With every big step Nepal’s cricket team has taken over the years, millions of Nepalis have found one more reason to unite for a common joyful moment. And this year, Nepal’s cricket fraternity has more to cheer about than ever.
Moreover, Nepal’s cricket fraternity’s expectations from the national cricket teams have never been higher than now. The U19 men’s team recently defeated Afghanistan, a test-playing nation, in the ICC U19 World Cup group stage and became the only associate team to qualify for the Super Six. In a hard-fought extended journey in South Africa, Nepalis cheered the youngsters for an admirable performance despite losing two more matches in the campaign against Bangladesh and India in the Super Six.
Nepal’s women’s national team will also be cheered immensely as they compete in the ACC Women’s Premier Cup, which kicks off on February 10 in Malaysia. The Rhino Army hopes Nepal wins the T20 tournament as only three of the 16 teams—Thailand, the UAE, and Indonesia—rank not so high above the women’s team in the ICC’s ranking.
Nevertheless, Nepal playing in the ICC T20 World Cup in June will be the biggest event for cricket fans. As it is not the first time Nepal is qualifying for a cricket World Cup, Nepali cricket fans now hope to see the country defeating top teams, which is impossible with the current squad and infrastructure.
Identifying new talents and providing opportunities is key to building a strong national team. This may mean replacing underperforming players. However, improving their performance through effective training and mentorship is essential. Organising ample domestic leagues facilitates these activities.
For instance, new talents and players who have not been called into the national team for quite some time outperformed active national team players in the sixth edition of the PM Cup Men’s National Cricket Tournament.
The sixth edition of the PM Men’s Cup ended on February 3, with 46 matches played across 21 days at three venues. Nepal Police Club was crowned champions, defeating Tribhuwan Army Club by six wickets in the finals.
Whenever there was at least one departmental side playing, a decent crowd was visible in the respective venue, eager to watch senior team players perform. Those playing for the national men’s cricket team are mostly associated with a departmental side—Nepal Police Club, Armed Police Force (APF) Club, and Tribhuwan Army Club—in domestic cricket.
The senior team’s latest matches were played in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier as Nepal hosted seven countries—Oman, Malaysia, Singapore, UAE, Bahrain, Hong Kong, and Kuwait—for a spot in the T20 World Cup in June 2024. In the qualifiers, players like Kushal Bhurtel, Aasif Sheikh, Rohit Paudel, Dipendra Singh Airee, Kushal Malla, Bibek Yadav, Karan KC, Sompal Kami, Abinash Bohora, and Sundeep Jora showcased their skills. However, they were overshadowed by domestic players during the PM Cup. Additionally, players outside the current senior national team clinched all three individual awards—best bowler, best batsman, and best player of the tournament.
On the bowling side, Bagmati’s slow left-arm orthodox Surya Tamang was the highest wicket-taker with 30 wickets in nine matches. Tamang was also the ‘best player’ of the tournament. He was followed by Sudur Pashchim’s Sher Malla (right-arm off-break) with 24 wickets in nine matches.
On the other hand, the second-highest scorer in the tournament was Ashutosh Ghiraiya, who was adjudged the emerging player of the tournament in Bagmati Province. Ghiraiya, who captained Lalitpur district’s team in Bagmati’s selection for the PM Cup, scored 382 runs in nine matches.
Anil Kumar Sah, who represented Madhes Province, was the best batsman, as he scored the most runs in the tournament (386 runs in nine matches). Sah, who debuted for the national team against the Netherlands in 2018, has not received his call to wear the national jersey after playing against Papua New Guinea in 2022.
Regarding batting, Pawan Sharaf (Madhes) was the fourth and final batsman to score over 300 runs in the tournament. He scored 329 runs in nine matches with three half-centuries. Sharaf has represented Nepal in the U19 and senior stages, with his last match against the UAE in the ACC Men’s Emerging Cup in 2023.
Except for two active internationals, Sundeep Jora and Aasif Sheikh, Binod Bhandari, who last played for Nepal against the Maldives at the Asian Games in 2023, hit two centuries in the tournament. Bhandari was the third-highest scorer overall, with 351 runs.
Anil, Ashutosh, Mayan Yadav (Madhes), Naren Bhatta (Sudur Pashchim), Sujan Thapaliya (Koshi), and Rashid Khan (Police) also hit a century each.
In the case of senior team bowlers, Sompal Kami, Karan KC, and Abinash Bohora bagged 34 wickets in total, only four more than Surya Tamang alone.
Despite criticism of Nepal's cricket authorities for failing to recruit quality players and adequately train struggling ones, Nepali cricket fans have noticed positive changes.
After the conclusion of the PM Men’s Cup on February 3, the Cricket Association of Nepal announced two squads—one for a bilateral series against Canada and the other for ICC League 2 matches against Namibia and the Netherlands. These squads have been praised for including talented players who performed well in the PM Cup.
Anil Kumar Sah, Surya Tamang, Pawan Sarraf, and Rijan Dhakal have been selected for the national team based on their performances in the domestic league. Their performance in the series against Canada, with Pawan, Surya, and Rijan also featuring in the ICC League 2 matches, will certainly be watched over.
While the performance of these new faces on the global stage remains to be seen, integrating fresh talent is a trend crucial for the team's improvement.
The release of a calendar for domestic and international matches in 2024, the organised scheduling of events, and adherence to declared timings highlight the newfound responsibility of the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN).
If the government had fulfilled even half of its promises for the cricket sector, Nepal would have better infrastructure by now. For example, recent assurances to install floodlights at the TU International Cricket Ground in Kirtipur have been delayed due to administrative glitches.
While some are pleased that the Bagmati Province government allocated a budget to cover 70 per cent of the cost to make the Gautam Buddha International Cricket Stadium in Chitwan playable with a parapet for 10,000 viewers, past government inaction has lowered expectations among Nepali cricket fans.
The delay in reimbursing prize money to players over the years shows how easily government representatives make promises they can't keep. Political interference and favouritism at provincial and district levels have hindered the sector's progress, with recent conflicts in player selection for the PM Men’s Cup raising questions.
Cricket has brought the country together with a common dream, but the neglect from authorities has saddened millions of fans.
(The author is a journalist at The Rising Nepal.)