After a string of nail-biting performances and momentous achievements the past few years, Nepali cricketers expected more encouragement and support from the government.
But they were in for a rude shock: heavy government interference in the cricket governing body prompted International Cricket Council (ICC) to suspend Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) in 2016.
The ICC ban meant that CAN did not have the legitimacy and financial resources to organise domestic leagues and tournaments, which are vital for scouting new talent for the national team. The ban also delayed several sports infrastructure projects.
CAN’s General Secretary Ashok Nath Pyakurel says: “The ban pushed Nepal’s cricket back by at least five years.”
Despite that and a difficult two years in which skipper Paras Khadka and his team pulled off even more thrilling victories, ICC has finally hinted at lifting the suspension.
After CAN agreed to endorse a statute approved by the ICC advisory board, the world cricket body has promised to revoke its decision under one condition: that CAN hold fresh elections under its new statute, effectively ensuring that the government will have no say in its functioning anymore.
If the ICC recognises CAN again, Nepali cricket could enter what could be its golden age free from political interference. CAN’s former CEO Bhawana Ghimire says: “The time is ripe for Nepali cricket to strike it big, and it is up to us to remake its future.”
Despite all odds, Nepali cricketers have in the last two years earned One Day International (ODI) status with stellar performances, like in Namibia in February, which made headlines not just in Nepal but around the world.
To help promote Nepal in the ICC Division 1 status, all-rounder Karan KC played an inning no cricketer had ever played before: as the last batsman standing, KC smashed 42 runs unbeaten off 36 deliveries, securing a one-wicket victory against Canada. ESPN described it as ‘one of the most miraculous endings to an ICC tournament at any level’.
The Cardiac Kids from Nepal, as Nepali cricketers were referred to by ESPN after the Namibia tour, travelled to Zimbabwe in March, hoping to qualify for the ICC World Cup. They failed after narrowly falling behind Afghanistan in the run-rate. But they did achieve ODI status till 2022.
This international success and support seems to have put moral pressure on CAN’s political appointees to rethink and back off, paving the way for free and fair elections — a prerequisite for lifting the ICC suspension.
The success of Nepali cricketers has in fact spotlighted just how little the government had done to develop the sport. This bolstered the position of those in favour of amending the CAN statute and loosening the government’s grip.
CAN General Secretary Pyakurel says: “Even those sabotaging CAN have now understood how important it is to have a strong governing body.”
With CAN out of the picture, the private sector had come forward to organise successful domestic tournaments like Dhangadi Premier League (DPL) and Everest Premier League (EPL). Tv channels now pay more than Rs10 million for broadcast rights for each tournament.
And for the first time, Indian Premier League (IPL) has bought a Nepali spinner Sandeep Lamichhane. He is still struggling to make it to the playing set of the Delhi Daredevils, but he could open the door for other Nepali players in the world’s biggest cricket league.
National cricket team coach Jagat Tamata, however, warns that Nepal could easily lose it all again: “We have a tendency to be overconfident and complacent after every major success. We have many more challenges to overcome.”
Tamata thinks Nepali cricketers are still not experienced enough for international cricket due to the lack of strong opponents in domestic games.
He adds: “If we want good results, there must be more tournaments so there is more choice. I am now mostly selecting the best from among the worst.”