Last week Paras Khadka and co made new fans for themselves – any and all members of the MCC that were watching the match at the Lords Cricket Ground. It was a historic occasion indeed as no other non-test nation has ever got the chance to play at the hallowed turf. But somehow, even as I join everyone around me in being vocal about how joyous a moment it is, I find my thoughts not in sync with my words. Yes, sure, we won an exhibition game at Lords, but Ireland are playing a proper ODI game there next year against England. So, have we come so far down in the cricketing ranks that we are content with this?
Just a little over two years ago, the entire nation was glued to the TV as we collectively cheered our team on in the ICC World T20 in Bangladesh. And why not, this was the first World Cup appearance for us in any major sport. And our cricket team did not just make up numbers. In the first ever appearance, Nepal missed out on qualifying for the second round on mere net run rate to hosts Bangladesh. Fast forward to the present and we have an ICC team visiting Nepal to understand the conditions of a suspended Cricket Association and possible developments. So how did it get to this? How did we go from being hailed as the most promising risers to being suspended? The answer is so simple it is almost boring: we had no base to build our cricket on.
It is almost difficult to believe that the problems in Nepali cricket do not arise now but it’s true. Having been blessed with probably the best batch of players we could ever imagine, their success has glossed over the appalling lack of structure to sustain these progress. We have absolutely no form of domestic cricket happening in the country. How then can we expect our players to remain competitive with players around the globe who are playing competitive cricket all year round? This is not helped by the fact that our habit of inserting politics into everything has found its way into cricket. With political orientation, and not cricketing concerns, taking a priority in the governing body, everything quickly spiralled down. The Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) became opaque and lethargic in its working so much so that it failed to fully use the grant provided by the ICC or even provide reports on the portions they spent. Despite repeated warnings from the ICC, CAN continued to go down the path. There were several superficial attempts made to revive Nepali cricket but they seemed to have been done as a political move rather than anything else. And then the battle waged, with the vain ego and needing to prove a point becoming more important to almost all the stakeholders of Nepali cricket than the future of cricket itself. Even an ICC heavily biased in Nepal’s favour (so much so that they actually changed the rules of the World Cricket Division Two post hoc to make sure Nepal qualified) could no longer keep up and had to suspend the Association. But even the suspension did not act as a wakeup call and the petty quibbles continued between two factions of CAN. The ICC then decided to directly step in and take control of Nepali cricket hence giving us one more lifeline – one that is still up for grabs today.
It is a testament to the fans and fans alone that the ICC continues to offer us chances to bounce back up and it is time we took them. Very recently, there have been talks about Nepal getting promoted to ODI status but there is a lot to be done from our side if we are to be in a position deserving of that. The first and foremost job would be to shed the egos, set aside differences and form a stable and independent cricket board that can work free of political interference. This board, in turn, can then manage its children organizations properly and coordinate with them to have a proper domestic structure set up. A minimum of two tournaments each of multi-day (one three day and another four day), One Day and Twenty 20 version each year at the national level is required if we want to remain competitive and hope to play regularly in the World Cups. This should, of course, be backed by regional and district level tournaments. Placing such a system, beginning this year itself, will act as the workshop for Nepali cricket, perfecting the existing players while churning out new Sandeep Lamichhanes and Sidhhant Lohanis. Parallel to this development of domestic cricket, we need international standard grounds. To put it bluntly, we cannot be an ODI nation if we do not have ODI level grounds and stadiums. Mulpani Cricket Ground has been under construction for ages. This is simply not acceptable. We need to upgrade the TU to fit ODI standards, quickly finish off Mulpani, again at ODI standards and start work on a Test level stadium. This is not at all a challenging task. These should all be done concurrently because the opportunities will not wait for us.
The current opportunities that await Nepali cricket are so rich they almost seem fantastic. From being a neutral venue for Pakistan tests to being the hub of Associate cricket in Asia, every aspect promises to bring a wave of revenue and jobs into the country. But it needs to happen now. The cricketing world will not wait for us. If we are to be a strong force in cricket, we need to act now. If we can sort everything out by the 2018 ICC World Cup Qualifiers and do well in the tournament (assuming we qualify), we can expect unforeseen opportunities. We currently have a gifted team that can justify and cement our position in the top brass of cricket; we just have to get them there.
Let us raise our bars high. If we felt so buoyant watching our players play an exhibition game at home of cricket, would it not feel a million times better to see those players take on England in the opening match of a World Cup at the same ground?
Let us act on the potential.