Recently when a U-19 team played the World Cup Qualifier the whole nation was watching the news, surfing the net to keep updated with the scores. The newspapers carried daily reports. The Expat community in Ireland (The Hosts) welcomed the team, went to ground to support them. 2009, when the National team played a tournament as the host, the whole country was talking about it. Every match the hosts played had 10000 people turning out to watch the match and support their team.
This is a not a Test Nation, neither is this India or Pakistan, the well known cricket crazy nations. Nestled in the Himalayas, the Land of Gorkhas and Mt Everest, this is a nation few would suspect to be cricket crazy- Nepal.
The passion of game can be seen from the fact that when recently the Indian or SL U-19 were playing there was very minor coverage for it in India or SL, but here in Nepal, even if the Junior team also plays, it was the most talked about things in Nepal. People were very happy this time when the team reached the World Cup. At Junior level the team has great performances in the World Cup. They have credit of defeating 4 test team:- Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand and Bangladesh
The game was introduced in the country by Rana rulers who over years used to go and study in England or India. The game was elitist for many years until the advent of satellite TV in 2000’s. It brought with it the Indian channels. These channels with it brought TV Soaps, Bollywood and most importantly Cricket. Also over years many people worked in India. When they came back they also brought in the game and made people in Nepal interested in the game. The game picked up. The hosting of ACC tournaments from 1998 onwards also helped in the popularity of games.
However despite this passion the senior team has not been able to replicate neither the success of Junior teams or the passion of the nations. The team has a record of choking at all stages of the game. The most critical of that was when chasing a 117 were bundled out for mere 108 runs, costing them a spot and stopped them from advancing to Division 3 and additional funding that they could have received if they ultimately reached Div 2. Also over years the team choked in the Intercontinental Cup, 2008 Div 5, when they won all the league matches but lost in Semi Final this loosing a chance to be in Div 4. There can be various other instances that can be counted.
So why has the senior team not been able to do well. What can be done to improve it’s performance. There are several reasons.
1. The Administration
Talk to a Nepali and this will be the reason given. The Administration is known to be corrupt, working on favoritism. Since 2004 there has been a talk of an international stadium but it is now 2011 but still there has been no sign of it despite ACC and Nepali government offering assistance at various stages.
The CAN is not a professional body with all members on honorary roles without being responsible to anyone. It has elections but the district associations have no role but just few in Kathmandu participating in election
What is really required is a professional set up with a paid CEO who is responsible for the performance. This would also mean that CEO will have to work towards bringing sponsorships, central contracts and transition of junior players to senior level.
2. Central Contracts
The Nepal Team despite of being stars at their place are still amateurs at the sports. Whenever the team plays they get a daily allowance rather than being contracted. Even though finances are a issue still CAN can start with a semi professional set up like that of Netherlands or Scotland and then slowly move towards central contracts. Central contracts would mean that players can focus more on the game without worrying about anything else. Central contracts would also mean that the excellent talent at Junior level can be retained and be worked upon the future.
The central contracts would not be that difficult to offer. CAN can muster such resources. With a per capita of 562$ (44000 Nep Rupees), an average central contract worth 22000 Nep Rupees/Month would be a good sum for a average Nepali. This with 30 players & 12 month transforms to 80 Lakh Nepali Rupees. An ACC & ICC annual support of 80 Lakh Nepali Rupees, managed with Private sponsorship and government support make this number not very difficult. It all boils down to management by CAN
3. Retaining the Junior Talent
The performance of the Junior team has been excellent. They have qualified for all world cup since 2000 except the 2010 WC. (They have again qualified for 2012). They have honors of defeating Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand and Bangladesh at U-19 level. They have been plate runners up 2 times. So there is no doubt there is talent but many like brilliant Bardan Chalise chose not to pursue cricket as career due to so many uncertainties and rather go to USA.
For the junior players certain talent can be identified and can be given central contracts or scholarships. This will remove uncertainties and help Nepal retain the brilliant talent and not compromise. Also the juniors would need some infrastructure to help them train and improve further to come on international level.
4. Local Infrastructure
Imagine Manchester United without its stadium. Half its support will be gone. Similarly to have a Nepali spirit in game, a stadium and infrastructure the team can call its own is very essential. Presently imagine a player wanting to practice would have to go to Tribhuvan University and practice and university may easily refuse. Various countries have realized this. Afghanistan, Myanmar, China, Ireland, Netherlands, Canada, and many more have got stadiums that they can call their own.
The stadium can also be used to get matches of International team for eg India V Pakistan. This match would draw loads of tourism in the country and also help CAN in additional funding. Similar to Skating Club in Canada or Sharjah, CAN can start a annual or two yearly tournaments. Not only will it bring exposure for the home nations, but also international attention and money. Nepal is a beautiful country and this can be the way to bring back the tourists scared away by Maoists.
5. Institutional Support
The strength of Pakistan, India or Sri Lanka has been government institutions supporting sports. Like APF has got a team and even has offered central contracts, a similar effort can be taken and ensured that the regional tournament can be Institution based. Pakistan has got teams like Habib Bank or India has Railways or Indian Airlines in Hockey. This is required because outside Kathmandu, getting private sponsorships or contracts becomes difficult. Hence these institution step in and support the teams by either absorbing players as their employees or running a club and supporting by regional contracts. Besides APF, companies like Nepal Airlines or Himalayan Bank can have their teams. This ensures a motivation to many good sports man to really take sports as a career.
6. Playing more tournaments
Nepal team has been known to choke because of less exposure they get. They usually play when there is either a ACC tournament or a ICC tournament. After playing the ICC WCL Div 4 and ACC Trophy Elite in 2010, Nepal has not played cricket in 2011. They will play in 2011 Dec in the ACC Twenty20 almost after 14 months. Such long periods without play players cannot be really blamed.
Having closed camps 2 months before the tournament and a 2 week domestic tournament will not help at all. Nepal can use this time to invite teams like Ireland, Bangladesh or Afghanistan and help refine their play or like Kenya and Tanzania do, invite the Ranji teams to play. This will give them an exposure that will help remove the tag of Chokers
7. Look West:India
During the nascency stages of Bangladesh, the Bangla board approached BCCI and had Bangladesh team play in domestic tournament for 2 years. This helps the team to get good enough exposure
Similarly it is not BCCI but CAN which has to approach BCCI and help Nepal be a part of Ranji Trophy. With 26 teams in Ranji, BCCI will never mind making it 27. A local Nepali ground can also be used to host some of the games. This is a key thing. Interacting with various players in India will definitely give some handy tips to Nepali players. Also India is the cheapest option Nepal has and will give the best exposure.
Nepal presently are in Div 4 of World Cricket League. To reach 2015 WC the path would be
2012 Div 4:- Come in top 2. Present teams USA, Denmark, Nepal, Tanzania and 2 from Div 5
2012 Div 3:- Again finish in Top 2. Present teams Uganda, Bermuda, Oman, Italy and Top from Div 4
2013 WC Qualifiers:- Again finish in Top 2. Present teams any 6 out of Ire, Can, Neth, Scot, Ken, Afg, UAE & Nam + PNG, HK + Top 2 from Div 3
Lets hope some of these actions take place and Nepal make it into the top stage. There has been a long time with the passion of Nepali people still not rewarded. Best of luck.
By Jashanpreet Singh Gill
The writer can be followed through his own blog, http://www.jashan-celebrating-life.blogspot.com/