Though football pips it in popularity, cricket offers the country the best hope to shine in the international sporting arena. A fact once again proven by the stupendous performance of the Nepali cricket team in the ICC World Cricket League Division 4 championship, where it won all six of its matches to lift Division 4 trophy, for the very first time. The most heartening aspect of the team’s performance in Malaysia is that it is the first trophy Nepali senior squad has been able to win overseas. It now opens the door for Nepal to take part in the Division 3 championship next year, and if the team finishes in the top two in that competition as well, it will be eligible to take part in the final round of qualifiers for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. If the team finishes in top two in that competition too, it will be able to take part in the 2015 tournament being held in Australia and New Zealand. It certainly is a long road.
But we believe Nepali cricket team is good enough to go all the way. There are many grounds for this optimism. First, Nepali batsmen seem to have come of age in the recently concluded tournament. Nepal has always been a good bowling and fielding outfit; batting has been its perennial Achilles’ heel. But the ability of the team to consistently post good scores in Malaysia, with two of its batsmen going on to score individual tons, augurs well for the team’s prospects in Division 3. If we look at the caliber of the other teams in Division 3 (Bermuda, Oman, Uganda, Italy and the US), Nepal has a realistic hope of finishing in the top two. It will be in Division 2 that Nepal is likely to face tough competition from opponents like UAE and Namibia, both of which have qualified for World Cup in the past. Make no mistake, Nepal’s road to 2015 World Cup will be long and arduous, and if Nepal is to have a decent shot at qualifying, it will have to pull out all the stops.
The remarkable turnaround in Nepal’s fortunes has been attributed to the strategy of coach Pubudu Dassanayake, who has made it his priority to give Nepali players maximum international exposure. Of late, Shakti Gauchan has gone to train with IPL side Rajasthan Royals, captain Paras Khadka has been sent to play in the Canadian league, while Nepali fast bowlers have been honing their skills in Sri Lanka’s U-23 League. This has borne rich dividends. Nepali cricket establishment should do more of the same. Between now and the next round of Division 3 qualifiers in April 2013, the focus should be on giving Nepali players more exposure to top-class international cricket.
Only by playing against quality opponents on a consistent basis can Nepal hope to compete against top cricketing teams. In the long run, there has to be emphasis on improving the country’s cricket infrastructure: Nepal can’t hope to compete at the international level with just a single international level ground, and dismal practice facilities. We hope corporate bodies will show greater interest in promotion of the game following Nepal’s showing in Malaysia. As the success of other national teams in the region has made clear, only a collective effort of the government and private sector can elevate Nepal to the lofty heights it aspires to