How Times Change…

Circa 2002: ICC Under-19 World Cup Plate Final – Nepal Vs Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe won by 137 runs. In a chase to score 248 runs, Nepal team managed a paltry 110. Failure at the end of the tournament… Yet, mission accomplished…

It might sound buffoonery to term defeat as completion of a mission. Yet, we knew that Nepali team did not go to the tournament aiming for silverware. It is difficult to imagine how much ICC Under-19 World Cup 2002 meant for Nepal Cricket, unless you’re a cricket fanatic, who followed Nepali cricket for past one and half decade.

You know the total of 110 in that match was not a ‘paltry’ one, if you know what Nepal achieved during that particular tournament. On the route to the Plate Final, Nepali Colts managed to beat Pakistan (by 30 runs), Canada (by 9 wickets), Namibia (by 10 runs), Scotland (by 48 runs), and Bangladesh (by 23 runs). You know that these teams have history longer than Nepal, in terms of cricket.

Binod Das delivers a ball to Brandon Taylor of Zimbabwe during Under-19 World Cup Plate Championship Final, 8 Feb 2002. Photo source: Cricinfo
Binod Das delivers a ball to Brandon Taylor of Zimbabwe during Under-19 World Cup Plate Championship Final, 8 Feb 2002. Photo source: Cricinfo

Most in New Zealand – where the championship was played – had heard of Nepal by virtue of Mount Everest and Edmund Hillary’s conquest of the tallest peak, and they were startled with the Himalayan nation’s performance. It had led them to ask, “Do you have cricket grounds in such a mountainous country?” Nepali boys managed in drawing attention of the cricketing world.

Many suggested that the turning point for Nepal was appointment of former Sri Lanka vice-captain Roy Dias as coach in September 2001.

Circa 2006: ICC Under-19 World Cup Plate Final – Nepal Vs New Zealand – Nepal won by 1 wicket. In a chase of 205, Nepal had lost 6 wickets for 75 runs, yet achieved the target and finished with silverware. Yet again, mission accomplished…

Yes, after initial level of success, expectations had increased from the team. The coach was, yet again, the same Roy Dias.

Ratan Rauniyar and Raj Shrestha embrace after Nepal's one-wicket win, Nepal v New Zealand, Under-19 World Cup Plate Final, Colombo, February 18, 2006. Image source: Cricinfo/ICC
Ratan Rauniyar and Raj Shrestha embrace after Nepal’s one-wicket win, Nepal v New Zealand, Under-19 World Cup Plate Final, Colombo, February 18, 2006. Image source: Cricinfo/ICC

Circa 2013: Nepal (national team) is playing in ICC World Cricket League Division 3. Those who watch associate cricket say, Nepal is one of the favorites to qualify for the Division 2 (after finishing as one of the top two teams in Division 3).

How times change…

Not much has changed in Nepal’s cricket structure in these 11 years, yet we have come to a level that even a third place finish would be termed as failure. Now this could be a reason of stress for many. But it also tells you that transition period of Nepali cricket may be complete. The promise shown by the Nepali Colts of 2002 may be nearing fruition now. A decade and a year should be enough for a transition phase.

How many players have been replaced from a team over a period is an indicator how a team has grown. If a U-19 player of 2002 has been replaced by 2013, it signals that the competition level among players is healthy. And by that standard, Nepali team seems to have progressed well. Only two of the players who played in 2002, Shakti Gauchan and Sanjam Regmi, are a part of the team now. And one should note that both of them are spinners, who have relatively longer shelf life than medium pacers or batsmen.

The captaincy has shifted – as Binod Das grew up from U-19 captain to national captain – to a younger player, Paras Khadka. It should be noted here that Paras Khadka was a member of the team which won Plate championship in U-19 World Cup 2006.

Coaching of Team Nepal has also transferred to a younger man – from Roy Dias to Pubudu Dassanayake – who played Test for the same nation, Sri Lanka.

The arrival of younger men at helm has changed the way Nepal plays. Aggression has replaced caution. Innovative and extravagant shots have replaced the normal straight bat trudges. The mental make-up of the team is more compact. As the world cricket has shifted from traditional technique to pragmatic approach, so has Nepali cricket. It is about performance now, and it is visible in the way they enter the field. Somewhere you feel that the cricketers are learning to walk the talk. For now, the entry into the World Cup – be it 50-over or T20 – looks a probability.

But then, if you have followed Nepali cricket from early part of this millennium, you would remember that it started from a dream. The dream that the golden boys made us see in 2002.

PS: This write-up appeared in yours truly’s weekly column in The Kathmandu Post – OFFSIDE – on 27th April, 2013. Incidentally, this is yours truly’s 100th piece that appeared under the column.

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