Nepal Clean Bowled!

The team may have lost but cricket in Nepal lives on.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Maria Ka­mal The writer is an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor and a free­lance jour­nal­ist. She is a Dag Ham­marskjold Fel­low and Ful­bright alum­nus.

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.

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