The monkey’s off Malla’s backGyanendra Malla finally broke through last Saturday. In the recently held ICC World Cricket League Division III tournament in Malaysia
The triple figures from one of Nepal’s most qualified batsmen, whose reliability had often been questioned due to his failure to play long innings, came almost nine years after he began his career.
When he finally got that elusive century, the raucous Nepali supporters who thronged the Bayuemas Oval in Kuala Lumpur broke into revelry. And just as the batsman might have on the field, many Nepalis at home too breathed a sigh of relief.
Malla doesn’t need to claim that he is the ‘technically best’ batsman on the national team. That label has been already conferred on him by Nepali cricket fans. He has been wearing that tag ever since he stormed into the spotlight during the 2006 ACC Trophy Elite, when he scored half centuries in his first two matches with the national team. He signalled his arrival with such flourish that Nepali cricket fans had, ever since, been hoping for more from him in the biggest games.
Malla is a delight to watch whenever he steps inside the 22 yards. His performance begins with the same unruffuled stance he takes at the crease, and with every shot he pulls out from his wide arsenal, the fans’ hopes rise through the innings. From cover drive to switch hit and from square cut to reverse sweep or the Dilscoop, there is no shot he cannot play with the elan that any modern batsman from any Test playing nation does. And thus the huge expectation that he will pull out a victory even when the Nepali batting order is crumbling against the strongest opponents. Malla is— as the famous Pakistani commentator Ramiz
Raja often defines a batsman who stays calm under pressure— a cool customer.
That ability of his, to stay cool during adverse conditions, has helped him play some memorable innings in minor tournaments. Back in 2006 when Nepal left for Malaysia for the ACC Trophy Elite, Malla was the only Nepali player to make twin half centuries in consecutive matches (against Kuwait and Bhutan). The record still stands. Malla always makes headlines during Nepal’s warm-up outings before their international tournaments. He is the king of practice or unofficial matches. During Twenty20 tours for Nepal, it is not unusual to see Malla cantering to a half century, courtesy of a power-packed innings, and in 50-over games, he hits centuries. But come big-tournament time, he always seemed to fizzle out.
It wasn’t that he was being overwhelmed by the level of competition either. Malla slammed 141 in a match against Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC)—the world’s oldest cricket club—when they had visited Nepal for a friendly tour in 2009. But the following year, when Nepal competed in the ICC World Cricket League Division-V in Kathmandu—when his 141 against MCC was still fresh in everyone’s mind—he didn’t come close to matching those numbers. Instead, it was Sharad Vesawkar who enthralled the crowd at the TU Stadium with a scintillating 105 not out against Fiji.
So why did Malla always come up short? Former national cricket team skipper Binod Das, under whom Malla played for more than five years, thinks he knows why.
“There is an easiness to the way he plays. That easiness soon bores him, and he begins to get unconventional,” says Das.
“And then he starts playing high-risk shots. He will go for a switch hit and is not even afraid to play a reverse sweep. Once he nears the 30 or 40 run mark, he usually plays some rash shots. I have often seen him throwing his wicket, rather than the bowler’s having gotten the better of him. One requires concentration to play a long innings and he doesn’t seem to have that.”
This time around, before the Malaysian tour, everything seemed to augur well for Malla and it was imperative that he ride that form to get that big-game century. He went into the Division III tournament in Malaysia in sublime form. He hammered 167 off 157 balls in a match against Ragama Cricket Club in a practice tour in Sri Lanka. That whirlwind innings was preceded by a 57-run effort against Colts Cricket Club.
And on October 26, in the match against Singapore, Malla finally got the monkey off his back. Such achievements are important, says Coach Pubudu Dassanayake, who believes that Nepal now could see more such innings from Malla.
“Gyanendra has always had the ability to play such big innings, but the problem was he was not getting even a single one. Since he has finally got it now, he knows he has it in him to get the big ones. He has gotten the taste of it and will now chase it all the time,” says Dassanayake. Das seconds Dassanayake’s take.
“It took Indian batting legend Sachin Tendulkar almost two years to get his first century. But once he got it, he kept going,” says Das. “Gyanendra has immense potential and there is no doubt that he can play a long innings. He will now always remember how he shaped his innings against Singapore and it will give him a lot of confidence to replicate that performance against other teams as well.”