Youth is wasted on the youngWith the U-19 team putting together a valiant display at the World Cup, the oft-asked question is again resurfacing—can the Nepali cricketing set-up help these young colts reach their true potential?
Nepali cricket has always been impressive at the global stage. Cricketers play well, win hearts with on and off-field discipline, and most importantly, return with accolades for putting in a valiant show against tough oppositions. At the U-19 World Cup in Bangladesh this month, Nepal, yet again, impressed the world as they audaciously took on some of the biggest guns in cricket.
Making a comeback in the U-19 World Cup following a four-year hiatus, Nepali colts gave the cricketing world what they are famous for—upset victories over giants. Nepal had a dream start to the tournament when they stunned Test giants New Zealand by 32 runs, that too convincingly with an all-round performance.
In a group that included another cricketing giant—India, and a well-seasoned Ireland, the stunning victory over the junior Kiwis opened up the tournament on a strong front foot. The victory sent Nepal into a frenzy as it was its first Test victory in eight years. The heroes were hailed for an achievement that lifted the country, and not just the cricketing fraternity, out of a gloom.
On the back of a fine performance from Sandeep Lamichhane—who took Nepal’s first hat-trick in U-19 World Cups in a five-wicket haul—Nepal hammered the Irish by eight wickets in their third victory in as many meetings with the fellow Associates. The win propelled Nepal into the quarter-finals with one match to spare.
Buoyed by two convincing victories, Nepal headed into the clash against three-time champions India, high on confidence. Nepal’s batting, however, crumbled as they struggled to just 169-8 in 48 overs. With plenty of spin options, that had delivered prior to the game, the Nepali camp was hopeful of at least putting up a fight. But what unfolded in the Indian chase was surreal, as it was heart-breaking.
In a batting onslaught, particularly by opener Rishab Pant, whose record 78 in 23 balls that included five sixes and nine fours, India cantered to a victory in just 18.1 overs. The match served as a rude reality check: Nepali cricket still has a long way to go before it can rub shoulders with the top teams in the world.
If the crushing defeat inflicted by India was a humiliation, Nepal saved itself blushes by succumbing to a graceful six-wicket loss against hosts Bangladesh in the quarter-finals. A spot in the semi-final was lost but Nepal returned with their heads held high—lauded for the valiant efforts against a settled Test team and the display of immense potential.
Pushed to the playoffs, Nepal went through another acid Test in a 122-run defeat to Pakistan before missing out on a direct qualification for the 2018 U-19 World Cup when they lost to Namibia by 15 runs in the seventh place playoff final.
A golden legacy
Nepal has a glorious history in the U-19 World Cups. The victory over New Zealand was not their first against a Test playing nation. When modern Nepali cricket was still in its infancy, U-19 performances were a much needed boost and a harbinger of all that was to come. Nepal has for long been tagged as the ‘giant killers’ following their shocking wins over Pakistan, South Africa, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe on different occasions in the past decade.
Most of the members in the current senior squad have come from the ranks of U-19 that produced the upsets in past World Cups. An assumption that those players would make it big with the progression of time was inevitable, considering the heady heights they had scaled.
But except for playing the ICC World Twenty20 and competing against top Associates in ICC World Cricket League Champ-ionship, Nepal’s cricket currently doesn’t have many bright spots. At a time when modern cricket has taken a giant leap with the proliferation of Twenty20, Nepal’s cricket administration has neither planned to set up a platform for these future stars nor showed any inclination to do so in the future.
Heady heights, bleak futures
Soon after Nepal defeated New Zealand in the U-19 World Cup, social networking sites were abuzz with excitement. Others put forth some serious questions. “We defeated New Zealand in the U-19 World Cup but do we still have to watch them live on TV and not the current stars from Nepal?,” a facebook post read.
Leg spinner Lamichhane has been a big revelation in Nepal’s World Cup campaign. He took the tournament by storm picking up a hat-trick and is so far the tournament’s second leading wicket taker with 14 scalps to his name.
But more than the number of wickets he took, his technique, control and variation of bowling has turned many heads. Followed closely by the media in Bangladesh, the International Cricket Council shared a video of Lamichhane under the name ‘The Nepali Shane Warne?’.
The video captures the 15-year old during Nepal’s fifth place playoff semi-final against Pakistan where the googly bowler produces a sharp-turning unplayable delivery. BBC included the video in their website modifying the question, “Is Sandeep Lamichhane the Nepalese Warne?”
Lamichhane might be currently basking in his World Cup glory but all indications show that he will eventually struggle to transform his talent. That fear is not limited just to Lamichhane alone. All the probable future cricket stars in the country have no clue how their talent will develop as they seek to make the jump into senior competitions. Nepal’s domestic cricket and infrastructure is still in a very primitive stage, and cannot provide these young colts with the necessary exposure to truly transform them from lads with great potential to global cricketing stars.
Binod Das, a former national team skipper and assistant coach of the U-19 squad, believes Nepal has plenty of talent and can qualify for World Cups and make it big in the future. But Das has some serious questions as well. “Our qualification depends on us. What have we done so far to improve cricket in our country? Every cricket related person needs to ask that question to himself or herself, including me. It is time for us to find the answers. And if we can find an answer, we will surely make it to the next World Cup and many more.”
India’s current U-19 hard-hitting opener Pant was sold for INR 1.9 crore in the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction as the tournament was still ongoing in Bangladesh. But what will hat-trick boy Sandeep Lamichhane do after the U-19 World Cup is over? He has neither a proper domestic set up to hone his skills nor competitive matches that give him the exposure he needs.
The current U-19 squad, without any signs to the contrary, look to fall into a similar cycle as their predecessors—shine bright in the age-group tourneys, then plateau out in senior competitions . With no domestic set up that could shape them up to become future stars, the current crop of Nepal’s young colts will eventually fizzle out—never truly fulfilling their potential.