– Pankaj Khadka
Most of this revolves around the early cricketing days of Paras Khadka, before and around the time he represented Nepal for the first time with the U-15 National Cricket Team.
For as long as I can remember, I don’t think there ever was a weekend or a public holiday during his younger years where Paras didn’t have a cricket match to play in – be it for the school team, the local cricket teams or the team of his school friends, all of which eventually led to the national team. There was always a tournament to participate in, an opponent to play against and a cup (multiple if you count the personal achievements) to win, and that has continued to this very day, on the ultimate platform of course.
My first account of live cricket goes back to the days when I was seven or eight – Paras is two years older than me – when our dad would take us both to Shankhamul Ground, located near the bridge to Banglamukhi Mandir, where he and his friends would spend some Saturday afternoons playing cricket matches.
Paras often played in those games but I was a little kid then who only went to these games for the canned sodas, which were so very rare back then. I believe those were the first time Paras participated in cricket matches but only if we disregard thousands of hard-plastic-ball terrace and front yard matches that he and I competed in and most of which he won. The ones he lost, I cheated. Every time.
Around the same time, there was also a very favorable cricketing environment at South Point Boarding School – the school he attended from pre-K.G. to the 10th grade – which will be evident with this following picture: the Principal of the school, the vice principal and almost all the male school teachers would be at the school ground on holidays where the school team readied the mat, hammered in the stumps and got things ready for “teachers versus school team” matches.
More importantly, Paras’ classmates, his friend circle, were also all equally enthused into cricket and most of them played together in the school team. So if there wasn’t a cricket tournament or a match practice, the boys would all get together and play a “Ball and Khaja Baazi” (which literally means the losing team hands over the game ball and sponsors the winning team’s lunch) against various neighboring local teams.
And then there was a local club team, formed by boys who grew in and around the same neighborhood, that also partook in numerous local tournaments and Paras, being a member of that team as well, played with them too. I dare not forget another local team, made of our first and second cousins and brothers, where Paras played quite a few games as well.
Looking back at it now, even I am surprised at how much cricket he played. I should know. I always tagged along, whether he liked it or not, and I wouldn’t even be playing in almost any of those games. I recently watched an interview of his where he said, “I was born to play cricket – that much I know.” Now Nepal does too.
The day-long cricket games were some of the best times of his childhood, which is clearly evident by the time he spent on the field. The cricket ground was where all his friends met, that was there they shared jokes, relished on the victories and anguished through defeats. That was where they grew up, literally. That was also where Paras matured as a cricketer and honed his leadership skills.
When his school South Point played in its first official tournament, Paras was in sixth grade and a part of the team playing among seniors and his peers. In one of the then biggest tournament in Kathmandu, the Dipendra Running Shield, our school, in its first participation won the whole tournament. Paras was adjudged the Man of the Series then as well, the beginning of the countless of trophies he was to own with his names inscribed on them.
But success has not come easy for the first captain in the history of Nepali sports to lead a team to a World Cup, and undoubtedly the most loved sportsperson among Nepalis right now. Paras has put in his dues, spent countless hours in the hot and the cold playing cricket, be it on the terrace, the front yard, basketball courts, neighborhood grounds, the nets and eventually at international stadiums.
I’ve seen him play with a wood log that looks forcefully resembles a bat, with bats made at furniture stores, with those “Milo” bats which were the sole reason we insisted our mother bought nothing else but Milo.
I’ve also seen the numerous phases of his cricketing teen years that were spent on imitating Jacques Kallis’ stroke plays to bowling like Glenn McGrath and then bringing in the Bret Lee later on. And oh, we also had the white Mohawk-ed Kevin Peterson at one point. Now, we have Paras Khadka, “the magic-man,” the fiercely outspoken and always-a-little-tall-for-his-age lanky all rounder that leads his team from the front.
Above it all was the support of the family that allowed him to pursue his dreams, never questioned his decisions, provided for his cricketing needs and moreover encouraged him to follow his heart and his passion for the game. And the family that would organize mini family picnics during their trips to Kirtipur to watch almost every one of their (second favorite?) child’s games.
For many of the recent but crazy Nepali cricket lovers who watched cricket for the first time in their lives and instantly brought it into their households, Paras Khadka may be a fairly new name. For many girls I know, personally and otherwise, and many others I don’t, he’s become somewhat of a “man crush” (as per the #MCM, is it?) on numerous Instagram posts and the lovely messages on my Facebook with questions about him. And for number of Nepali cricket fans, he has become be a role model to look up to, someone they can claim to be theirs, one of their own.
But before it all, he was a kid who woke up before dawn and reached cricket grounds with teammates to reserve the pitch for the match later that day, a fan that hadn’t even dreamt of playing for the national team as he sat at Chovar End and cheered for Nepal. Now, he’s Paras Khadka.
And for the aspiring young guns that play gully cricket and dream of donning the national colors of Nepal some day and making the nation proud, the story of a local nobody kid who rose through the ranks to become the most adorned sports player in the history of Nepali sports only has one moral – Fear not to dream of the impossible and put all your heart into your pursuits; success, then, is inevitable.