In a late afternoon in March, hundred or so locals were witnessing a festival of cricket in Chitwan. Halfway through a junior Twenty20 match, a touring bus arrived at the ground. The tourists hopped off the bus and were almost now thrown into a cauldron. Outside temperature was above 30 degrees Celsius.
The touring party is the Narara-Wyoming Cricket Club from the Australian state of New South Wales. A mix of young players and club stalwarts, the group were enjoying their stay in Nepal, but also eager to test the skills of a young Chitwan Academy side.
‘Enthusiastic’ was one word to describe Nepal’s approach to cricket. However, it would be unfair as there was this persistence of energy throughout the day’s play. Every ball must be stopped, as fielders scoot around to prevent additions to the tally. Pats on the back are abundant, and the noise in the field made the coolest batsman nervous.
Setting the home side seven an over in the match, Narara-Wyoming began their quest to defend their total. An over in, the most unique thing the touring players had ever seen on a cricket field occurred. The wind from the north-west brought sand with it, and lashed the fielding team’s faces. Several of the playing party raced for cover. Locals, all too used to the conditions, came to the rescue.
What was more remarkable was that the hosts, while agreeing the conditions were adverse, insisted on the game to continue. Such was the passion of the Chitwan side; they were desperate to compete in a game they loved, putting on a show for the home crowd.
This passion for the game was a reflection of what followed in other parts of the country. Parks in Kathmandu looked to be filled with games overlapping each other. Pokhara’s numbers were impressive and schools visited on the tour were packed with children champing at the bit to learn how to play the game. Some kids, no older than four or five, had textbook techniques with bat and ball. It left some of the visit’s coaches a little envious. Four-year-olds had better cover drives than them.
Though, like all good things, there is always a catch and even a country as beautiful as Nepal, highlighted by both its people and its landscape, is no exception. With the constant power struggle between the National Sports Council (NSC) and the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN), there is nowhere for Nepal to go and no way the country can progress. It is so deflating that despite the unified fight for progress and change at grassroots and youth level, Nepal’s biggest opponent is ultimately its own government and its involvement with the governing body. Nepali cricket can only move as fast as its weak link can move, and at this moment it is going nowhere.
Of course, this all stems from issues in December 2015, when the NSC formed an ad-hoc committee to run the CAN. This happened after Chatur Bahadur Chand was named the CAN's president in a meeting in which then president, Tanka Angbuhang, was not present. CAN under Chand then filed a court case, challenging the NSC's decision. The ICC suspended Nepal, cutting all funding, though allowed the country to compete in ICC tournaments. Since then, arguments and accusations of how cricket should be run in Nepal has continued, leading to a web of confusion amongst officials, players, entrepreneurs and the media. The general public on the outside have struggled to fathom what has gone on, and little progress has been made for a solution suiting everybody involved.
The definition of insanity, as Albert Einstein told us, is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. The ongoing nature of this saga indicates that neither the government, nor the ICC will budge. Strict rules against government interference can only reiterate that the government’s hands on the NSC must come off. They can control funding, but not control the actions of CAN. They cannot have their cake and eat it too. Every country competing in sports abide by these rules. Why then does the Nepali government think itself as an exception to the rule?
Not only is this control illegal, the government should be more concerned about things in their own jurisdiction. According to myrepublica’s Rajan Shah, the one place where Nepal’s millions are looking for progress is the same place in the center of this complete mess. CAN is seen as the apparent victim as its name is dragged through the mud, looking to move forward with their agenda for cricket in the country. Attempting to hold central elections this December, they were blocked by the ICC, as proposed amendments were not in line with proposed changes from the ICC’s advisory council. It proves that CAN is fighting a war at two fronts. Whatever constitution they come up with, there’s always somebody unhappy with it, waiting to hose it down. Despite this, it does not clear CAN’s name. On the other side of the coin, advisory groups including past and present members of CAN and the NSC have made questionable decisions.
The debacle has become a tug of war with Nepal's Sports Council and the ICC. As ICC's Advisory Group put forward their proposals, CAN needed to amend it to ensure NSC Satisfaction. Amazingly, in an attempt to do this, CAN were told to make twenty-seven amendments.
That’s right; almost thirty changes were made in the attempt to appease the government. To the shock of no-one, that went down like a lead balloon in the offices of the ICC, probably laughing at the demands. The ICC may be no saints, but the word “compromise” does not appear to be in the vocabulary of NSC, nor CAN. This baffles the neutrals. Nepal’s people deal with life by compromise every day. Not one complaint was heard during the devastating earthquakes, as the people experiencing hardship shrugged it off and carried on with their lives. It’s shattering to see a government seemingly out of touch with its people. It’s even more demoralizing that this poor perspective is hampering the future of a sport in the country that has such potential to be a ticket of success and happiness, even in times of misfortune and natural disaster.
Fed up with the dozens of changes, the ICC have left CAN and the NSC to sort their own differences before meeting again, which only continues the vicious cycle of conflict. On top of this, with the ICC out of the picture, CAN cannot prove their election of representatives in the 39 districts of the country are without government interference, a task made harder by murmurs of corruption already inside CAN. These districts, filled with people giving up their precious time in an attempt to see Nepal prosper in a sport so close to their hearts are impeded by officials with ulterior motives. Not even the cleanest of representatives can be called completely innocent, as someone along the way involved with conflict, tarnishes them.
While concerned, not everything is bleak in Nepali cricket. Though realistically, the game’s administration is the Achilles Heel as it is the most concerning facet. Outside of this mess between the NSC, CAN and the ICC, things are encouraging. The Under 19s team played a starring role in knocking out their neighbors in India, a feat some would compare to a David versus Goliath battle on a cricket field. Though that comparison doesn’t do the Nepalis justice. The youth systems and recruitment in place does a sufficient job given the circumstances, and the results at youth level back the efforts up. The cream of the crop time and again rises to the top. Players are produced in ample amounts on a conveyor belt of talent. Sandeep Lamichanne and Dipendra Singh Airee are the latest on the long list of players given full international chances.
Though, even this positive has negatives. One issue of this is that youth competitions become life-changing auditions. With only a small sample size of games, one game-winning innings or bowling performance secures a playing future. Ideally, players performing consistently over multiple years are the ones rewarded.
This process of unearthing talent isn’t just for age national teams. As part of the Everest Premier league franchises in their areas as part of the competition are holding talent hunts to scout prospective players who haven’t had a chance to prove their credentials. With a lack of first class structure (a necessity for any cricketing country to flourish and something that mast be addressed as soon as possible), it is a measure in looking to patch up the previous cracks in the systems. It won’t be the sole solution, but it is better than nothing.
While it has started without a hitch thus far, there was potential for disaster for the Everest Premier League, had the tournament not been sanctioned. While director Aamir Akhtar stated to the media and the public the ICC had approved the tournament, the world’s governing body has stayed relatively quiet on the topic, perhaps waiting to deliver their side of the story when a decision on Nepal’s suspension is decided. On top of this, the owners and powerful directing these teams could be the only people profiting from the tournament’s potential success. It will be interesting to see if the wealth from this tournament is spread to others involved in Nepali cricket.
On the field, the Everest Premier League is a measure to deliver domestic cricket for talented players, as many have rightfully bemoaned a lack of domestic structure in Nepali cricket. Without a national competition, national team players dropped from the team have been unable to make a case for their recall, nor fix their flaws with time in the middle with bat or ball. Anil Mandal is one example of a player dropped, with little chance to make a claim for a spot in the team through strong domestic performances. When thrown a lifeline to play in the Everest Premier League after Subash Khakurel’s injury, Mandal looked rusty. Playing for Chitwan Tigers against Pokhara, Mandal took time to get going, eventually falling for 32 from 44 deliveries, with his strike rate flattered by some hitting late on. It would be easy to criticize Mandal for his performance, but the source of the issue lies elsewhere. How could he properly prepare for the firing Pokhara bowling attack without previous game time? Only the Everest Premier League and other domestic tournaments have the potential to reverse the trend. If only this was in place for Kanishka Chaugai, a hero in Nepal’s triumph over South Africa in 2006, who moved to the United States for better work opportunities. A lack of first class cricket, with no reimbursement for domestic-level players, has meant that very few players can continue to strive for selection, and be financially stable. Sunam Gautam left Nepal for Australia for better opportunities in Melbourne, though will benefit from play in the EPL with the Chitwan team.
In an ideal situation, the administrative measures made by those high up must reflect the passion and ambition of those they hold power over. Only when the top is clear of corruption and foul play can the country progress through the power of the people. This includes the politicians and officials, but also the big players running the lucrative Twenty20 leagues, who can hopefully acknowledge that the game and the country’s success is bigger than them. To the people playing and running the game across the country, those going to games and posting their thoughts on social media, it is important to continue exhibiting your passion for the game. Despite this, it is just as important to be aware of what is holding the game back. Nepal can be praised for being a ‘casual’ country, but it can only be casual if those at the top remain vigilant.