From Mecca to Baijanathpur
The year 2016 has been a relatively quiet one for Nepali cricket team. Cricket lovers across the country are so used to the success that Nepali cricket team yields year-after-year that a ‘trophy-less season’ has even caused mild discontent among the fans. The stark contrast between the two grounds that Nepali cricketers have played on during the year perfectly sums up the period of Nepali cricket – the Lord’s Cricket Ground in London and the ground in Baijanathpur.
Nepali domestic cricket has a hectic schedule at the moment. The local players from around the country hardly have enough time to catch their breath, as they are busy showcasing their skills at the national level tournament. However, the schedule lasts merely a week. The Seventh National Games in Biratnagar has provided an opportunity of cricket for the game-time-hungry players from across the country. This, perhaps, should have been welcome news for Nepali cricket, which has been badly hit by the dysfunctional cricket association. But the condition of venue hardly lets the players rejoice.
The national level tournament in Baijanathpur is being held in a ‘field’ with innumerable wide potholes. Barring the 30-yard region, there is no sight of grass on the entire field. The players are expected to run and slide in the dusty and bumpy playing surface. Fittingly, the field does not even have a proper cricket pitch; the matches are being held on the mat that is laid out across the center. This is the harsh reality of Nepali cricket team, a team, which is aspiring to lock its horns against the giants of world cricket. Amusingly, this comes merely a couple of months after Nepali cricket team witnessed the historical occasion of getting to play in the Mecca of Cricket, the Lord’s cricket ground.
Sandeep Lamichhane waves towards fans. (Photo Source:cricketingnepal.com)
Even the U19 cricketers shared the roller-coaster ride of the senior players. Nepali youth cricketers reached the quarterfinals of the U19 World Club held early this year in Bangladesh. They were very close to securing the maiden semi-final berth, but eventually had to bow down to Bangladesh in a tightly contested quarterfinal encounter. The play-off against Namibia was arguably the most important match of the tournament for Nepal, because the victorious team of the match would secure an automatic berth at the next version of the U19 World Cup. Having witnessed magical performance during the entire tournament, Nepali fans deemed their team’s victory over Namibia to be a no-brainer. However, the team faltered just at the wrong time. Nepal’s loss in the match meant that only one team of either Nepal or Afghanistan would make to the next version of U19 World Cup. Given the progress Afghanistan cricket has made over the past decade, Nepali youth cricketers would need to work extremely hard to make an entry into the 2018 tournament.
Later in the year, the youth team produced another nail biting encounter in Sri Lanka in the U19 Asia Cup. Nepal lost to Sri Lanka by merely one run, and a defeat at the hands of India the very next day meant that the team could not progress to the next round of the event. Afghanistan U19 team, meanwhile, defeated Pakistan U19 to secure the top four spot in the tournament.
The year 2016 brought some moments to rejoice for the ardent Nepali cricket fans. International cricket returned to the country with two matches of the ICC World Cricket League Championship versus Namibia. Nepali players complemented the victories in both the matches with some spectacular performances. The team astonished the cricket fans with an impressive victory over the Netherlands, especially after getting comprehensively beaten in the first match of the round, merely a few days before.
Nepali cricket saw some major achievements in the year 2016. Various private organizations of the country partnered to successfully organize the Everest Premier League, an event that was effective not only in activating the sluggish domestic cricket in the country but also in finding some new talents to possibly expand the player pool for the national team. As a part of the ‘Talent-Hunt’ program, the cricket officials went to every development region to search for the promising young talents, providing a chance for youths to showcase their skills. The seeds have been sown; ample care needs to be taken by the concerned authorities as the seeds begin to germinate in the year 2017.
The year 2016 belongs to one Nepali cricketer in particular – Sandeep Lamichhane. The year saw him grow from a boy to a man. His magical leg-spin bowling during the U19 World Cup was praised by some of the greats of world cricket, even drawing comparison to the spin-legend Shane Warne. His talent and hard work combined with a hint of luck during the year secured him an opportunity to join the cricket academy of former Australian skipper Michael Clarke and play alongside him for a Sydney-based club, Western Suburbs. His getting to grow under the shadows of one of the most talented cricketers of modern time will surely be beneficial for him and for Nepali cricket.
The ICC T20 World Cup held during the year in India was painful to watch for Nepali fans. The spin-friendly condition in India would have perfectly suited Nepali players to topple some of the test-playing nations; but Nepal’s failure to qualify for the tournament meant that Nepali fans were forced to watch some of their rival associate nations do the same. In 2016, Nepali cricket bid farewell to the most influential cricket coach in its history. The fans’-favorite and players’-favorite Pubudu Dassanayake parted company after leading a revolution in Nepali cricket for six years. The chaos within the cricket governing body can be deemed responsible for the gloomy side that the country’s cricket had to see during the year; sadly, there are hardly any signs of its ending very soon.
As the Paras Khadkas and the Sandeep Lamichhanes set sights on the ground to measure their bowling run-up in Baijanathpur, the flashbacks of the Lord’s and the grounds in Sydney will surely haunt them. Many years have passed since the promises of stadiums and regular domestic tournaments have been made. The sheer determination and industry of the players have taken Nepali cricket thus far. Nepal will be taking part in the final three rounds of ICC World Cricket League in 2017, an event that could secure the intermediate future of Nepali cricket. But, what preparations are being planned? Is Nepali cricket ready for 2017? Like every year, the respondent has a deafening silence.