Nepal Clean Bowled!
The team may have lost but cricket in Nepal lives on.
Beset with disappointment at recent performances, Nepal’s cricket fans have had little to cheer about following their cricket team’s inglorious expulsion from the ICC World Twenty20 Quali-fier played in Ireland and Scotland. After a series of dismal performances, Nepal finished at the bottom with three points in Group A; a fate entirely at odds with its cricket performance in recent years and far from anything the team, its supporters and the country’s devastated population had hoped for.
To be fair, the players did not prepare well enough. It’s been a trying year for Nepal. A deadly earthquake having a magnitude of 7.8 shook the country in April, claiming more than 8,000 lives. It was followed by another two weeks later, having a 7.3 magnitude and claiming another 42 lives. In the aftermath, Nepal saw thousands of people injured and rendered homeless. His-toric monuments and buildings were demolished; the scale of the tragedy far outstripped existing amenities and disaster preparedness, bringing the country to its knees.
In the weeks that followed, international aid flowed in and the Nepali people, its cricket team included, clambered to recover from the catastrophe. Amidst the mass tragedy, the disaster-struck population of Nepal desperately needed something to lift its tired spirits. The country’s cricketers played matches with disaster victims in an effort to cheer up their compatriots and helped raise relief funds.
A source of national pride, Nepal’s cricket team came to symbolize mbolize hope and a return to nor-malcy alcy in an otherwise dark hour. Team coach Pubudu Dassanayake said: “…there ere are so many good things that would happen in the country if we play another World Cup. People will have something to be happy about.”
Although new to international cricket, Nepal’s interest in the sport has reached staggering pro-portions, said its captain, Paras Khadka, who is a popular figure in the country. Cricket in Nepal received a boost in 2013 when the team qualified for the T20 Word Cup 2014, finishing third in the qualifying round. Later, the team performed well in Bangladesh in 2014, further raising the sport’s popularity in the country.
“It is like a religion now,” Khadka told ESPNcricinfo. Speaking prior to the qualifier, he said: “Everybody is now interested in what the team is doing, what the players are doing. We have the audience. Now we have to build and invest in grassroots and regional cricket to help the younger generation play the game. It is just a beginning for better and amazing things.”
The team experienced a significant success last year when it received T20 international status.
The joy was short-lived, however. Catastrophe upon catastrophe struck the nation. The earth-quakes and the ensuing devastation dealt a blow to national morale, obliterating practice grounds and necessary infrastructural facilities. Fortunately, the country’s
famous 11 escapedesca unharmed. However, the country’scount hopes pinned on the ICC World T Twenty20 qualifier held in Ireland andan Scotland, were crushed when the team suffered a comprehensive defeatdefea at the hands of Jersey. Nepal’s batting line-up collapsed, posting a meager 105/81 in 20 overs; its top scorers SiddhantSidd Lohani and Gyanendra Malla justjus 27 and 26 runs, respectively. The captaincap also failed to rise to the occasion and made just 11 runs.
Losing the game by seven wickets, the Nepali team left the arena with a grim scorecard after playing a total of six games: four losses,losse one victory and one match ending withoutw a result. Its Twenty20 dreamsd ended in a crushing defeat, Nepal lost its shortlived T20 InternationalIn sta-tus after losing the qualification games, setting its cricket back several steps. Critics said the team has little experience of playing matches and performing well on pitches out-side Asia, a factor that may well explain its poor performance.
After the defeat, a despondent Khadka said his team had failed to adapt in the tournament.
“It’s been a very bad tournament for us, nothing has worked. We have tried different combina-tions and none of the plans have worked. It just didn’t happen for us this time. I wouldn’t say it was because of conditions. We just haven’t been able to adapt our game plans as much as we would have liked,” he told a post match press conference.
The team’s success has also been hampered by administrative mismanagement and scandals. The Cricket Association of Nepal ( CAN) officials were accused of embezzling millions and of over-all incompetence.
It did not end there. The team’s recently appointed, and now erstwhile, physiotherapist, Aijaz Ashai, who was also responsible for the team’s mental conditioning, was arrested for molesting a masseuse in Ireland shortly before the team was ousted from the qualifying round. His contract with CAN was subsequently terminated. Ashai’s lawyer denied the charges and the case was ad-journed to August 12.
After the news broke of Ashai’s arrest in Ireland, the Mumbai Mirror reported that there have been other victims in the past. A woman alleged that she was raped by Ashai in 2013. Ashai was asked to leave Saifee Hospital after two patients filed complaints of molestation against him the same year and two female colleagues at the hospital also complained of sexual harassment.
Ashai’s activities mired Nepal cricket in more controversy and notoriety that did little to improve the future of the game in the Himalyan country.
It was the aristocracy that introduced cricket to Nepal, a country nestled between China and In-dia, and having a population of just over 31 million. Teenagers in the streets of this South Asian country, like millions of others in the region, follow the game and play it in the streets. In the days to come, they will be praying for their cricket and its fallen cricket heroes to rise again.