Hundreds and thousands of cheering fans gathered outside the Tribhuvan International Airport to greet their heroes – the Paras Khadka-led national cricket team. They were coming back home following a rollercoaster ride at the ICC World Cricket League Division 2 in Namibia as well as at the ICC World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe with a huge badge of honour. The One Day International (ODI) status – an official and prestigious recognition from the ICC as a 50-over team in international cricket for the next four years.
For a cricket-crazy country like Nepal, which was devastated by a deadly earthquake couple of years back, this achievement is huge, much like winning the World Cup for any Test-playing side. Hence, the occasion called for wide-spread celebrations across the Himalayan nation. The festivities continued for days and weeks.
However, behind all this glitz and glory, there is also a harsh reality which is continuously stinging the soul of Nepal cricket. The country currently doesn’t have a regulatory body for the game as the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) is still under suspension from the ICC due to an administrative fallout. Over the years, CAN had become an epicenter of political tug of wars and corruption. In 2016, the ICC finally stepped in and suspended the ragged body.
Though the suspension of the governing body hasn’t stopped Nepal to participate in the global events, but it certainly has meant a reduction of more than 90 percent of its funding. With almost no money and CAN being non-functional, their domestic structure is currently non-existent right now. In fact, there has not been any domestic cricket in Nepal for the past two seasons.
To understand the enormity of the situation, the author got in touch with Bhawana Ghimire, the former CEO of CAN and current liaison officer in Nepal on behalf of the ICC.
"The development of cricket in Nepal is stagnant right now. Presently we have no administrative body as well as no money to run the game. Quite obviously, it has had a direct impact on our domestic cricket. Apart from a few privately-run tournaments, there hasn’t been any cricket in the country for the past two years. As a result, the young talents are not coming up, which is affecting our team selection,” Ghimire said from Kathmandu.
Remember, back in 2015, as the CEO of CAN, it was Ghimire who first identified the opportunity to acquire ODI status by 2018 in her annual report. It is pity that when Nepal have finally achieved the target through a pathway, which was designed by Ghimire, the association is suspended and she doesn’t get her due credit.
Well, for Ghimire it hardly matters. Instead, she wants to focus on the road ahead.
"I personally believe Nepal can achieve Test status by 2030, or even before that. We are perfectly capable. But until and unless we sort out our internal administrative issues, it doesn’t seem possible,” she was frank, there was no diplomacy in her voice.
In an ideal world, as a team with an ODI status, Nepal should play as well as host international sides to develop its stature and become more competitive. However, Ghimire informs us about the harsh reality.
“We have a huge fan base, ideal weather conditions and no security concern for hosting international cricket. I'm sure a lot of teams would love to travel to Nepal. We can generate a lot of revenue from it. However, we currently don’t have the infrastructure. There is not a single ground in the country which can host a match of that magnitude. Far from developing new facilities, even the existing infrastructures are not being maintained,” she lamented.
With no infrastructure at home, can’t Nepal follow the path of Afghanistan and seek support from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)?
“Of course, we can. BCCI has been helpful to us in the past (when earthquake stuck Nepal, their national team, as well as Under-19 side, used the facilities of HPCA ground in the Dharamshala for practice). But who will approach BCCI? CAN is non-functional and ICC can’t approach other members on its behalf,” Ghimire raised a prominent question.
Jagat Bahadur Bishwakarma, the newly appointed Minister for Youth and Sports in Nepal has talked about prioritising on finding a solution to the crisis in CAN. Well, according to Ghimire it is high time for all the stakeholders of Nepal cricket to come under one roof and find out a resolution as quickly as possible.
"Despite a lot of assurance from different entities in recent years, nothing significant has been done to solve the crisis and the development of the game is suffering because of it. We should not forget that the ODI status is for next four years. So, if we don’t improve as a team in this period, we might end up losing it,” she warned.
In 2014, Nepal earned T20I status on the sidelines of qualifying for the World T20 in Bangladesh, but next year they had to surrender it due to lack of international fixtures. So, Khadka and co. know, achieving a recognition is tough, but sustaining it is tougher. Now, the sooner the stakeholders of Nepal cricket understands the gravity of the situation the better it is for Nepal cricket.