2015 was a watershed year for Papua New Guinea cricket. An island nation in the southwestern Pacific with its population not even exceeding 9 million, marked a memorable year winning the Best Overall Cricket Development Programme honour from International Cricket Council.
Prior to that year, PNG had scripted a glorious history earning the coveted One Day International status. The achievement coupled with their women’s team making a maiden appearance in the Women’s World Twenty20 Qualifier.
The two distinctions were momentous but Papua New Guinea had done something, in fact everything, for which they were globally applauded.
The reason was simple. Their robust cricket board worked hard, day in and day out, to come up with a grassroots development programme that engaged almost 200,000 young cricketers. PNG, among rare nations like Nepal to include only home-grown players in their national squad, is now evolving.
Also like Nepal, their national team is in the verge of transformation and the same cricketers whom they had involved six years ago in that grassroots development programme are gradually taking over the baton.
But PNG’s cricket is yet to captivate its entire population. Their No 1 sport is rugby and their Trans-Tasman affinity has the inclination towards Australian Rules Football and football in general.
Still, Papua New Guinea has thrived to present to the world a sound presence of their cricket.
On the contrary, Nepali cricket is vibrant by all means. It’s private Twenty20 league is now attracting global superstars. Since the country’s maiden appearance in the 2014 ICC World Twenty20, cricket has earned a separate place.
Football remains the No 1 sport but cricket is in a different league. The national players have been earning a cult status and former captain Paras Khadka is among those rare persons who retired as a demigod.
Is there any other sports discipline in Nepal where an athletes’ jersey number has also retired with the player? Paras’ No 77 is now untouchable.
But there is a problem with Nepali cricket that requires an urgent solution. Unlike those players replacing Papua New Guinea’s fading stars, the current generation of cricketers in Nepal never came from a system that the cricket governing body should have established.
This crop has either played in privately-run academies or rose through their ranks following hastily arranged talent hunt programmes just few days before they realise they are going to represent their nation in a competitive tournament.
Sandeep Lamichhane, Kushal Bhurtel or Rohit Kumar Paudel never came from any proper system. Dipendra Singh Airee or Aasif Sheikh were not groomed by the cricket governing body. Neither Sompal Kami nor Karan KC were the toast of age group cricket. Their cricket developed within their own circuit, as of their predecessors’.
The overused nets at the TU grounds was where they honed their skills and the only exposure they got was international tournaments.
The fear for Nepali cricket is what if this disorderly development continues.
Cricketing nations’ long-term success and prosperity is usually determined by their depth at the grassroots level. There has to be a programme that can guarantee the security of another decade, at least.
But Nepal doesn’t have one. Not even a blueprint of it.
For a developing country like Nepal, financial constraints resulting from the government’s reluctance to allocate an adequate budget has hindered an overall development of any sports discipline.
But since the time Nepali cricket suggested it can join the echelons of Test nations, first by 2014 World Twenty20 appearance and then in 2018 as ODI nation, any government has shown the readiness to splash cash for the game.
The urge shown by the government to give Mulpani Cricket Ground a complete shape, despite still being an unfinished project, and assistance for multiple editions of Prime Minister Cup and now the Mayor’s Cup — both 50-over tournaments — is the testament that Nepal, as a country, is ready to invest in cricket.
There is no other sports discipline where the Nepal government spent with such generosity in domestic tournaments.
Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) is also subject to receive millions from the International Cricket Council (ICC) under the label of development funds. Being an ODI nation, that fund has already doubled up.
Isn’t this job done easier for Nepal’s cricket governing body ?
Since the reinstatement of CAN in October, 2019, has any of the cricket brass come forward with any blueprint of a grassroots development programme ?
COVID-19 might have hindered any plan the reinstated CAN has piled up in the pipeline. But it never had the audacity to pronounce it was going to have a programme that would involve school going kids. Has it ?
On the same page
In a recent interview with cricketingnepal after his retirement as Nepal international, former captain Paras said there is a need for every club, district or province to be on the same page to develop the game.
Nepali cricket’s stake holders, to be precise, have never been on the same page. Cricket is different as per every individual.
The provincial and district cricket associations are equally provided with the budget but the allocation is no more than a knee-jerk response from the central body because it is in a hurry to complete a tournament.
CAN, as a central body, has not been caring that these bodies are non-existent throughout the year unless they are forced to make a move because it itself is compelled to do so.
The challenge for the local association, clubs, district and ultimately province, is not having skillful people or professionals to handle the administration. They lack people who would table a proposal to run a programme that would at least make them independent for a season.
The provincial board gets Rs 300,000 a year followed by Rs 100,000 every district association. The meagre amount will just run their office but being in the position, they must be self reliant. That is how every little cricket body works in any efficient cricketing nation.
Subash Bahadur Shahi is not among the people in charge of any cricketing body affiliated to CAN but if he has that desire and comes up with one of the leading franchise Twenty20 tournaments of the country, why is the cricket governing body not holding unworthy office bearers accountable ?
Managing local resources is the only way out. That is how the Dhangadhi Premier League, Surkhet Premier League, Nepalgunj Premier League, Sarlahi Premier League is done.
Why CAN associates fail ? CAN has to find the answers, being on the same page.
Is provincial contract plausible ?
Dev Khanal of Lumbini Province posed as one of the most promising talents for Nepali cricket during the Prime Minister’s Cup. The right handed top order batsman was a revelation punishing the seamers and occasionally giving spinners a run for their money.
But he didn’t even make it to the combined Mayor’s XI team for the Mayor’s Cup. Dev is one of the few players who needs sanctuary to make sure he remains in the mix for the national team.
Dev has learnt most of his cricket in India, like Sompal or Karan. The duo are now stalwarts of Nepali cricket. But Lumbini Province cannot even guarantee he stays with them and continues to play the domestics.
The players in the provincial team are still in the amateur stage, creating a huge gulf between them and the departmental team. They have to train on their own and stand against the star-studded departmental teams.
Back of the mind, the bitter fact of not getting a penny after their return to home following participation in any tournament, will partially take a toll on their mentality. This is one of the reasons why a lot of average players in province perish after just few seasons.
It might be unrealistic to provide a hefty sum but a substantial amount will be a major boost. The parents will not hesitate sending their kids to ground to become a province player. But to make this happen provincial boards need to end their dependency on the central body.
Budget for the local bodies can be tapped in, while multiple tournaments across the country have already suggested there will be no dearth of sponsors in Nepal cricket. CAN just needs to make sure their are national tournaments in abundance and carries a huge significance to provide better mileage for the sponsors.
If 18 players can be kept on a pay roll with a monthly payment of Rs 20,000 to begin with, it might not be tough for provinces to find sponsors who could cover this expense. The presence of corporate houses across the nation should be cashed on.
A wild goose chase
At the highest level, Nepal has three clubs — all departmental teams. And thats the end of the story in Nepali club cricket. These teams play against provinces in current national set up and have dominated ever since they came into existence.
The story, however, needs to be different.
Club cricket is considered the strong foundation of the game. But they have been under achievers even after putting in their very best efforts. The association should play their role and ride on its efforts to set up a strong club cricket structure in Nepal.
The hurried efforts from the local cricket bodies and CAN investment of over Rs 500,000 have not been yielding any result that could lay a strong foundation.
Currently, CAN is investing Rs 20,000 and giving 12 cricket balls to select a district team through open trial. The selected players then make it to provincial selection tournament representing their district.
Depending on the number of affiliated districts, CAN provides another Rs 300,000 to Rs 400,000 to form a province team. The entire process takes just a week to complete.
To sum up, Nepal’s domestic cricket’s foundation is built around this disgraceful seven-day act. In between, club cricket is negligently forgotten.
CAN is apparently on a wild goose chase investing around 4 million rupees every time any domestic tournament nears. Pouring money down the drain is not helping to establish a culture to lay a better foundation.
The cricket governing body can ask the provincial board to set up a club cricket structure which as time evolves attempts to make itself independent. CAN itself cannot have its hand everywhere and this is where provincial bodies need an efficient functioning through local resources, governments and corporates as they will also share equal benefits when the game booms.