Cricket is becoming an increasingly popular sport in Nepal. It should therefore come as no surprise that cricket was at the forefront of national sport news for the most part in 2014.
The heartwarming news is that cricket popularity is on the rise, despite the uncertainty and sorry state of Nepali cricket. It is jut as popular as always.
Looking back on the year in Nepali cricket, it becomes necessary to identify the high points and low points, coupled with our successes and challenges.
The past year was marked by successes, disappointments, controversies, protests and power struggle within the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN).
We also witnessed another growth spurt in cricketing activities across the country and the emergence of a highly talented new crop of players. It was a super busy year for cricketers in terms of competitions.
Let me begin on a positive note, the national team skippered by Paras Khadka made their maiden appearance at the ICC World Cup Twenty/20 held in Bangladesh.
They played exceedingly well and narrowly failed to reach the super 10 stage of the competition. Nonetheless they received unprecedented accolades for their outstanding performance from all quarters.
By winning the 2014 ICC World Cricket League Division Three held in Malaysia, Team Nepal showed that they are not far off competing at the top level.
More important, the success earned the team a spot in the 2015 ICC World Cricket League Division Two competition in Namibia.
Gyanendra Malla’s scintillating century against Singapore was one of the highlights of the competition. His 114 runs came off 125 balls.
Prior to that the national team started the year on a losing note, failing to qualify for the 2015 World Cup. They finished a disappointing 9th in the 2014 World Cup Qualifier held in New Zealand.
Moving on to the ACC Premier League held in Malaysia, Nepal finished 3rd behind Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates. However, they qualified for the ACC Championship scheduled for 2014 December in the UAE but was called off.
Talk of the tournament was emerging youngster Sompal Kami. He mesmerized and stumped everyone by his talent and brilliance.
Team Nepal went into the 2014 Asian Games in South Korea with medal hopes but went down to nemesis Afghanistan in the quarterfinal.
Nepal colts claimed its maiden ACC Under-16 Elite Championship at the expense of host Malaysia. The talent packed team put in a powerful performance and remained unbeaten in the competition.
Besides, there were outstanding individual performances. Brilliant Jitendra Singh had a fantastic bowling spell and scalped 15 wickets, thus making him the tournament’s highest wicket taker. He was declared the best bowler of the tournament.
Not too far behind Singh was sensational thirteen-year-old Anil Kharel with 13 wickets. The pint-sized talent was adjudged the most promising player of the tournament.
In the batting department, Parnit Thapa, a solid batter was the highest run getter for Nepal. He amassed 170 runs to his credit and was the third highest run scorer in the competition.
It was a tale of so close yet so far for the highly talented Nepal Under-19 in the ACC U-19 Premier League held in Kuwait. By losing to Afghanistan in the final they squandered the chance to qualify for the ICC U-19 World Cup.
However, they will have a second chance to qualify when they play in the ICC U-19 World Cup Global qualifiers.
In contrast, our women cricketers had a poor season. Going by their mediocrity in the ACC Women’s Premier League in Thailand and 2014 Asia Games in South Korea, it must be said that they will be fighting an uphill task if they are to win a competition in the future.
The domestic cricket season was marked by a busy playing schedule, despite meager resources, serious lack of grounds and facilities.
The Pepsi Standard Charted National One Day competition attracted regional teams from all around the country and departmental teams, as well.
Birganj lifted the coveted trophy, defeating APF in the final. The competition can be remembered for some notable individual brilliance. Biratnagar’s Raj Kumar Pradhan and Puspa Thapa stood out as the tournament’s best bowler and batsman respectively.
Likewise, player of the tournament went to Birganj’s Aarif Sheikh and the emerging player to Lalit Singh Bhandari of Dhangadi.
The women’s national cricket tournament produced a winner in Janakapur over Biratnagar. Bindu Rawal (Baitadi) and Rekha BC (Nepalganj) were the best batter and bowler respectively. And Janakpur’s Mamata Chaudhary was declared player of the tournament.
CAN’s announcement to organize Nepal Premier League (NPL), the first professional cricket competition of its kind in three formats, Twenty/20,One Day and Two day was greet with enthusiasm and generated lots of excitement.
Even before a single ball was bowled, the tournament was in the midst of controversy. The controversy revolved around the running of the tournament, involving the governing body formed by CAN and event management company Zhora Sports Management (ZSM).
After much suspense and drama, the NPL One Day compeition, featuring 6 teams finally got off to a start in Dhangadi.
Panchakanyya Tej got the better of Jagdamba Giants in the title decider. Bhuvan Karki‘s (Panchakanya) 14 wickets and Pradeep Airee ‘s (Kantipur Gurkhas) 212 runs won them the best bowler and batting awards respectively.
The scheduled NPL Twenty/20 in Kathmandu was cancelled much to the chagrin of cricket aficionados.
Kudos to visually impaired cricketers for their determination, grit and ability to play competitive cricket. It is their sheer love, passion for the sport which keeps them playing.
Lumbini Blind Cricket outfit did themselves proud, defeating Nepal Army to lift the 5th National Blind Cricket Championship.
Undaunted by poor quality pitches and challenging playing conditions, players risked injuries and put on brave show.
That said, players safety always comes first no matter what. As a matter of fact, no one, not even CAN gives a damn about players’ well -being. There have been limited reports on the local media in regards to unsafe field conditions and dangerous pitches.
I am very surprised that our players have not seriously addressed safety concerns when it comes to pitches and playing conditions at home.
With much work yet to be done, work on the much-talked half-complete Mulpani cricket ground is going at a snail’s pace. I have to admit; the cricket body’s level of incompetence is frightening.
Head Coach of Team Nepal Mr. Pubudu Dassanayake’s contract row was front and center. Following CAN’s indecisiveness, finally under pressure the government intervened and renewed his contract.
CAN’s appointment of Ms. Bhawana Ghimere as its CEO came as a mild surprise. Although it is currently unclear what her role will be in CAN that has failed miserably in its job, we will have to wait and see what she has to offer or bring to the table.
Mr. Buddhi Pradhan from Biratnagar is making a steady rise to international umpiring. He was named in the umpire list for the upcoming ICC WC Division Two competition in Namibia. Every Nepali should be proud of his achievement.
In my opinion player of the year has to be the exceptionally talented 18-year-old right-handed batsman Sompal Kami. Going by his dominant performances, it is hard to believe that the explosive all-rounder made a phenomenal debut for Nepal.
As a matter of fact, in every tournament from the World Cup Qualifier to the ICC World Cricket League Division Three, he stamped his class on proceedings.
A right-arm fast bowler, Kami, in a short period of time has become the backbone of Nepali bowling and success. He has been taking wickets galore. He combines great pace with good length and pinpoint accuracy.
The youngster took 15 wickets and was adjudged the best bowler of the 2014 ACC Premier League tournament in Malaysia.
More accolades came his way; he was the sole Nepali to make it to the Asian Cricket Council’s Select XI in the 2014 Asian Games in South Korea
It would not be gross exaggeration to say that he is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest Nepali cricketer ever.
The lad was back in the news for his epic world record batting feat in the Twenty/20 International series against Hong Kong.
Batting tenth, he made 40 runs, the highest score made by a number ten batsman in the Twenty/20 format, surpassing the 37 set by Sri Lankan Pradeep Nishantha in 2007.
Two vital international competitions, ICC World Cricket League Division Two in Namibia and ICC World Twenty/20 Qualifiers in Ireland/Scotland awaits the national team in 2015.
As part of the preparation, Team Nepal undertook a tour of Sri Lanka where they played against Sri Lanka Cricket Combined XI. In addition, they played Twenty/20 international series against Hong Kong.
Also four practice matches for the team have been planned in South Africa. This is a very positive move by CAN.
Furthermore, in an effort to boost, bolster the bowling department CAN did the right thing by hiring former international Indian left-arm spinner Venkatapathy Raju and Sri Lankan Rumesh Ratnayake along with two other Sri Lankans.
The tragic death of young Aussie cricketer Phillip Hughes while playing domestic match in Sydney, Australia made headlines, internationally.
As a mark of respect to the deceased youngster, CAN is planning to place his bat on Mt.Everest. A noble idea, indeed. There can be no bigger tribute than this.
CAN, the apex body responsible for the promotion and development of cricket was in the eye of the storm. They made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The President of CAN Tanka Angbuhang Limbu and his associates were guilty of maladministration, neglect and corruption. Instead of engaging in honest pursuit of good governance, they worked to further their own goals and vested interests.
The government’s failure to recognize the severity of the situation only added fuel to the fire. Frustrated players had no choice but to take matters into their own hands.
They stepped up pressure on the government to do something about it. They threatened to boycott every tournament be it national or international unless CAN underwent a thorough reorganization, including change in the leadership and members.
They rightfully expressed outrage at not receiving their monthly allowances already due from the cricket body.
The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) lodged a case against CAN President and 17 others at the Special Court for their alleged involvement in the embezzlement of millions of rupees in the construction of Mulpani Cricket Stadium.
As a result of CIAA’s ongoing investigation, Mr. Limbu stepped aside, paving the way for Mr. Tarini Bikram Shah to assume the acting president position.
Mr. Shah led CAN, however, was dissolved by the government on grounds of incompetence. At the same time, former President of CAN Binaya Raj Pandey was appointed as interim president of the ad hoc committee.
Although the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) recognized the ad hoc committee headed by Mr. Pandey, the International Cricket Council has not yet endorsed.
Mr. Limbu and Mr. Umesh Man Shrestha of Design Cell Architects Private Limited were released on bail recently.
Old horse Mr. Pandey is back on the hot seat, however, we cannot expect too much from him. He had a good number of years to turn things around but failed to deliver on his promises. Evidently he lacks strong leadership qualities and vision. What an irony?
Sadly, the real losers are cricketers, victims of this corrupt system. In spite of everything, it has not deterred aspiring cricketers across the country from playing the game.
It is so really appalling and unfortunate that politicization of CAN continues to this day, with no end in sight. Without any shadow of a doubt, it is one of the root causes hindering development of cricket.
The cricket body has not achieved any of its duties and is failing miserably. To make matters worse, we have a government that is totally unconcerned about it.
Indeed, the public has lost faith and trust in CAN that is mired in a litany of controversies and corruption scandals. With so much confusion and chaos prevailing, the future direction of Nepali cricket remains highly uncertain.
To be honest, as things stand now, I am not sure if Nepali cricket will be better off in 2015. One can only hope that the positive outweighs the negative. Only time will tell.