheikh brothers have continued to emerge. Whether or not we are doing a good job of honing raw skills of these talented individuals is a different question, but there is no denying that the supply of raw talent keeps coming.
Individual effort is making a difference
As stated above, unprecedented passion towards the game of cricket is a key ingredient to the future of Nepali cricket. This passion has been well depicted through some of the extraordinary individual efforts directed towards the improvement of cricket in the country. Subhash Shahi- a native of Dhangadhi- is the first name that comes to my mind when talking about passionate individuals working to improve Nepali cricket. Having successfully organized the Sudur Paschimanchal Academy (SPA) cup and the Dhangadhi Cricket League (DCL), Shahi is currently involved in the Dream Fapla Project – an initiative that aims to build an international standard stadium in Dhagadhi. Aamir Akhtar, an ex-Nepali cricketer and the head of Zohra Sports Management (ZSM), is another example of an individual who is putting up a marvelous effort to revitalize cricket at grassroots level by organizing of lucrative tournaments. Akhtar spearheaded the management of the project that led to successful completion of Nepal Premiere League 2014 and Everest Premiere League 2016. Even current cricketers engaged with the national team are involved in uplifting domestic cricket through running cricket camps. Shakti Gauchan and Gyanendra Malla are two prime examples of current cricketers who privately run cricket academies in their respective home districts. These remarkable individual efforts continue to provide hope for the future of Nepali cricket.
An ever-growing fan base
An unparalleled magnitude of fan following has been one of the biggest strength of Nepali cricket. Since gaining the International Cricket Council (ICC) status as an associate member nation in 1988, the popularity of the game in the country has grown thousand-folds. Despite a sorry state of seating arrangement in the only playable stadium in the country, fans turn out in massive numbers whenever there is an international game or even a mere domestic league game. The involvement of Nepali cricket fans in the social media platforms, mainly twitter and facebook, has also sky-rocketed in the past few years. Cricket fans and journalists are running quality websites and blogs informing the viewers more about the game of cricket. This enormous fan following, together with a favorable location for organizing cricket, makes Nepal a huge market for ICC. Realizing this potential, ICC today conducts international games under its direct supervision even though the CAN’s official membership has been suspended temporarily. Despite a dysfunctional cricket administration and uncertain future, the national team and the players still continue to entice sponsors here and there. This ever-growing fan base will be the key catalytic factor if cricket is to grow and flourish in Nepal.
A crippled cricket administration
Ever since the Nepal team under the leadership of Paras Khadka took a career-threatening step of boycotting national one-day tournament in 2014, it was clear that things were not okay with the way cricket was run in the country. Since then, we have had whirlwind of events, mostly destructive, all pointing towards an inefficient Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN). Though the appointment of Bhawana Ghimireas CEO of Nepal cricket in 2014 was expected to be an important step in turning the corner for Nepal’s cricket, the political interference in the cricket administration ultimately led to her resignation as the CEO of CAN. Pointing out to an incompetent cricket administration and the direct political interference in the matters concerning Nepal cricket, the ICC has also suspended CAN’s membership.
As most things in Nepal are at the moment, cricketing future is also at a crucial juncture. The CAN’s membership has been suspended; the court case regarding the dispute between the CAN and National Sports Council (NSC) is still on hold; there is no proper domestic cricketing structure; and, the infrastructures and stadiums are in desperate shape. The ICC is keeping its close eye on how things will unfold, and could permanently cancel CAN’s membership anytime.
Despite all these unfavorable circumstances, there are still enormous potential and possibilities. There are former and current batch of players and coaching staffs willing to toil hard to improve portrait of Nepali cricket. The private sector seems equally eager to jump in to be part of Nepal cricket. The passionate fans are still behind the team. We just need responsibility and commitment from the policymakers at the top.
Let’s hope that the personnel in the government, who claim the ownership of the cricket board, are now serious and honest about how and who to appoint in the cricketing board. The ICC has explosively stated that the membership won’t be granted back until “CAN becomes free of government interference and is properly structured to begin exploiting the tremendous cricket talent and opportunities that exist in Nepal”. If these words are taken seriously by the concerned authority and a board consisting of dedicated and relevant people is formed, the glorious days of Nepali cricket are not that far. Let’s not forget we have most of the necessary ingredients required for a sustained long term success, and the fabric of cricket in the country is very strong. Just a few cool heads on the shoulders and a few rational decisions, and we are on our way towards a splendid cricketing future.
(Neupane is a PhD candidate in Chemistry at the Columbia University in New York)