Fading under the coloursThe Nepali men’s cricket scene has been vibrant and colourful of late, particularly after the national team began to flourish following the 2012 ICC World Cricket League Division-IV triumph in Malaysia. The achievement was soon followed by an appearance at the World Twenty20, frequent participation in Qualifiers, link-up with the glitzy Indian Premier League, players’ brief stints in foreign set-ups and the growing interest and investment from corporate backers at home.
The Nepali men’s cricket scene has been vibrant and colourful of late, particularly after the national team began to flourish following the 2012 ICC World Cricket League Division-IV triumph in Malaysia. The achievement was soon followed by an appearance at the World Twenty20, frequent participation in Qualifiers, link-up with the glitzy Indian Premier League, players’ brief stints in foreign set-ups and the growing interest and investment from corporate backers at home.
All the above developments, barring the ongoing administrative turmoil in the sport’s governing body, have made men’s cricket one of the most keenly followed and happening sports in the country. However, on the other side of the coin—the Nepali women’s cricket team—the tale is markedly different; it’s a tale of how despite seemingly insurmountable odds—brought on by negligence and indifference—the women’s team continues to hold their own.
The Nepali women’s cricket team recently marked their return to international cricket with a qualification to the ACC Women’s Asia Cup. In the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 Global Qualifying Series for Asia Region held in Hong Kong, Nepal ended up second to qualify for the Women’s Asia Cup which is slated to begin from November 26 in Thailand.
But behind Nepal’s progress to the regional meet lies a story of struggle and bravery. The Qualifying Series was Nepali women cricketers’ first tournament in the last two years—having previously played the 2014 Asian Games cricket. With the internal crisis in the administrative body taking its toll, it was also their first competitive tournament after the Games in Incheon.
In both men’s and women’s categories, Nepali cricketers have been, for the large part, dependent on a single national tournament ever since the national team started participating in international tournaments. But the string of international successes in men’s cricket has piqued the interest in the corporate sector which has resulted in the hosting of several privately-organised tournaments.
However, the same case doesn’t apply to women’s cricket. Ever since Nepali women cricketers began their international participation with the 2007 ACC Women’s Tournament, they have been handed only a single tournament in a year. These one-off tourneys barely help the cricketers gain fitness for closed practice sessions, let alone prepare them for gruelling international tournaments. And the Qualifying Series this year was no exception.
Heading into the Qualifying Series, following a hastily organised selection tournament and poor build-up, expectations were understandably low for the women cricketers. The two-year hiatus had its say on the performance as Nepal began the tournament by losing back-to-back matches against Thailand and Hong Kong.
The early setbacks, however, stirred the team from a slumber as Nepal bounced back to twice defeat China and then Hong Kong to ensure that their return to international cricket concluded with a remarkable achievement. Given the shoddy preparation and constant neglect from the governing body, it was a feat that has helped to partially revive women’s cricket, if only momentarily.
The persistent wrangling among factions in the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) is yet to be resolved and there is no telling how or when domestic cricket will take shape in the country. Nepali cricket is going through a phase where even the men’s cricket is eagerly waiting for the standstill to be over. For the women, the wait will undoubtedly be even longer.
In the upcoming Asia Cup, Nepali women will rub shoulders against Test-playing giants such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, along with host Thailand. But without proper governance, their preparation has already been hampered. Their biggest fear, however, is not that the preparation for their next tournament has been far from ideal; the question is whether they can remain financially afloat as full-time cricketers in the days ahead.
At a time when the women’s team were preparing for the Qualifying Series, the country witnessed the colourful Everest Premier League—a franchise cricketing tournament that sparked a lot of excitement in men’s cricket. In an exciting final, former U-16 cricketer Aasif Sheikh, of Panchakanya Tez, even smashed an eye-catching century against Colors X-Factor at the Tribhuvan University Stadium grounds.
But with the tournament taking over available training grounds, Nepali women were left applauding Sheikh’s masterstroke from the stands. They have always wanted those colours to be theirs, the grounds to belong to them and cash splashed on them as well. But at least for the time being, the grass remains exponentially greener on the other side.