The highs, lows and future of Nepal Cricket
By Samraat Maharjan as part of #ECVoice
On September 6, Nepal celebrated 26 years of international cricket. That day they played against then associated giants Bangladesh in the 1996 ACC Trophy. Former Nepal captain Pawan Agrawal who was part of that tour remembers Nepal losing up to to six strikes, but Bangladesh could only manage 213 with a loss of 9 wickets. Although Nepal lost the game, it was perhaps an early indication that bowling will be Nepal’s strong department in the years to come.
Nepal has quickly become a popular cricketing nation, especially at associate level, with steady success in age group cricket. The biggest moment came when they sent shockwaves across the world by beating Pakistan by 30 points in the 2002 U19 World Cup. Nepal’s disciplined bowling defended just 151 against the Pakistani team directed by Salman Butt.
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In the same tournament, they defeated another Test nation, this time Bangladesh, and again defending the aggregate, beating Bangladesh for 157 in the Plate Championship semi-finals. Bardan Chalise, the then promising young cricketer, was the player of the match on both occasions. Against Pakistan, he had the highest score with 42 from 87, had a run-out and also won a wicket. Similarly, against Bangladesh, he made 27 with the bat and caught 3/27. The journey would finally end after suffering a 137-point loss to Zimbabwe in the final at home plate.
Their biggest moment came at the 2006 U19 World Cup when they won the Plate Championship, beating New Zealand by one wicket in the final. Prior to that, South Africa suffered an atrocious 2-point loss to a fiery Nepal side. Surprisingly, both of those wins came in batting, not bowling, Nepal’s strongest department. Nepal picked up a two-point win as they defended 215 points against the team led by current Test captain Dean Elgar in the semi-finals. In the final, Basant Regmi became the unlikely hero when he stole a Nepali victory from the jaws of defeat. Batting out at 75/6 after Paras Khadka fell, Regmi scored a stunning 66 as Nepal secured a shock 1-wicket victory over the Kiwis. He also claimed 3/41 in the first innings.
On the other side, the senior team was trying to qualify for the 50+ World Cup via qualifying rounds, but without success. In 2001, they went to Canada to play for the 2001 ICC trophy, but fell out of the first round. The same thing happened in 2005 at the ICC World Cup Qualifying Series Division 2 cricket tournament. Another miss at bat in the semi-final against Fiji knocked them out of the tournament. Chasing 144, Nepal were beaten for 140 despite a valiant effort from Binod Das who scored 45 while batting at 8.
Sometimes Nepali fans look back on all these years and the question “Have we made enough progress?” The straight answer would be “no” if they see where Afghanistan is right now. The same country wasn’t even in the picture when Nepal played their first major tournament.
Since beating Nepal in the semi-finals of the World Cricket League Fifth Division in 2008, Afghanistan have made rapid progress over the next two years. In 2010, they were playing in the first division, while Nepal was still stuck in the loop – division five. When Afghanistan played their first T20 World Cup in April 2010, Nepal had just been promoted from Division Five. Four years later, they would meet again in Bangladesh at the T20 World Cup. Nepal, in their first appearance at the T20 World Cup, beat Hong Kong and mighty Afghanistan – the first time in 10 years.
Shakti Gauchan leaps in celebration against Afghanistan at the T20 World Cup (ICC)
While Afghanistan regularly lobbied for Test status, Nepal struggled through the ranks of divisional tournaments. Expectations were huge among the fans after the first T20 World Cup appearance in Bangladesh. Earlier in the same year, Nepal suffered a disappointing 50+ qualifier in New Zealand where they lost all but one game. That tournament and result was quickly overshadowed by spirited performances in the first round of the T20 World Cup. Nepal didn’t put a big total on the board but they scored just enough points for their bowlers to defend the total.
Four years later, Afghanistan and Ireland became test nations. Nepal, on the other hand, was struggling in the World Cricket League Championship (WCLC). At this point, Nepal had yet to play any One Day International. The gap between the two teams, which began to widen after 2008, is now emerging.
Where did it go wrong for Nepal?
Over all these years, the batting department is the one area where the Nepalese have consistently struggled. The habit of losing at the crucial moment has often hindered their progress.
Nepal failed to chase 143 against Afghanistan in that famous semi-final game. You would think that Nepal would have made it to division four if they had knocked out 143. However, given Nepal’s batting vulnerability and Afghanistan’s performance, it would only be a matter of time before they knocked out 143. meet again. Too bad Nepal never meet at any crossroads of World Cricket League matches after this semi-final. In short, Afghanistan has not looked back.
Two misses at bat in division four in 2010 meant they would stay in the same division for the next 2 years. The first was an embarrassing 9-point loss to Tanzania as they chased nothing overall (117). The second was against eventual tournament champions, the United States. A day after a comfortable 194 chase against Argentina in less than 33 overs, Nepal’s stick crumbles under pressure in response to USA’s total (203/8).
Nepal then made rapid progress over the next few years to find themselves in division two. However, another shocking two-point loss to Uganda in the Division Four opener proved to be the biggest setback for them after they failed to beat Kenya in the final game of the Round Robin stage. . It was an inexcusable performance from the Nepali batters while chasing a goal of 147.
There are a few other defeats that derailed their progress, such as the crucial semi-final loss to the United Arab Emirates in 2006, where a victory would have helped them qualify for the Asian Cup qualifiers. Their dream of playing against Asian giants – mainly India and Pakistan – still remains unfulfilled. In fact, they could have participated in the 2006 Asian Cup if it hadn’t been postponed. Under ACC rules, the ACC Trophy runner-up would be one of the two associated teams in the Asian Cup. Nepal finished second after losing to United Arab Emirates in the 2002 ACC Trophy final.
Speaking of costly losses, earlier this year Nepal were also sidelined from playing this year’s T20 World Cup in Australia. It was a 68-point loss to the United Arab Emirates in a crucial semi-final in the A qualifiers of the T20 World Cup that closed the door for Nepal. Chasing 176, they were held down for just 107.
The realistic chances of making the 50+ World Cup had diminished after ICC decided to reduce the number of World Cup teams, with probably their best chance coming at the 2007 CWC where up to six associates took part in the competition. It was then reduced to four in the following two editions 2011 and 2015. The last World Cup in 2019 saw a real disappointment as no associates were able to participate in the tournament.
Currently, Nepal are ranked second from the bottom of the CWC League 2 table where they face the challenge of finishing in the top three in order to qualify directly for the 50+ World Cup qualifiers of the year. next. With each defeat, the chances of direct qualification fade, but they hope to at least retain ODI status, which they achieved in 2018.
Keeping shy hitters aside, it is an inescapable fact that Nepalese cricket has also had problems off the pitch. With limited talent, a lack of international exposure and a fragile national structure, Nepal had to play out of their skin every time they set foot on the cricket pitch. It was only a matter of time before they suffered setbacks at a crucial stage due to the lack of competitive cricket at a higher level.
The Nepal team is blessed with talented young players who are eager to taste success at international level. However, having far too many inexperienced players in the current setup also has its own downside. The U50 World Cup is Nepal’s ultimate long-term dream, but taking part in the T20 World Cup for the second time is the need of the hour.
There is an outside chance of direct qualification for the 2024 T20 World Cup which will be jointly hosted by the West Indies and the United States. If they didn’t get automatic qualification, the next route is a regional qualifier where they will have to face the Asian associated giants.
Nepal seem far behind when their fans watch Afghanistan’s test status. But the other side of the story is that the United Arab Emirates – the team that played in the Cricket World Cup in 1996 – are still playing in the same league. Hong Kong is currently in the Challenge League. Maybe it’s time for people to realize that Afghanistan’s history is different from others and that its rapid rise is the exception of its kind. At the same time, Nepal can also adopt a similar motivation if it wants to become the next “Afghanistan”. They too had to battle through the World Cricket League with limited infrastructure and yet they emerged victorious in no time.
Despite the lack of real progress on the international stage, there are still plenty of fans who want Test’s dream to come true. Shakti Gauchan, the former Nepalese left-arm spinner, is one of them. Gauchan, who runs his own academy in his home town of Bhairahawa, recently said he wants to see Nepal play Test cricket in his lifetime.
Only one member – Gyanendra Malla – from Nepal’s golden generation is currently in the national team. Malla, who won player of the match awards in the T20I series, made a national team comeback on the Kenya tour after the six-month hiatus. Sharad Vesawkar and Basant Regmi are two golden generation cricketers. While Sharad last played for the national team over seven months ago, Basant hasn’t played since July 2019.
As the golden generation cricketers are about to hang up their boots, Nepal hopes that the current young generation of cricketers can become another golden generation cricketer. The future of Nepalese cricket is in the hands of Lamichhane, Rohit Paudel, DS Airee, Khushal Bhurtel and the Sheikh brothers. They are to become the next Paras Khadka, Malla, Vesawkar, Regmi and Gauchan. If that happens, then Nepal would be well on their way to pursuing their dream of playing test cricket.