The Shakti of Nepali cricket

George Bernard Shaw, most probably, would not feature in the ‘best writer’ in the ‘favorites’ category list of many a cricket lover, for he is believed to have said once, “Cricket is a game where eleven fools play and eleven thousand greater fools watch…”

Many, for the same quote, felt that he missed the point, by miles. The point that cricket is a gentleman’s game. The point that it is the only thing that can be played over a period of five days and the result can still be a ‘draw’. But the essence of the game, for the fanatics, lies in that very thing – the turbulence within the tameness.

The game, started by the British (there are some souls still alive saying that it is a colonial sport), appears to have become almost a religion for so many of the modern cosmopolitans. Every stroke from Tendulkar’s willow exciting similar cheers from people living from Lucknow to London. Each of Muralitharan’s tweaking deliveries introducing sighs among the populace across Perth to Pokhara.

Not a surprise that Nepal’s cricketing history – though longer than most of the other sports and yet devoid of historical feats – seems to be taking a new turn, thanks to the present crop of cricketers.

And if the present success in the ACC (Asian Cricket Council) Trophy is a beginning of a new chapter in Nepali cricket, Shakti Gauchan must be one of the co-authors of the chapter, if not the author.

Romantics of cricket may not yet be ready to take this 5-foot 11 lad from Bhairahawa as the best thing to happen to Nepali cricket, for he is not the most stylish of the batsmen. For he doesn’t wear trendy sunglasses or act overtly excited on the field.

But what separates him from rest of others is his efficiency. For even in cricket, as in life, romance is not the only thing. For even romantics know that there is something called commitment. And when commitment arrives, romance may take a backseat. For every Tendulkar, there is a Dravid. For every Jayasuriya, there is an Attapattu. For every Gower, there has been a Gooch. And thank God, we have Shakti Gauchan.

For it has been Shakti’s performance, time and again, which has saved Nepali scorecard from embarrassment in otherwise sorry tales (at least, as far as batting is concerned). Be it his century in the Youth Asia Cup (Under-19) against Maldives last October or his two half centuries for the senior side in the recently concluded ACC Trophy, he has been one of the brightest crayons in the Nepali cricket’s colour box.

The ability to stand firm when everyone around him faltered (and most have been in the circuit for longer than he is), that too at an age when most of the likes are yet to decide which vocation to choose, make this 18-year-old one of the most liked Nepali cricketers of this time.

Talk to him and you find out why some boys become men earlier than the others. Talk to him and his calmness gets you (not that you didn’t expect it, after seeing his batting), humbly but surely. Talk to him and his voice starts lowering after some time (this scribe had to tell him umpteen times to speak louder, lest the recorder may go all blank), with sincerity.

It is sheer temperament, the experts say, that has earned him the maximum runs for Nepal (248 runs) at the international level (and mind you, he has played only one international tournament at the senior level so far). Binod Das, his captain in the Under-19 side, says, “Shakti is very consistent because he plays within his limitations.” His present captain Raju Khadka feels that ‘he goes onto the pitch with an aim to stay at the wicket’.

The former Under-17 captain of Nepal has shown what others have failed yet, an intent to stick on the wicket. Not a shock if you learn of this Capricorn’s background. For he was selected among 20 probables for the Indian national Under-16 side. No mean feat that, for a Nepali. He was honoured with the title of ‘Best Junior Cricketer’ by Mumbai Cricket Association, the Mecca of Indian cricket, in 1998, where he shared the podium with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli. A day he remembers with pride as his childhood idol, Sunil Gavaskar, presented him with the award saying, “Well done, chap.”

Naturally the boy has to have something special in him. It is the grit with which he says, “International cricket is a different ball game. Unlike the domestic cricket – where a bowler, after being hit, presents you a ‘lollipop’ – the bowlers there hurl you a bouncer. That’s when temperament becomes important.” It is a different story that his parents, initially, were not ready to send him to Mumbai. And his sister, with whom he is very close, convinced his parents to agree to it, as it would only help their only son (a reason for him to say: “behind every successful man, there is a woman”).

Success at an early age, deservingly though. Doesn’t he get female fans swooning over him? Ask him this and his omnipresent smile only enlarges (and he tries to change topic). However, the interested ladies may have to settle for the seat of ‘second best’, for he is now having a steady affair with ‘the Willow’ and ‘the Red cherry’.

(This article appeared in Mid-Week Post, a weekly supplement of The Kathmandu Post in August 2002.)

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