Worry for the Coach!

Nepal’s chances of going beyond the first round of ICC U-19 World Cup have been killed again. A few million hearts were broken repeatedly by Australia, Ireland and England – all hubs of cricket.

Win or loss is a part of the game and should be taken with a positive spirit. However, there is more to it than win or loss, or mere results. For the first time since Nepal participated in the U-19 Cricket World Cup – the first being in 2000 – the Nepali teenagers finished the group stage without a single win. In our six appearances so far, we’ve had wins in all the previous Youth World Cups, mostly surprise wins against opponents ranked above us.

Nepal’s coach Pubudu Dassanayake must be a worried man. The man who has attended ICC High Performance Program for coaching would definitely be aware of the performance of the boys he has taken charge of.

Nepal Coach Pubudu Dassanayake giving tips to Sharad Veswakar during one of the net sessions. (Photo: Somesh Verma)

The margins of wins haven’t been very comfortable this time around. The difference of 212 runs, 14 runs and 127 runs don’t make easy readings on the scorecard, if you’re supporting the side that finishes second in the duel. Repeatedly, the batting faltered, right from opening stand to early middle over. If losing 5 wickets is kept as some mark of consistency for top batting order, Nepal’s best performance at the point of losing 5 wickets was 69 runs, against Ireland. It was at its worst in the last group match, against England, with half the side back in the pavilion with mere 25 on board. Moreover, the strike bowler for the side, Avinash Karn bowled at the speed of 115-120 kmph, and was tonked around in crucial encounters.

Rarely can this performance be called threatening, forget world class.

Dassanayake would be a worried man with the way U-19 captain has shown in his form in recent past. In last 5 competitive matches, he failed to trouble the scorers – coming back with a naught to his name. His only score was a 20 off 60 balls against Ireland. It is difficult to take the burden of leadership when the key player does not know where his front foot is.

Dassanayake would be worried also because Prithu, along with 3 others from this squad, are members of the senior team, and have been selected for ICC World Cricket League Division IV. And that championship is not far away. Out of four players who are playing in Australia now, Subash Khakurel and Rahul Bishwakarma are the only ones who have shown mettle.

However, if I was Pubudu, I would not merely be worried for the U-19 boys’ performance. In the past decade, we have seen that U-19 level championships have become a kind of stepping stone for cricketers to climb to the big league. We have seen hordes of players in the Test playing nations that announce themselves at this level, and go on to become a mainstay in the senior team. The reasons are because the level of competition, even among the teenagers, is intense. And before long, the youngsters develop mental toughness required to succeed at the top level.

Nepal Coach Pubudu Dassanayake: Upset? (File Photo: Somesh Verma)

It is true that mental toughness is an asset to succeed. But in absence of technique, mental toughness alone cannot take you further. And during the televised matches where Nepal played Australia and England, the basic technique of our players was exposed. The footwork while playing the faster bowlers and the gap between bat and pad while driving the ball was hardly adequate. And, if I was Pubudu Dassanayake, I would be worried for that. Being a high performance coach means that he can focus on the given talent he has and bring the best out of players. But in absence of skill, he alone would not be sufficient to bring in results. And that’s what has happened.

Rather than focusing solely on the performance of teenage cricketers, it would be wise to think how much cricket is being played in the domestic circuit. You don’t have to be a genius to know that it is far from adequate. In absence of cricket and mere fitness training, we cannot expect miracles. Giant Killers only operate when there’s an element of surprise about them. This is our sixth participation at U-19 World Cup and we are not likely to surprise anyone anymore. The sooner we realize this, we’d make it easier for the coach.

(PS: This write-up appeared in Yours Truly’s weekly column in The Kathmandu Post – OFFSIDE – on 19 August, 2012)

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