Gathering clouds

Gathering clouds

In absence of top-flight domestic cricket in Nepal, the player production process for the national side has been blocked.

2015: Anil Mandal was dropped from the national team after an unsuccessful 2014 ICC World Cup qualifiers in New Zealand. He then went on to score two centuries in a subsequent senior one-day domestic competition, taking his tally to three domestic hundreds, a national record. This resulted in his comeback for the first set of ICC World Cricket League Championship matches against (and in) Scotland. He scored a century in his first outing after the comeback.
2014: A young Aarif Sheikh achieved an amazing feat while bringing a domestic one-day trophy to Birgunj. He won the man of the series for his 256 runs and 11 wickets in the tournament including a coming of age half-century in the final, chasing a stiff target against the APF. He was called for the national team to feature in ICC WCLC Division III in the same year.
2013: Jeetendra Mukhiya was Nepal’s hero in ICC World T20 Qualifiers in 2013 and subsequent World T20 in Bangladesh, winning a man-of-the-match award in each of these tournaments. He was first identified by then-coach Pubudu Dassanayake, bowling rippers for Birgunj in that year’s one-day competition.
There is a case to be made for Sandeep Lamichhane and Sompal Kami too. But they were hand-picked by head coach Dassanayake in trails before being thrown into the domestic cricket muddle to prove their mettle. They succeeded in making it to the national team.
These are some examples of what domestic cricket can do. Anil Mandal went on to score his second hundred against Scotland in the first match of ICC World Cricket League Championships. Adding that to his tally of three centuries in domestic one-dayers, he is a case of serious talent who is not consistent enough to hold his place in the national side. Our flawed domestic setup is to be blamed. 
In the same year, Siddhant Lohani also made it to the national team, making his debut in the last game of the disappointing ICC World T20 Qualifiers. He was known for his innovative and unorthodox batting in Nepal domestic cricket. He did not disappoint in his only outing against Jersey, pulling out an unusual helicopter-ish shot which managed to make into the cricket’s YouTube viral videos section.
Lack of infrastructure and domestic structure is a bugle everyone blows. And it is slowly but steadily eroding Nepal’s pool of quality cricketers.
It takes years of dedication and sacrifice to nurture a player who would serve the country for a long haul. Players like Shakti Gauchan, Paras Khadka, Basant Regmi, Gyanendra Malla and Sharad Vesawkar are all products of the same toil in domestics and age-levels, giving Nepal a handful of players who could play against any opposition and in any condition.
A World T20 (a kind of world cup) participation became a catalyst to judge the potential of Nepal’s core group of players. Logically, qualifying for an actual world cup should have the next goal. But CAN then ensured Nepali cricket went backward, not forwards, for 10-15 years.
The same coach whose eyes were good enough to pick Sompal Kami (before renewing of his contract) and Sandeep Lamichhane (after) became a sore sight for then CAN. It was wrong not to renew the successful coach’s contract. Neither was the act of the captain coming out in public in defense of his coach right. Nepali cricket was not right.
The problems kept growing. CAN was ultimately banned. Domestic cricket disappeared. Now, the same is happening to our cricketers.
The failure to identify quality batsmen remains an Achilles’ heel for Nepal. Anil Mandal, Mahesh Chhetri, Rajesh Pulami, Naresh Budhayer, all were tried but none managed to cement his place in the squad. Players like Mandal and Chhetri have no other place than domestics to prove themselves, but they were not bought by any franchises in the upcoming Everest Premier League (EPL).
The hunt for quality pace bowlers continues, after the hey-days of Binod Das and Mehboob Alam ended with fitness problems. Recent injuries of Avinash Karn, Jitendra Mukhiya, and Karan KC are a result of lack of match practice and sharpness, which can only be had by playing more games. The fact that Nepal keeps reverting to Alam every now and then is proof that none of the recent pacers is up to the mark. Nor is Sompal Kami taking enough wickets to claim that strike bowler’s place.
Batting and fast bowling are persisting problems for most cricket teams. Time is not far when Nepal will have to replace the aging spin duo of Shakti Gauchan and Basant Regmi. Susan Bhari, Sushil Kandel and Shahab Alam have all shown glimpses of brilliance in domestic competitions but they are still unproven at the international stage. 
Since the dip of form of Subash Khakurel, Nepal has struggled to replace the only wicket-keeper centurion of the national team. The fact that Nepal can’t provide the domestic setup for Khakurel to conjure runs is not helping either. 
Increasing fitness concerns with Paras Khadka, which has made him quit bowling at times, will lead to the vacating of ‘pace bowling all-rounder’ role. Aarif Shiekh has been struggling to hold onto his place in the national team despite good U-19 and domestic stats. Dipendra Airee has reverted to off-spin bowling. We will need to somehow fill that all-rounder void.
U-19 cricket is one long-standing avenue for the discovery of quality players for Nepal. All members of the current team are previous U-19 world cup alumni, with a few exceptions.
But even this process is faulty. Since 2012, Subash Khakurel, Sagar Pun, Prithu Baskota, Aarif Sheikh, Raju Rijal, Sunil Dhamala, etc have all made it to the national team. Some had a decent run but none could show the quality to stay in the team for long, with the notable exceptions of Sandeep Lamichhane and Dipendra Airee, both of whom have been consistent since they donned the senior caps. Lack of domestic cricket to hone their talents against the country’s best cricketers has hobbled their progress.  
Infrequent ICC tournaments and a few private T20 leagues can only introduce us to talents. But in order to nurture this budding talent, we need a robust domestic setup.
Nepal this year lost to Hong Kong in the sixth round of WCLC matches. A newby batsman in Saurav Khanal failed to break into the national team due to his ‘supposedly’ bad numbers in close camp, despite giving one of the best performances in the ‘Prime Minister’s Cup’, the one-day tournament started by Nepal Sports Council in 2017. No wonder Nepali batting failed yet again in Hong Kong, surrendering Nepal’s hopes of making World Cup qualifiers and dropping down to Division Two league. 
Khanal’s was a case similar to Siddhant Lohani’s, except that the latter had featured in a dead-rubber T20 match for Nepal in 2015. The point is: the current management doesn’t trust whatever talents makeshift domestics unearth. In a way, the production process for national players has stopped.
Sharad Vesawkar’s illness rocked Nepali batting in Hong Kong. The replacement for Shakti Gauchan, Susan Bhari, only bowled four overs in the match. 
Nepal does not have players to replace current veterans and the country could struggle to repeat even the little success it has had in the international arena of late.


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