Nepal’s squandered opportunity

|Dhammika Prasad

2021 was a difficult and challenging year for everyone because of COVID. Unsurprisingly, the year turned out to be a mixed year for Nepal cricket on the field.

The unexpected retirement of Paras Khadka and the ugly feud between the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) and a section of international players spearheaded by then skipper of the national team Gyanendra Malla dominated headlines.

Of the many stories, foremost, the year’s top story was former skipper of the national team Paras Khadka’s retirement.

Mr.Khadka, the face of Nepal cricket and one of the most recognized athletes in the country took everyone by complete surprise when he announced his retirement from all forms of cricket.

The former skipper could have played for a few more years but he chose not to. His retirement marked the end of a glorious, remarkable and successful career spanning 19 years. He will be remembered as Nepal’s most iconic sportsman.

His contribution to Nepal cricket stands invaluable. As skipper, he led by example both on and off the field. He was dynamic, charismatic, intelligent, forthright and inspiring. He leaves behind a legacy very few would surpass.

The unnecessary and avoidable conflict between the highly politicized Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) and dissatisfied players over the grading system for the players’ contract list for 2022 drew extensive attention and raised many people’s eyebrows.

The cricket body took a bold and aggressive stand by taking disciplinary action against the agitating players. They were suspended from the central contract for six months.

The suspension as it turned out later proved unwarranted and irrelevant.CAN was forced to lift the suspension following criticism and opposition from its own members.

Also, CAN’s action became a subject of criticism, ridicule and mockery. Clearly, the leadership shamelessly resorted to arm-twisting tactics

It is well known that CAN has been a hotbed of petty politics and run by bureaucrats rather than professionals for decades.No wonder, the all-round development of cricket in the country has been moving at a snail’s pace.

As things stand, CAN is in dire need of a strong and decisive leadership who has the ability and honesty to guide cricket development in the right direction.

It is no exaggeration to say that the cricket association is in a shambolic state. Leadership weaknesses, pathetic governance and mismanagement have been on full display.

Meaningful policies and programs to uplift and bolster cricket development at national and regional levels are yet to be seen.

As long as CAN is in the hands of bureaucrats, politicians and unprofessional, the landscape of Nepal cricket will remain more or less the same, unfortunately.

Despite everything, the popularity of cricket has skyrocketed in the country. The domestic circuit is loaded with tournaments for men/women across age groups.

However, there remains much to be done when it comes to domestic cricket. There is a need to revamp the structure in order to make it more systematic, organized, relevant, productive and less grinding.

Furthermore, inadequate infrastructure remains a major obstacle. The good news is that the sad state of affairs has not stopped young aspirants from playing the game.

We have seen a good number of youngsters who have made the national teams and come off with flying colors over the years.

Certainly, there is no dearth of talents in the country, however, we do not have the professional setup to properly nurture them.

The appointment of highly talented leggie Sandeep Lamichhane, Nepal’s first cricketer to play in the Indian Professional League as skipper of the national team in place of Gyanendra Malla garnered lots of media attention.

We will have to wait and see how well the youngster responds and handles captaincy challenges and pressures.

Head coaching change grabbed the limelight as well. Sri Lanka-born Australian Dave Whatmore who stepped down as Head Coach of the national team came as a big surprise.

CAN was quick to reappoint Sri Lanka-born Canadian Pubudu Dassanayake as the new Head Coach on a two-year contract.

It may be recalled that Mr.Dassanayake had successfully coached the national team from 2011-2015. In his first stint with the team, Nepal qualified for the 2014 ICC World Twenty20 in Bangladesh.

All eyes will be on the coach as he prepares the team for the 2022 ICC World Twenty20 qualifiers.

The national team lifted the Tri-Nations Cup on home soil beating the Netherlands in the final. Malaysia was the third team in the competition.

The emergence of talents in the likes of Aasif Sheikh, Kushal Bhurtel, Sagar Dhakal and Sandeep Jora are great prospects for Nepal.

After Khadka’s retirement, Nepal played in the Cricket World Cup League 2, the second tier of the 2023 World Cup Qualification against Oman, and the United States in Oman.

Despite two consecutive defeats, Nepal managed to beat Oman and climbed to fourth place on the League 2 table. But there is little to separate the five teams.

Nepal needs to be more consistent and predictable when it comes to performance in order to give themselves a chance of qualifying for the next round.

As I write, Team Nepal is playing in the World Cup ICC Men’s Twenty30 Global qualifiers in Oman. They have made a winning start beating Oman. To give themselves the best chance of success, they have to play their best cricket.

The men’s Under-19 competed in the 2021 ACC Under-19 in the United Arab Emirates but failed to live up to expectations.

They exited from the competition after losing to Kuwait, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh in the league cum knockout stage.

The national women’s team was in action as well. They played the Twenty20 series against Kuwait and were victorious.

They lifted the BKDP Cup Twenty20 friendly series in Bangladesh. However, despite finishing third in the group, they bowed out of the ICC Women Twenty20 World Cup qualifiers held in the United Arab Emirates.

They ended the competition with three wins (Malaysia, Kuwait and Bhutan)and two defeats (United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong). By and large, they performed fairly well.

Sita Rana Magar was adjudged player of the tournament for her individual brilliance throughout the competition.

I am looking forward to a more fruitful and productive 2022 for Nepal cricket. That said, I will repeat it again the development of cricket is stymied by weak leadership and poor management, and it is threatening the survivability and sustainability of professional cricket in the country. We know this has to change.