With two titles within a month, Nepali cricketers finally come of age
KATHMANDU, Oct 15: Nepali cricket fans are on cloud nine as their national squad claimed two prestigious titles within a months time and that too away from home.
Nepal had clinched only four titles in the last 16 years, after entering the international cricketing arena in 1996 through the ACC Trophy Elite. Contrary to the past, Nepal clinched ICC World Cricket League Division 4 and ACC Trophy Elite within a month.
So what is the reason for such difference in the Nepal team which has suddenly begun to believe in themselves and increasingly played with more confidence?
Captain Paras Khadka thinks his side has matured a lot in the recent times. "Every member in the team knows his responsibility and the role he has to play," said Khadka.
Khadka´s claims seem to be absolutely right if we look back at the recent performances.
Basant Regmi took 22 wickets in the Division 4 held in Malaysia and was adjudged man-of-the-series. Shakti Gauchan became the most successful bowler of the ACC Trophy Elite that concluded in the UAE on Friday as he claimed 15 wickets in six matches with 3.18 economy rate.
Spinners have always been the strength of Nepali side in the past and they maintained the domination even in the last two tournaments.
However, Nepali batsmen pleased Nepali fans more this time. "Chasing targets above 150-run used to be a tough task for our team in the past but we have seen huge progress in batting in recent days," said Santosh Mardan Thapa, former member of Cricket Association Nepal (CAN).
Nepali batsmen had scored only three centuries in the last 16 years after the international debut but Nepali cricket fans witnessed three centuries in the last two tournaments.
Opener Subash Khakurel scored 115 runs against the USA and his opening partner Anil Mandal struck 113 runs against Denmark in Division 4. Skipper Khadka scored unbeaten 106 runs against Kuwait in the ACC Trophy Elite.
Khadka was adjudged man-of-the-series as he scored 291 runs and took nine wickets in the ACC Trophy. His batting average was 72.75 in the ACC Trophy.
Likewise, Vice Captain Gyanendra Malla scored 212 runs while openers Mandal and Khakurel scored 200 and 139 runs respectively from the six matches of the ACC Trophy.
Not only the top order, lower order batsmen like Sharad Vesawkar, Pradeep Airee, Prithu Banskota and Shakti Gauchan chipped in to rescue team in crucial moments.
"Our batsmen showed their guts to chase any total and it is a huge improvement I have noticed in our team," said Uttam Karmacharya, who was the captain when Nepal participated in the ACC Trophy for the first time in 1996.
Not only Nepali cricket fans but also the opponent coaches applauded Nepali players during the ACC Trophy. "They were one of the best team in the tournament. “I am surprised to see the guts shown by Nepal. They fought on to tie the match. They are much fitter team since they are professionals and full time cricketers,” UAE coach Aaqib Javed, former Pakistani cricketer, told a local UAE newspaper.
Skipper Khadka credited extra labor of players and Coach Pubudu Dassanayake behind the success.
"Nobody is taking his place in the national squad for granted and everybody is putting in extra effort to retain his place," said Khadka.
"Meanwhile, the coach has brought in positive attitude in all players. We used to practice for some hours during the closed camp training but we are practicing for 4 to 5 hours daily and round the year," he added.
To achieve the successes, Dassanayake kept national players busy in cricket calendar and played pivotal role to arrange exposures to some of the cricketers in the foreign tournaments.
He arranged training session for Shakti Gauchan with Indian Premier League side Rajasthan Royals, sent skipper Paras Khadka to Canada to play professional tournament and arranged places for fast bowler Chandra Saud and Amrit Bhattarai in U-23 tournament of Sri Lanka. He arranged special training for Anil Mandal, Sharad Vesawkar and Gyanendra Malla in India. On the other hand, he engaged national players in training sessions regularly.
“I wanted to change the cricket culture of players on and off the field. Senior players must be role models for the upcoming players and for me, one can be a role model only with his hard work and proper training,” said Dassanayake.
Skipper Khadka thinks that his boys were always full of skill but the busy schedule helped them convert the skill into performance.
"We are able to adapt to whatever coach told us during the match these days," said Khadka.
"Probably, coaching style of the new coach (Pubudu Dassanayake) suited Nepali national team as Roy sir´s (former coach Roy Luke Dias) style used to suit the age-group teams in the past," said former Captain Binod Das.
"Probably, the growing age of players is also contributing to bring in maturity. We are more experienced now," added Sharad Vesawkar, the middle-order batsman.
Das thinks that the current form of Nepali national squad is at a peak and the team should continue with it for a longer period. However, Khadka disagrees with Das. "I still don´t feel it´s our peak form yet. We have scope for improvement in many areas. I think we could be better," said Khadka.
Then, is there nothing to worry in future? Skipper Khadka thinks smaller players´ pool could be Nepal´s headache in future. "We have very small players pool. We sometimes do not get proper replacement for injured players," said Khadka. "The CAN should think about developing players´ pool and also the ´A´ team," Khadka concluded.