Year Ender 2016: Silver liningsOn field displays outshone off field disputes in what was a fruitful 2016 for both men’s and women’s cricket
In a roller-coaster year for cricket, on field glories—including heroic displays at the U-19 World Cup and the 2019 World Cup Qualifiers—outshone off field wrangling that resulted in the suspension of the Cricket Association of Nepal by cricket’s governing body. 2016 also saw Nepal, a non-Test playing nation, play at cricket’s Mecca the Lord’s. The year also saw the women’s cricket team return from a two-year international hiatus, while the junior cricketers continued to match the glories of the past with yet another stellar year at the U-19 World Cup and the ACC U-19 Asia Cup.
Justifying ‘giant killers’ tag
Nepal’s age group cricket has had a glorious history, having beaten Test giants South Africa, Pakistan, New Zealand and Bangladesh in the past. The team hadn’t had a giant killing moment since they upset Zimbabwe by 99 runs in 2008.
The onus was now on Raju Rijal-led team that headed towards Bangladesh in January for the U-19 world cup. Placed into a difficult group with eventual-finalist India, Nepal got off to a blistering start by stunning New Zealand by 32 runs and thumping Ireland by 8 wickets, courtesy of a magical spell by spin prodigy Sandeep Lamichhane that included a hat-trick. Then after suffering a humbling seven-wicket defeat against India a six-wicket slump in the quarterfinals against the hosts, Nepal bowed out of the tournament, despite winning plaudits and hearts.
The year’s end also remained successful for the juniors as Nepal, led by Lamichhane, put on an impressive display against Test giants India and Sri Lanka and signed off from the tournament with a victory against Malaysia in the ACC U-19 Asia Cup in Sri Lanka in December. The inexperienced squad had retained only three players from the team that played the U-19 World Cup in Bangladesh, 11 months earlier, but managed to assure that Nepal’s future is in safe hands.
Rise of Lamichhane
The U-19 World Cup undoubtedly showcased many future members of the national team, including skipper Raju Rijal, Aarif Sheikh and Sunil Dhamala, but the biggest name of all was Sandeep Lamichhane, who made the headlines during the tournament and even drew comparison to spin-legend Sharne Warne in some quarters.
The 16-year-old’s sensational tournament not only helped himcement a spot in the senior national team but also took him to the Hong Kong Twenty20 Blitz and more tellingly, a place in Australia’s Grade Cricket, through concerted efforts by Australia’s 2015 World Cup winning captain Michael Clarke.
Khadka, Vesawkar star
International cricket returned to Nepal after three years, as the country hosted Namibia in the third round matches of the WCLC. With the problems persisting in the cricket’s governing body, courtesy a dual existence of CAN, ICC allowed Nepal to host the game as scheduled in April but not before bypassing both the committees.
However, the conditional hosting was of no concern for cricket lovers as people thronged to the TU Stadium to watch the country play at home once again. The full house attendance was rewarded with twin victories as Nepal began with a five-wicket victory over Namibia in the first game.
Middle order batsman Sharad Vesawkar held the innings together with an unbeaten half century to open Nepal’s account in the WCLC, which is a gateway to the 2019 World Cup. Captian Paras Khadka got one better when he slammed a scintillating century in the second game and Vesawkar once again held his nerves handing the team a three-wicket win. Khadka became the second Nepali batsman to have two centuries after Anil Mandal. The double win provided Nepal an opportunity to stay alive in the race to join the 10-team World Cup Qualifiers in 2018.
Buoyed by the victories, Nepal headed for the Netherlands in August and were left stunned as the team crashed to 94 all out and lost the first game by seven wickets.
But Nepal atoned for the mistakes as they beat the Dutch by 19 runs in the second game becoming the only side to defeat Netherlands in the ongoing WCLC. Khadka’s 84 was the cornerstone of Nepal’s win. Nepal are currently sixth in the points table with six points and are left to play six more matches in the league.
At the mercy of Lord’s
Nepal senior squad’s biggest highlight of the year, however, remained a match against Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) at the historic Lord’s Cricket Ground in London on July 19. The match was organised by MCC to mark the 200-year bilateral relationship between Nepal and the United Kingdom.
Nepal went on to win the game by 41 runs to outshine a magnificent century from opener George Adair. But more than the result of the game, it was Nepali team’s presence at “Cricket’s Spiritual Home” that made the nation proud. Such was the excitement that all the cricketers, even those who were not in the playing squad, recollected the experience as a dream. The match was also whole heartedly welcomed by Nepalis residing in the UK with more than 5,000 flocking into the stadium, giving a feeling that it was Nepal playing at home, and not the MCC.
Relief for women
In a country where even the men’s cricket is struggling to find proper exposure and domestic structure due to internal wrangling, women’s cricket, unfortunately, as fallen even further to the wayside. Before 2016, Nepali women’s last international tournament was the Asian Games in 2014.
The wait finally ended with the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 Qualifying Series for Asia Region in Hong Kong in October. The Qualifying Series sent only the winners of the tournament into the Global Qualifiers for 2018 World Cup but Nepal finished second losing twice to Thailand and once against Hong Kong in the round robin league event. The second place finish, however, gave Nepal a spot in the ACC Women’s Asia Cup scheduled for November in Thailand.
But the Asia Cup became a miserable outing for the Nepali women, who lost all their matches against India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Thailand. They were packed away for historic low total of 21 runs against eventual champions India. Irrespective of the end result, the participation in back-to-back tournaments provided a much-needed relief for women’s cricket and will provide building blocks for the years ahead.
Fractured cricket body
Soon after Nepal hosted their first ever international tournament in three years through the WCLC, International Cricket Council (ICC) decided to suspend the CAN on April 25, owing to a dual existence of the cricket governing body caused by a controversial election.
ICC, cricket’s supreme body, has moved ahead to resolve the crisis by forming an advisory group which is tasked to draft a new constitution so as to transform CAN into a board. Nepal’s biggest challenge to continue the on-field momentum will be to have a free and fair cricket body at its place so that cricket doesn’t suffer. Ineffective administration has already stalled other sports like football in the past, stymieing growth for decades. It would be prudent to learn from those missteps so as to ensure that cricket too doesn’t tread the same path. Because, as 2016 proved, it remains Nepal’s best shot at a World Cup sport.