Nepal has been steadily building its profile as a top cricket nation, particularly after its maiden appearance in the 2014 ICC World Twenty20 (or the T20 world cup) in Bangladesh. Nepali men’s cricket team had won two of its three round robin matches in the competition, failing to qualify for the Super10 main draw on the basis of inferior run rate. But any success Nepali cricket teams have chalked up at the international stage can be attributed solely to the hard-work and dedication of the players and the coaching staff. The cricket governing body in the country, the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN), has historically failed to do even the bare minimum for the development of the game. That was because CAN had, just like the National Sports Council (NSC), the governing body for all sports in Nepal, become yet another recruitment center for the political parties in power; so instead of capable administrators, CAN got political appointees, some of whom had never played cricket at any level. Fed up with constant political meddling in CAN, the International Cricket Council had suspended the Nepali cricket governing body from its membership back in April.
Nepali cricket fans had seen this dark day coming. But all hope is not lost. A talented pool of young cricketers is being carefully cultivated. On Monday, an independent panel of selectors under the ICC Asia Region Cricket Development Officer Venkatapathi Raju selected a squad of 15 players for the upcoming Asian Cricket Council U-19 Asia Cup. Sandeep Lamichhane, the wizardly leg-spinner who had been picked by former Australian captain Michael Clark to play for his team, Western Suburbs, has been chosen the captain of the new-look U-19 team. The selection panel had winnowed the pool of 52 players, who had been selected in a nationwide talent-hunt, down to the final 15-member squad. The young team will now take part in the Asia Cup that will be held in Sri Lanka on December 15-23, where Nepal has been pooled in Group A with the likes of India and Sri Lanka. Playing against these Test-playing countries will provide Nepali cricketers a wonderful opportunity to hone their skills. Whatever the eventual results, we are confident that Team Nepal will be competitive in all its matches.
But these raw talents will need much more than occasional meetings with top international teams if the goal is to develop a strong national team that can hold its own against other more established cricketing countries. They need good cricket infrastructure back home, starting with an international-quality cricket ground. Even though the ground for the much talked-about international cricket stadium at Mulpani near Kathmandu was broken over a decade ago, the project’s progress has been abysmal. Successive governments have announced separate funds for the ground but nothing comes of it. This depressing cycle of inactivity must be broken if Nepali cricket is to progress. Along with a good ground, Nepali cricketers could also do with a better-run CAN. There have been some efforts at reform at CAN, for instance with the creation of the post of CEO so that the body could be run more professionally. But with the politicians and their henchmen calling all the shots, the CEO’s hands were tied. The CEO could do a lot with more authority and a broader mandate. We believe Nepal can have world-class cricket teams—provided that the state is ready to invest in the sport’s future.