Needed: A Stitch in Time

Come August 13th, Nepali Colts will play the Aussie Colts, the defending champions, at the ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup. Champs versus minnows… Miracles aside, anyone who understands cricket would predict a dominating performance by the champs.

But that is not the point to be discussed here.

Ever since the event was revived in 1998 (One Youth World Cup was held in 1988) – as “globalization” of cricket became a buzzword, thanks to the then ICC President Jagmohan Dalmiya – Nepal is a country that can be termed as one of the ambassadors for the game. Nepal has benefitted and grown in stature in these championships.

The U-19 performances, by and large, have been the most talked about stories in Nepali cricket (compared to showing at senior level). It’s been exactly a decade since our boys (some of them on the verge of retirement now, though) finished as Plate Runners-up in the championship. Following that, we’ve seen the team finishing as plate champions and beaten much better ranked teams than them. So, it is only natural for the fans to expect the team to do well.

And that’s why, we need to be extra careful when we prepare and send players in this championship.

Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) decided that the players who played ICC Under-19 World Cup Qualifier in Ireland would be retained and the national championship would select reserve players. Nothing wrong with the logic… The boys who can take their team to finish as second in the qualifiers can definitely play at the big league. Moreover, it would be very difficult to find players who can play better than them. Additionally, they have played in different conditions and faced national sides, which keeps them in good stead for the big league. This also means that we won’t have to start from scratch, when it comes to team building. Fair enough…

Having said that, there are areas where CAN seems to have slipped. The set of U-19 team has not played much cricket since they last played in Ireland. And that was way back in August 2011.

We often say: The biggest problem Nepali cricket and the cricketers have, is the lack of match practice. There aren’t enough matches for players. It has been said and repeated umpteen times. It would be difficult to find out how many of the 14 players have kept themselves in shape. Cricket is not round-the-year occupation for these young boys. At the age when career options are changing fast and many other lures, than cricket, available to the youngsters, we can never be sure if their priorities are still what it was a year ago.

The U-19 national championship would have been good for these players to get back to cricket. To keep them interested, to get them match fit, to keep them competitive. Another aspect is that these players, who qualified Nepal in the World Cup, are stars. The stars give additional value to the championships, which keeps sponsors interested in the game too. And CAN definitely needs sponsors.

However, exceptions could be made for a few players, namely U-19 captain Prithu Baskota, Pradip Airee and Krishna Karki, who were part of the senior team and had very hectic schedule of late. It is understandable that they must be fatigued and need some rest to recuperate. But, rest of the U-19 players could have been told that they’re selected and made to play. This would have given them security of being in the team and got them back to cricket ground.

The World Cup is to be played in Australia in August, which means we some time to prepare. A few months of preparation should be good for the team. But the question is: Will CAN call for closed camp right away? It would be mistaken if it doesn’t. In some ways it’s a good omen that these boys will be playing in U-19 Asia Cup before playing the World Cup. Asia Cup will have teams like Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Qatar, along with Nepal. This could provide a perfect set up for the tour down under.

As the cliché goes: All we need is, ‘A stitch in time’.

(This write-up appeared in Yours Truly’s column in The Kathmandu post – OFFSIDE – on 29th April, 2012)

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