Everest Premier League 3: A complete review
Everest Premier League (EPL) successfully completed its third season on December 22 providing the cricketers and cricket fans a reason to celebrate an early Christmas as Lalitpur Patriots won the tournament defeating Bhairahawa Gladiators in the final played at Kirtipur.
A crowd of more than 20,000 fans flocked the TU Cricket Ground to witness another history being made as foreign players like Ryan ten Doeschate, Ravi Inder Singh, Sunny Patel and Jaikishan Kolsawala and national stars like Gyanendra Malla, Sharad Vesawkar along with youngsters like Pawan Sarraf and Kushal Malla put up a cricketing extravaganza entertaining the spectators that turned up in numbers.
EPL has become an annual and important event in the country’s small cricket calendar reminding the world about Nepal’s unmatched passion and dedication for the cricket despite being suspended by the International Cricket Council (ICC) for three years now.
The first edition of EPL (the one with the corporate names) back in 2016 was a result of years of hard work, persistence and vision with fair share of controversy to its name before the culmination finally happened. The on-field results progressed alongside the off-field accomplishments of the EPL.
Whilst the Sharad Vesawkar-led Panchakanya Tez was revolutionizing cricket played inside the oval, Aamir Akhthar and company were achieving similar things in the world of corporate and Nepali domestic cricket scene, changing the ball game altogether.
Paras Khadka is the most successful captain of Nepal and any other major team that he has led in Nepali domestics, including Armed Police Force (APF) and other franchise teams. Meanwhile, a shrewd captain on his own which observers realized later, Vesawkar was doing his best bit to make Khadka’s team Nepal, APF or Kathmandu as invincible as possible.
Then arrived Nepal Premier League in 2014, the extended previous 50-over version of EPL. Vesawkar, who was a household name by then for his heroics in ICC World T20 Qualifiers in 2013, was presented with a full-fledged opportunity to captain a side, Panchakanya Tez, one of the six franchises announced by the EPL at the time.
Vesawkar won the one-day edition played at Fapla Cricket Ground, Dhangadhi (now a Dream Fapla project to establish an international standard cricket stadium). Two years later, setting all the controversies aside, EPL came back to fruition with brand new name and shorter version of T20 cricket. The same teams participated in the event and the result was the same as Vesawkar led Tez won another tournament.
Since then, Bhairahawa Gladiators have reached two finals in 2017 and 2018 editions of EPL. It lost both the finals against Biratnagar Warriors and Lalitpur Patriots respectively but remains the most consistent team of the premier league.
The right handed middle order batsman established himself as a very capable captain and shrewd tactician in high-stakes domestic cricket. Whilst Tez helped nurture future national players and captains like Aarif Sheikh, Dipendra Singh Airee and Aasif Sheikh, EPL become an institution of its own.
Young star Kushal Malla signed in this year’s EPL making crucial contributions in playoffs to make sure Gladiators played the final. Similarly, Avinash Bohora has improved tremendously this year playing all the matches and picking up key wickets.
“I think backing young players will always give you results in such tournaments. They are unknown entities and always look to prove themselves which probably help them to perform,” said Vesawkar after sealing a place in the final.
As a leader of quality events held in Nepal, EPL stands on top of the peak of competitive cricket with the successful completion of the 2018 season. The quality of cricket played in the tournament was matched by the match fees, winning amounts and high-level professionalism of the marquee event in Nepal.
Vesawkar and EPL’s feats herald the parallel success of two sides of cricket: individual players and the entire sport. In Vesawkar, Nepal has found a new leader in the cricket team, and in EPL, new leader of domestic cricket events.
National cricketers like Rohit Kumar Paudel and Anil Kumar Sah give credit to EPL for paving their way to the national camp. Khadka acknowledged EPL to be the best cricket event of Nepal. He was, however, unhappy with the prize money of Rs 2.5 million given the growing stature of the league.
And not only national players but internationals like Asif Ali who made it to Pakistan national side and Taaj Wali who was recently selected for Pakistan A side entertained spectators at Kirtipur in the EPL last year followed by a host of popular current international stars like Richard Levi, Kyle Coetzer, Ryan ten Doeschate, Roelof van der Merwe, Paul Stirling, Kevin O’Brien, etc lined up for the event in the third season that concluded recently.
The Indian first-class veteran Ravi Inder Singh, who played for Vesawkar’s Gladiators, had the notion that EPL was the biggest cricket event of Nepal. Ryan ten Doeschate wanted to participate in the event last year itself but could find the proper window only in 2018.
Both the players from two very different parts of the world agreed that Nepal had huge potential in both individual players and the entire sport of cricket.
“I didn’t know Nepal had such good players. They are very competitive,” said Singh. Ten Doeschate added: “Nepal has similar resources and passion for the game to be the next Afghanistan of cricket. It is all about giving the depth for not only national players but others too.”
The completion of EPL on December 22 marked another chapter in Nepal’s cricket history.
It was believed that a final match between Lalitpur Patriots and Bhairahawa Gladiators will lack the charm to attract the same number of spectators as in matches with Paras Khadka, Sandeep Lamichhane or Karan KC on board.
But thousands of fans reached the TU Cricket Ground in Kirtipur to witness the historic final. Evidently, Nepali cricket fans valued the quality sporting event.
Approximately 20,000 fans enjoyed the EPL final on Saturday that the Patriots, led by Gyanendra Malla, won defeating Sharad Vesawkar-led Gladiators.
Kathmandu is not the only city where the premier league happens. Several ‘premier leagues’ have emerged at various cities and towns of Nepal including the latest Pokhara Premier League which came closest to the quality maintained by EPL.
All of a sudden, everyone seems to be hosting a franchise-owned T20 event in Nepal irrespective of whether the players, chosen through auctions or direct signings, are being paid handsomely or miserly.
The leagues in Rupandehi, Karnali, Banke, Sarlahi, and Rautahat are among the events that have made it to the local news recently.
This comes at a time when the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) is under suspension from the International Cricket Council (ICC). There is no authority at the moment to make the quality check or make sure that integrity is not compromised. Nepal has attracted a controversial international event, Asian Premier League (APL), to be hosted in the TU Cricket Ground. The league was described as ‘disapproved’ by the ICC. Cricket Players Association of Nepal had released a letter of no participation at the unsanctioned cricketing event.
The recent EPL, the biggest cricket event of Nepal so far, got approval from the ICC well ahead on time, avoiding the hassle it had to face last year.
EPL has been the first ICC-sanctioned event of Nepal which has opened unimaginable possibilities within the country and set a trend — a necessary one — to keep the sanctity of cricket in the absence of CAN. The organizers had to pay the ICC US$ 20,000 (more than Rs 2,000,000) for EPL’s approval each year.
EPL has opened the doors for recognizable foreign players to get No Objection Certificate (NOC) from their boards and participate in the premier event. Players from Sri Lanka (Farveez Maharoof and Akshu Fernando), Pakistan (Asif Ali, Israrullah and Taj Wali)), India (Punit Bisht, Praveen Gupta, etc), Hong Kong (Babar Hayat and Anshuman Rath) came and traded their skills under the mountains of Nepal last season. The quality of the event extended a notch up with the arrival of world-class players like John Simpson (England), George Scott (England), Paul Coughlin (England), Richard Levi (South Africa), Kyle Coetzer (Scotland), Roelof van der Merwe(the Netherlands), Ryan ten Doeschate (the Netherlands), Paul Stirling (Ireland), Kevin O’Brien (Ireland), Rohan Mustafa (the UAE), and Muhammad Naveed (the UAE) in Kathmandu.
Besides EPL, Dhangadhi Premier League (DPL) and Pokhara Premier League (PPL) have also followed the same setup, got ICC approval, and hosted foreign players.
EPL has been setting trends all along — firstly, the league itself being a grand event, secondly due to involvement of franchise owners, then due to ICC approval, and lastly with the inclusion of foreign players.
The EPL’s managing director Aamir Akhtar said that they have a plan from the very beginning for gradual progress and development of a domestic league into an international event.
“You need to have vision. Year 2016 was all about domestic scene, 2017 was about international flavor, and 2018 was about capitalizing what we did in 2017. Every year we need to graduate. I never believed in the short-cut. It won’t happen anywhere in the world. We have a plan and it is working as expected,” Akhtar said.
For the first time in Nepal, foreign commentators were hired to be part of broadcasting that saw drastic improvement in live telecasting of the sport events. Irish commentator Andrew Leonard, Sri Lankan Farveez Maharoof, New Zealand current woman international cricketer Frances Mackay and Indian sports broadcaster Navneetha Krishna entertained the television viewers during live domestic matches. Leonard even felt honored spending magical two weeks in Nepal and experiencing the love and passion for the sports in person.
THE PLETHORA OF POSSIBILITIES
Indian first-class cricket veteran Ravi Inder Singh scored most runs in the third edition of the Everest Premier League (EPL). Lalitpur Patriots secured the trophy riding on Jaikishan Kolsawala’s half-century in the final. Another Indian batsman Gaurav Tomar scored most runs for Patriots in a title-winning campaign. Similarly, Pokhara Rhinos’ South African player Richard Levi registered highest strike rate and most number of sixes in the league.
Quality foreign players created quite an impact in the cricket extravaganza in Kirtipur’s cricket ground. It is one of the many possibilities that EPL helped generate for Nepali cricket.
“EPL is a competition between its 2017 and 2018 editions. And the current (2018) season will be competition for our next edition. EPL franchises understand that they need to have better quality foreign players each year and more or less everyone is doing it,” said EPL Managing Director, Aamir Akhtar.
Pace bowler Avinash Bohora picking up wickets of established names like Roelof van der Merwe’s, Dipendra Singh Airee scoring runs against all kinds of local and foreign bowlers, Pawan Sarraf and Lalit Rajbanshi stepping up for their franchise when needed the most, etc are few examples that young Nepali cricketers are learning by being part of EPL.
Similarly, fans were pleasantly surprised by the latest shtick of prize money upon catching one-handed in the crowd. “We tried to get more value for the spectators. We also imported cheerleaders on voluntary basis from London. They had worked in IPL previously. The crowd needs to get entertained in the ground as well,” said Akhtar, prioritizing the importance of inclusive fans.
Likewise, former players, local commentators and presenters shared the commentary box with the likes of Andrew Leonard and Farveez Maharoof aiding to their own growth and learning the nuances of professional commentary during the matches. “We worked a lot on production and broadcasting value. We had foreign commentators to convey our message of Nepal cricket is now open for the world. ‘The world meets Nepali cricket’ is our basic theme,” said Akhtar.
Irish Andrew Leonard and former New Zealand woman cricketer Frances Mackay as commentators made the match experience on television soothing and, arguably the best it has been in Nepal yet. Sri Lankan test player Maharoof, who played for Kathmandu Kings XI in last season, joined as commentator in the second half of the tournament.
The key part was EPL protecting the essence of domestic cricket and its development. Few franchise leagues from associates emerged in last year or so. T10 league in United Arab Emirates (UAE) is making headlines so did Canada’s Global T20 League which featured stars like Steve Smith and David Warner. But none were able to aptly satisfy domestic audience or, more importantly, promote local talent like EPL does.
EPL, like Indian Premiere League (IPL), has a minimum quota of international players per playing XI, which opens up eight (seven in case of IPL) slots for domestic talents apart from established national names. The matches are observed by 10,000-15,000 fans per day at the Tribhuvan University cricket ground.
Local players including Sandeep Jora, Sunil Dhamala, Sarraf, Bohora impressed in this year’s edition. It is up to the national setup now to promote these young kids who look ready, at least temperamentally, for international cricket like last year’s Anil Kumar Sah or Rohit Kumar Paudel to emerge and serve as national players. (Update: Jora, Sarraf and Bohora debuted for national team).
Paudel’s high score of 31 from 10 deliveries in last season’s EPL paved his way to the national team where he played crucial role in achieving the ODI status. In comparison, many youngsters have done exceedingly well in this year’s event.
With the involvement of overseas names like Kevin O’Brien, Kyle Coetzer, van der Merwe, Ryan ten Doeschate in the EPL, one can expect the ball game to advance further in the future editions.
West Indies team may or may not tour Nepal in immediate future but the growth of EPL could bring the known stars like Chris Gayle or Kieran Pollard to Nepal and it isn’t a far-fetched dream to realize.
THE EPL, THE CAN AND THE ICC
The successful completion of the third season of EPL has once again proved once that with strong will and hard work, Nepali cricket can go a long way, and host flagship events that would be recognized by the world even in the absence of CAN.
EPL’s achievement is commendable in a world where even established Test nations find it difficult to start a premier league at home. Take, for example, the case of South Africa that struggled for several years before being able to start a premier event — Mzansi Super League — this year.
On the other hand, Sri Lanka started its own premier league replacing the inter-provincial T20 setup in 2011. But the nation had to cancel the league after struggling with organizational management and sponsorship.
The newest, Afghanistan Premier League, is struggling to recover the huge investment in the first season itself.
Test nation New Zealand does not own a fancy cricket event but Super Smash T20 is there to boot under its apex cricket governing body. Also, cricket is not its major sport like in neighboring Australia.
Meanwhile, in the United Arab Emirates, T20X was canceled after the country advertised the event aggressively few months prior to the event. But the country failed to attract bidders or owners for the franchises.
New Test nation Ireland and other ODI nations like Scotland and the Netherlands are not in a position to have their own T20 league due to various reasons. (update: Euro T20 Slam has been announced in partnership of three boards.)
In contrast, Nepal’s EPL has already seen its third season, which is a big achievement in itself.
Zohra Sports Management (ZSM), the organizing company of EPL, had to go through a fair share of controversies in the past including the approval of a private league from the International Cricket Council (ICC) in the absence of national cricket board last year (second season). However, although somewhat late, EPL was sanctioned by ICC just on time for the league to go ahead as scheduled last year including all the national and international players.
“Generally, there is one or the other controversy surrounding any sports events. We need to take that into account. ICC approval is the new dynamics in Nepali cricket given our situation last time with the suspended board. Nothing is permanent though. It gets revised every year. It is same for all the cricketing nations, Tests or associates,” Akhtar told.
“We have avoided last year’s drama this time and got the ICC approval a month in advance. That was a positive point for EPL. Next year, we would like to see CAN reinstated, which will help us enormously.”
Contrary to the concerns that reinstating of CAN will curb too many private T20 premier leagues, EPL will likely be excluded, according to Akhtar. He recalled hosting popular cricket events in the past in association with CAN.
“Without the local cricket board you can’t do much. In 2013, when we (ZSM) hosted ‘Journey to World Cup,’ it was in association with CAN. In 2014, NPL was also held in association with CAN,” Akhtar added.
“After the suspension of CAN, we had to find ways to organize leagues. So again, if CAN is reinstated we have to work with them. There is an understanding that needs to be reached. We will definitely work very closely with them. And I will be very happy to do that,” said Akhtar.
He stressed on the need to reinstate CAN as soon as possible and help establish more lucrative leagues in the lines of 50 overs or multi-day formats.
Likewise, the former national cricketer Akhtar wished that ICC ambassadors visited leagues like EPL to show their solidarity and support for the leagues they have sanctioned.
“ICC is always neutral for any league in the world. They can’t support or go against them until and unless something bad happens. I think approval is a kind of support. I would expect ICC to do more while providing approvals but again there is bureaucracy.”
“We had sent an invitation to ICC officials because I believe that once they approve the league, they will need to support it in other ways as well. It is very difficult for the league to survive on its own. Simply, we need more involvement from the ICC.”