This is why it’s a perfect time for Nepal to cash in on its ODI statusOff-field problems continue to affect the overall development of cricket as CAN remains under the ICC suspension.
Nepal marked the greatest year of its sporting history by earning the coveted One Day International (ODI) status, 22 years after the country was introduced to world cricket.
Following an eighth place finish in the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe in March, Nepal now boasts a presence in cricket’s elite ODI club which can lay platform to lock horns against the giants of the game, at least in theory. 2018 was also a year that saw Nepal cross its boundary in world cricket when the 17-year old leg spin prodigy Sandeep Lamichhane was snapped up by Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Delhi Daredevils.
Lamichhane represented Nepal perfectly at the lucrative Twenty20 competition and has now become the globe-trotting cricketer, the only one from cricketing minnows to achieve that till date.
At home, Nepal continued to host its own IPL-style Twenty20 cricket through private sectors luring some of the best cricketers from the Associate nations. The organisation of Dhangadhi Premier League, Pokhara Premier League and Everest Premier League managed to keep domestic cricket somewhat busy and raised the level of competition.
However, off-field problems continued to affect the overall development of cricket as the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) remained under the International Cricket Council suspension—a state of deadlock that is so far preventing the country from cashing in on its ODI status.
The hard-earned ODI status
After finishing seventh in the ICC World Cricket League Championship—a premium 50-over competition between top non-Test playing nations—that sent the top six teams directly into the World Cup Qualifiers, Nepal had to compete in the WCL Division 2 to get another shot at the cricket’s showpiece event. The February 8-15 Division 2 in Namibia would send the top two teams in Zimbabwe Qualifiers which guaranteed the finalists tickets to 2019 Cricket World Cup in England and Wales.
As a minnow among the top Associate nations, a shot at World Cup was always a far cry and it was the ODI status along with a busy schedule on offer for the next four years which was in earnest at stake for Nepal. But to even think about it Nepal needed to pass the Namibia hurdle first. Nepal went through a series of nervy situations in Namibia to win three out of five matches in last over and ultimately sealed a spot in the Qualifiers. But the real test for its cricketers was the Qualifiers where it defeated fellow Associate nation Hong Kong and was clinically beaten by Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Scotland.
The victory over Hong Kong, however, was enough for Nepal in its bid to become an ODI nation as that victory fixed Nepal a winner-takes- all seventh place playoff semi-final against Papua New Guinea (PNG). Nepal easily defeated PNG in the playoff and ended its over two-decade long wait to become the new ICC Associate member with ODI status.
Nepal has been making a gradual rise in the world cricket ladder and its elevation as an ODI nation is the best thing that has happened to the country boasting a massive fan base. The days are not far when Nepali cricket supporters will get to see their home-grown cricketers rub shoulders with the big men of the game including that from Australia, South Africa, India or Pakistan. That is what the ODI status could do at best.
The ICC itself has shown a keen interest in bringing international cricket to Nepal, a vibrant presence of a strong 20,000 fans — now even in domestic cricket — has helped this cause. ICC’s approval in letting Nepal host its WCLC match against Namibia and Kenya at the TU grounds even in the absence of CAN is a clear indication of what the world cricket governing body wants to see in Nepal.
But to maintain this newly-found ODI status for another four-year cycle beginning with the 2023 World Cup Qualifiers looks like the biggest challenge for Nepal in absence of a cricket administration.
More than five months after attaining the ODI status, Nepal managed to fix a two-match bilateral ODI Series away to the Netherlands in August.
The team is set to play another ODI and Twenty20 International Series against the United Arab Emirates in January, 2019. But had there been an efficient cricket board in operation, Nepal would have seen frequent home and away series involving some big cricketing nations. For the time being, it still might be tough for Nepal to bring even fellow Associate or lower ranked nations for bilateral or triangular cricket series.
The time is running out for Nepali cricket to make full use of that hard-earned status. It direly needs to strengthen the domestic cricket structure apart from setting up physical infrastructure and bolstering the game at grassroots level.
“We are hopeful that a cricket board will come into operation in a matter of five or six months. We have achieved the ODI status but without having a cricket board, it’s not going to be easy for us. We now have to focus on an all round development of the game including the infrastructure and domestic cricket structure and we need to begin at the earliest,” said Jagat Tamatta, the national team head coach.
The only domestic structure for Nepal currently are the three franchise leagues that are organised by private sectors and although the inclusion of some top-notch cricketers has helped give the tournaments the competitive edge, it’s not the Twenty20 format that Nepal should put all its focus on.
As an ODI nation, Nepal now needs to set up strong domestic structure which can test the temperament of local cricketers. Beginning with a 50-over league along with longer formats like three-day or four-day cricket involving maximum number of cricketers will augur well in its bid to achieve another dream: earn a Test status.
Nepal’s longest-serving cricketer Shakti Gauchan recently retired after the Everest Premier League match at the Tribhuvan University Stadium. Gauchan, whose game grew concurrently with Nepali cricket, had said his dream was to see Nepal becoming a Test nation. To materialise dream of an athlete who has given his all to Nepali cricket, the country is left with a Herculean task of performing in the field.
2019 could be the year Nepal sets forth in achieving this dream.