South African Paul Ferraro brews coffee in the remotest part of Nepal. Karnali is the far west region of Nepal where facilities and resources are scarce. Ferraro has been planting coffeee in Surkhet, one of the districts in Karnali Province, for the last three years.
In his unexpected journey of Nepal, Ferraro took the reins of Karnali Provice cricket team during the 2021 Prime Minister Cup coaching the minnows to their first ever victory in domestic cricket.
To be precise, Ferraro has established a system within the team helping them play organised cricket. Its something that had lacked in Sudur Paschim Province which despite having a decent squad faile to perform to its potential.
A top-order batsman of his time, Ferraro played professional cricket for 12 years in South Africa, representing Alberton Cricket Club in B Division Premier League. Roshan Dhital spoke to Ferraro bringing his thoughts on Karnali cricket and the potential the province has. Excerpts:
You are currently living in Karnali. How were you involved in the game in Karnali and where did it all start for you?
Two years ago, I saw a cricket match while passing through the road adjoining the ground’s vicinity. It was Karnali Premier League. I had no idea that we have a cricket team here because there’s no facility, no field and nothing to be honest.
In Kalinchowk, they play in the field of a driving-centre laying torn carpet. I thought these guys are very serious and crazy about cricket because it was very difficult, even to field on that ground. Eventually, I had a chat and established good relation with Rabindra Jung Shahi, captain of the team. I really enjoy the way he plays and approaches the game.
Later on, I got to know that, there was no coach who can come up with a plan. So I just decided to contribute although I didn’t come here for cricket. So I went to the net session in Rabindra’s academy on few occassions and helped them in whatever way I can. The opportunity came when they asked me to be their coach for Prime Minister Cup.
Karnali is not known for its cricket per say. How much has it changed since you got involved since a change in approach was evident during the Prime Minister Cup?
Yes, Karnali isn’t known for cricket as we don’t have any basic things here. I don’t think anything would change overnight owing to my involvement, because I haven’t done much. There are changes in their approach, it’s basically because of my influence since a week before the tournament. We went to Kohalpur and practiced there as a team and created a basic team bonding.
A week later, we went to Kathmandu for Prime Minister Cup, had some net sessions together. I was happy just being able to put them together, there are not many technical things you can teach people in three or fours days.
It’s impossible. But you can work on the morale of the team, strengths and weaknesses, getting them to work together like an engine, playing for each other, and pushing their limits. That’s basically what I tried to do and glad that the boys responded well.
My highlight was not beating Gandaki, it was actually in the first game against Army. We reduced them to 30 for 3 and it could have been 50 for 4, but we dropped a catch and that guy went on to make 90. We restricted them under 200. It was a huge moment because the guys were on fire.
In the first match itself against the tournament favourites, they showed that we were there to play and compete, not just to make numbers. We took that energy throughout the tournament and played some good cricket.
Was it difficult initially in terms of making them understand? And how difficult is it to communicate to players and board members?
It wasn’t difficult to communicate with our players. When I have time, I just go to the academy and mentor them. I speak with them, look at their strengths and weaknesses and point it out to them. The little things make huge differences. And it wasn’t difficult communicating with board members as well. There are two lovely people, who have a heart for cricket but we have our challenges.
What does the future of the game hold both in Karnali and Nepal?
Well, I don’t know if it holds much for Karnali. It may sound bad, but the reality is, we don’t have any facility in Karnali. We don’t have a field, pitch and all other basic requirements. The field we have isn’t field, you cannot play on mat or carpet for the rest of your life, and expected them to perform in big tournaments.
It’s not going to work, and I told the guys from the beginning. The expectation was high because I’m a foreigner. You don’t win a game only because you have a foreign coach. You need facilities, we only have concrete nets but that’s not good enough. Players need to play on the track, they need to be able to travel to other places and play in different condition to learn to adapt to different pitches.
The whole package needs to come together to win and there is no development here at the moment and it doesn’t seem happening here, to be honest.
For me, as a coach, I need constant development and progress off the field to do something or stay encouraged to develop from my side.
On other hand, Nepal really holds a very bright future. Many talented players are training around the academies in Kathmandu and a couple of other states. Rest are struggling. It’s good that Nepal is having Twenty20 cricket all around the country, but we need a proper league system of 50-overs format and Two-Day format among top teams.
If I have to give one example then, Twenty20 is fast-food, which is good for instant power and quick entertainment but for long-term strength and energy, we need to have ‘Daal Bhaat’ (rice and lentils), which is longer-format.
What does Karnali cricket need to do to make it more substantial?
We need a political backing to build a cricket pitch. They just need to understand, developing the city doesn’t mean only developing education or market, but sports play a massive role in terms of developing society.
Kids playing the game learn to work in a group, respect all the races and castes, language background and religions. Kids need to be good, not only in education but also in physical and social terms. Developing sports means you are developing the economy of the society in the long run.
It’s difficult to train here because where are our players? We only have three or four players here. Other players are either in Kathmandu, or India or somewhere else. You basically see the guys just before the tournament.
A team spirit cannot be built that way. You have to play together regularly and they have to become role model here in Surkhet for aspiring cricketers, playing against Chitwan, Dhangadhi or any other places regularly.
What are the problems and potential of Karnali cricket and Nepali cricket overall?
First of all, we lack coaches. Of course, we don’t have any grassroots level development here in Karnali. I’m not saying all schools must play cricket, I know it’s not possible, but at least every district must have one or two proper cricket field with at least one academy.
So, if there’s no cricket in school, interested kids can join the academy. We must have a good club cricket structure here. You need to bring sponsors and for that, we need to conduct the matches regularly and with regular matches, you can approach the sponsors.
What are the instant improvement and changes you would love to see in Karnali cricket within limited resources ?
We have two concrete pitches right now. We cannot go to the school level cricket plan as well because we don’t have a proper cricket ground. So, what we can do is, everyone is playing cricket with a tennis ball everywhere here.
We need to go to them and help them play it professionally. They don’t want to come to the nets because they don’t have the equipment and proper direction. So, we can go to those area through talent hunt and tap few good talents. We can invite them to nets with a couple of sets of average quality equipment.
Let’s bring that natural player to the table with less investment and form a bigger pool. At the moment, we have talent but we have no idea what to do with them. They are playing tennis ball cricket in a park, or in the alleys, road or at any other open spaces. At this stage, that’s all we can do, but to upgrade to the next step, we need some equipments.
I know once a minister visited here and pledged to provide around five lakhs for bowling machine and other types of equipment. We need about five to six sets of equipment. We could possibly go to visit the minister and actually request him to live up to his own words.
Let’s upgrade the nets, and form different units as a club among incoming players and let them play against each other at regular interval. This could be good than having nothing.
What could be a long-term plan?
We need more well-trained coaches. Coaches who are actually paid by the governing body, at least one in a state. And we must have a model on how to develop school and club level cricket, clubs at least, if not schools.
Clubs need to play league matches regularly, one or two matches against each other in the short season, let’s say, three or four months’ season. That should be the plan.
What are the major differences you have found in the grassroots level and working pattern of Nepali cricket and South African cricket?
Our society actually sees the benefit of sports in the life of children, and eventually for the growth of society, economy and patriotism. People in Nepal love and celebrate their national team, actually the country has the most celebrated fan-base for any associate cricketing nation. But the problem is I don’t see people here concerning about their state team, to be honest.
Back in South Africa, people wear their state cricket team jerseys with pride hence state players get recognition and respect. Thats not the case here. All other temporary kinds of stuff, like having coaches, league, fields can be added sooner or later, but the basic requirement is to develop the knowledge of the importance of sports to their children in the community.
Once we can spread the knowledge, local people themselves will work to have a field in their community, they themselves pressurise the authority just like roads and hospitals.
How long can we see you involved in Nepal’s cricket ? Do you have any specific target or goal ?
I don’t know how long I can stick with the team because there’s nothing to be involved besides two weeks of PM Cup. As I said earlier, we only have four players in training. I have no idea how can I get involved in Nepal cricket. To be honest, it’s not easy to be a foreigner and contribute to cricket in this country.
I learnt that we cannot have a visa for cricket in the country unless you coach the national team. You have to find another visa and do volunteer in cricket so you cannot give your full attention to cricket. It’s not that easy. I don’t know what holds the future in Nepal Cricket for me personally.
What suggestions would you give to cricket players around Karnali and Nepal to keep them in shape in the times of pandemic?
This is the perfect time to work on your fitness. Make your fitness routine and work on it continuously. Put the hanging ball anywhere like on the roof and hit it to keep your eye-shade on. For bowlers, it’s all about staying fit, strong and in rhythm.
How much do you know about Nepali players outside Karnali?
I don’t know much to be honest. As I have been following Nepal international matches for a while, I know some of Nepal’s international players but not others really. I have noted down some players during PM Cup.
How’s your time going on in Nepal so far?
It’s going pretty well. I’m enjoying my time here in Nepal. It’s a very beautiful country. The people of Nepal are amazing and I have many friends here around Karnali. We visit them frequently as a family.
There are many opportunities here in Nepal, but opportunities come with challenges. Hoping for my long time here on. The COVID-19 second wave is frustrating, we all need to stay strong and win this battle together.