Fifty-one runs or a single wicket, that was the difference between elation and anguish for Nepal and Canada respectively in the 13th match of the ICC World Cricket League Division Two 2018. Both teams needed a victory to secure a berth in the ICC World Cup Qualifiers. The odds were in Canada’s favor. But the last pair stitched an invaluable last wicket stand to take Nepal over the line. At that very moment, we thought this year would be different for Nepal. The rise of young cricketers was the most important part of Nepal’s achievement. Being an ODI nation topped it all. In the eve of Nepal’s historical debut in ODI against Netherlands, let’s recall a journey full of up’s and downs.
The first ICC World Cup was played in 1975 in England. Next two editions were also hosted by the same country. After India won the World Cup in 1983, the hosting rights of the 1987 World Cup were awarded to the Indian sub-continent. Since then, Asian cricket has grown from strength to strength. Pakistan didn’t take too long and rose to cricket pinnacle by winning the 1992 World Cup. Sri Lanka, the island nation was evolving at the mean time and won their first World Cup in 1996. Next were Bangladesh, who beat Kenya in a dramatic final of ICC trophy in 1997 and gained permanent ODI status for the first time. Bangladesh were considered minnows but now are regularly identified as the dark horses in major ICC tournaments and are dominant force in home condition. Then came the fairy tale rise of Afghanistan. Although, Nepal haven’t yet achieved as much as Afghanistan have, they are taking small but significant steps to attain similar recognition.
Nepal’s journey started in 1988 when they were an affiliate member before becoming an associate member in 1996. Cricket was limited inside the Kathmandu valley; the administration wasn’t as strong as it should be. However, the team kept on performing thanks largely to the large fan base and raw passion that it possesses.
There would be many who played a big role in Nepal cricket but the biggest of them arguably are Roy Dias and Pubudu Dassanayake. Dias coached the team for almost nine years while the team played under Dassanayake’s reign for four years. Under Dias, Nepal ended up as the runners up in the 2002 ACC Trophy and won the ACC Fast Track Countries Tournament in 2006. Nepal played their first World Cricket League at Jersey where they finished third and remained in Division Five, which was 10 years ago. Though major success under Dias came when Nepal overcame the US to win the WCL Division Five 2010 title held at Kathmandu, I remember listening to my neighborhood brother who is a cricket enthusiast saying ‘darshak harule dhungamuda garera bhayeni Nepal lai mathi lagayerai chodey‘. On that dramatic day which eventually proved to be the most important day for the Nepali cricket, Nepal was behind Singapore in Net Run Rate and they needed to win against USA quickly in the last match of the group stage. However, the US were cruising along the victory and all of sudden, Nepalese fans who were in big numbers at Tribhuwan University Ground as always protested by throwing stones and bottles. The match was halted for more than an hour and when the match resumed, Duckworth Lewis Method along with the US batsmen losing momentum enabled Nepal to stay ahead of Singapore and was promoted to Division Four along with the US. In the final of the tournament, Nepal defeated US by 5 wickets to win the Division Five title. At one point, Nepal looked destined to finish third and stay in Division 5, ended up winning the title and gaining promotion. We can say that Nepal cricket started moving forward because of fans.
Then came Dassanayake. He proved to be ‘NAYAK’ for the Nepalese cricket team. As Paras Khadka once said “We knew there lies big opportunities ahead of us, but we didn’t knew how to get there exactly. Pubudu sir came and showed us the way.” Pubudu Dassanayake will live forever in the hearts of every Nepalese cricket supporter. He coached Nepal from Division four to Division two. In his reign, Nepal didn’t look back. They qualified for their first ever major ICC Tournament in the form of ICC World T20 2014. Nepal narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Super 10s, but the fact that the Net Run Rate difference between Bangladesh who advanced in 1st place and Nepal who finished 2nd, was small enough for massive celebrations in the country. Thousands flocked to Tribhuwan International Airport to welcome their heroes. That enthusiasm, however, could have taken the focus away from Nepal’s preparation for the 2015 World Cup Qualifiers and they severely underperformed, putting on a dismal show in the tournament. Nepal had a forgettable Europe tour in the World T20 Qualifiers 2016. Cricket Association of Nepal, the administration body was soon suspended by the ICC after that. Cricketers weren’t provided funding at times. It was all their passion and dedication and commitment to play for their country which has eventually put us in the position where we are right now.
Tomorrow, Nepal is going to play their first ever ODI. Winning tomorrow will be a welcome start but the main goal for Nepal going forward will be to preserve this status for years and years to come and eventually be a Test playing nation. The story of underdogs is always absorbing, and Nepal’s is no different.