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A silent fall of Eastern juggernaut

For Eastern Region, all their hopes in the country’s highest cash prize cricket tournament – the Prime Minister Cup One Day National – rests on Mehboob Alam. Once a ferocious hitter of the ball and equally menacing with left arm medium pace, Mehboob is in the twilight of his stellar career. His reflexes are beginning to get slow and his run ups are short. Mehboob is almost 36 years old and he is all Eastern have got.

Besides Mehboob, experienced Pushpa Thapa is the other man the region counts on. A right handed batsman, Pushpa is one of the biggest names of domestic cricket but a man who never broke into the national fold garners less attention, maybe for himself. At an age of 28, Pushpa might have other future plans now rather than targeting the national team.

And what Eastern expect from the duo is saving their blushes but not giving a silverware that has eluded them for a long time, really long time. Mehboob did that on Tuesday when his Eastern side crawled to 103 all out in 32.3 overs against Tribhuvan Army Club. Mehboob avoided the humiliation by scoring 36 runs from 42 balls.

Take Mehboob and Pushpa out of the squad, Eastern will be a side that would probably give you notion of a college or an academy team. They don’t have big names and if they have had any, like young hitter Siddhant Lohani who hails from the region and now plays for another departmental side Nepal Police Club, Siddhant would probably look for better options.

Once the powerhouse of domestic cricket, Eastern Region has now become a team that just shows up in the tournaments to make up the numbers.

The Eastern juggernaut has silently fallen.

Eastern Region, particularly playing as Region No 1 Biratnagar in the national tournaments, were once a force to reckon winning the first four editions of the one-day nationals – from 2002 to 2005. Dipendra Chaudhary, the captain who led them to the four consecutive title triumphs, had projected a future that still remains.

“I don’t think any team will manage to win four consecutive titles in the national tournament in future,” Dipendra had said after winning the 2005 edition. Current national team skipper Paras Khadka won three consecutive titles for Region No 3 – can be referred as Central Region – Kathmandu but the record is not yet broken.

After Biratnagar’s 2002 triumph, the region boasted presence of its seven cricketers in Dipendra, Rajkumar Pradhan, Mehboob, Manjeet Shrestha, Lakpa Lama, Manoj Katwal and Paras Luniya in the national team for the ACC Trophy in Singapore. But now it has only one, the ageing Alam who recently had to make a comeback for the ICC World Cricket League Championship home matches against Kenya in March.

Nothing is going right with Eastern which seems to have stopped producing cricketers. And the production failure has been heavily blamed on officials for favoritism and mismanagement of the sport in the region.

The beginning of Eastern’s failure was evident soon after Dipendra decided to join Kathmandu for the nationals but there has been no one to take heed from it. After the exit of Dipendra, the region soon lost Lakpa and Rajkumar as the spin duo decided to pursue other career and Katwal, now a coach with Nepal Police Club, chose to get off the field.

Another exciting talent Ajay Rajbanshi managed to win player-of-the-series award when Biratnagar made a runner-up finish in the 2006 edition of one-day nationals but he decided to give up the sport on the same pretext of favoritism and mismanagement in the game.

The departmental teams’ arrival in cricket dug their problems deeper as Eastern saw Manjeet playing for the Nepal Police team and is currently leading the side in the Prime Minister Cup.

Kalicharan Yadav, a fast bowler who did wonders in the 2012 ACC U-16 Elite by becoming tournament’s leading wicket taker, has been spilling venom against the officials from the region and has been joined by a number of other cricketers from the region in social media. They have been alleging the Eastern Region officials of doing an unfair selection of cricketers for the ongoing Prime Minister Cup.

Eastern coach Pradeep Raj Pandey has denied those allegations but its not the denial or claims that are important. The bitter fact that should sting the game’s stakeholders in the region is that its dominance on the field has ended for over a decade and its cricketers are not able to play for the national team.

A powerhouse of cricket has crumbled and its resurrection is urgently required.

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