With a favourable draw, the national team cricketers can write a history of their own by claiming at least a silver medal in the 17th Asian Games that begins from September 19 to October 4.
Nepal have been unseeded in the tournament needing to come through the qualifiers where they are place in Group ‘B’ alongside minnows Kuwait and Maldives. 2010 Asian Games gold medallists Bangladesh, silver winner Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong have been seeded for the tournament and wait for their opponents in the knockout stage.
Having already beaten archrivals Afghanistan and Hong Kong in the world cricket’s grandest stage – the ICC World Twenty20 –, Nepal’s journey in Group ‘B’ could be a casual walk in the park. Nepal could be tipped to finish winners in the pool fixing a meeting with Afghanistan in the quarter-finals.
A victory over Afghanistan – who are sending an experimental side to Incheon for the Games with only skipper Mohammad Nabi and Samiullah Shenwari the most experienced game – will take Nepal into the semi-finals with Hong Kong tipped to be in the last four.
Hong Kong will wait for the winners of Group ‘A’ that includes Malaysia, China and hosts South Korea. Asian giants Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will be in the collision course for the semis with both teams awaiting runners-up from Group ‘A’ and ‘B’ in the last eight.
Simple equation on paper
The road to the final seems to be pretty easy for Nepal as provided the teams they might get to play and how they fared against them in the recent past. Finish Group ‘A’ winners, beat an experimental Afghanistan side in the quarters and get the better of Hong Kong in the semis, it all seems or looks very easy. You might get to battle Sri Lanka or Bangladesh and who knows what is going to happen when you give your best on the given day.
Nepal’s best ever performance in the Asian Games is a silver medal finish by former taekwondo star Sabita Rajbhandari during the 1998 Asiad in Bangkok, Thailand. Their last Asian Games display in 2010 in Guangzhou, China was a disgrace when boxer Deepak Maharjan saved the blushes with a lone bronze. Cricket is firmly placed to break the silver medal drought that has stayed for more than 16 years.
Grinding back to the reality
While the equation seems pretty easy in the paper considering the Group ‘B’ opponents, a possible meeting with experimental Afghanistan side in the quarter-finals and favourite opponents Hong Kong in the semis, the proceedings might also be tough on the other.
Nepal’s cricket had gone through a severe halt with the sport in turmoil due to corruption charges in the cricket governing body that preceded a revolt from the national team members. The problems dug deep with the departure of influential coach Pubudu Dassanayake.
Dassanayake did arrive to Nepal on August 28 following an agreement with the government but a short-preparation time under adverse weather conditions could mean nothing compared to how other nations have geared up for the Games.
Test-playing Sri Lanka and Bangladesh don’t need a mention here, even Afghanistan and Hong Kong are the huge threat for Nepal.
Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) and the state itself has been taking cricket too seriously. They have not only put their focus in the domestic structure but also provided exposures to their youngsters sending them for abroad training.
A latest example is how a mixed Afghan side cruised to the ACC Premier League title ahead of Nepal, UAE and Hong Kong. The Afghans have not even included (for Asiad) the youngsters who played the Premier League but their youngest side could be even menacing.
Hong Kong are preparing for the Games in Sri Lanka where they will be locking horns with Hobart Hurricanes, the Australian Big Bash League sides who themselves are fine tuning their Champions League Twenty20 preparations.
As Hong Kong will also be getting exposure by playing against strong clubs from Sri Lanka, Nepal could be considered one of the minnows in the tournament irrespective of how their maiden participation in the ICC World Twenty20 had been.