Biratnagar seems to be stamping its authority on youth cricket. That is what looks like, with the region’s title win at the Women’s U-19 National Cricket Championship, following the boys’ win at similar championship a few months earlier.
It appears as if things are on the right track for the region that has given as many as 7 players in the men’s national squad (among 14) in 2002. The region that has won 4 back to back national championships seems to be back to producing quality cricketers again.
There were some bright spots during the tournament, and they belong to the winning team. Kajol Shrestha, known to her teammates as ‘Pollard’ – with reference to big hitting batsman from West Indies Keiron Pollard – was the biggest find of the tournament. She became the only player at this level to score two fifties, that too in a single tournament, and showed the poise of a player that can be groomed for bigger things. Rubina Chhetri, who happens to be the only player from the region in the national team (both men and women combined) as of now, also showed that she was more matured than being a mere player and captain of Nepal. Despite being the manager of the winning side, she showed that she has the makings of a good coach, who can groom a young side.
All well and good… But that’s what appears on the surface. A deeper look and you might be worried, at least for the women cricketers. For once again, the women cricketers have reasons to say that they have been victims of gender inequality.
The U-19 national championship for women, played in 25-over-a-side format, was a regional tournament, where teams should have been selected on the basis on competition at the regional level. That’s fair enough, as any national tournament should be rated as the highest level for that age group and should be competitive enough. But there was no regional tournament played to select the regional teams.
The team that won the title consisted of players almost entirely from Jhapa (Milan Cricket Club of Kakarbhitta), despite the region covering districts like Morang, Sunsari, Saptari, Udaypur and Ilam. This might speak very highly of Milan Cricket Club, for having quality cricketers, but not for the region. Two players from Saptari made it to the squad, but did not get a chance to play in the tournament, for not being ‘good enough’.
Apparently, the districts apart from Saptari and Jhapa did not even participate in selection. Now, the question is, who should be held responsible for this? The cricket officials say that the selection round did not happen due to lack of players. That invites another question, is the cricket board only responsible to organize tournaments, in whatever way possible? Who should be held accountable for producing – or for failure to do so – of young cricketers in the region. And if the regional body is not functioning well, is the central body ready to or has enough will to take action?
We have to take a few other things into consideration. Ray Jennings, the coach of South African team for U-19 World Cup, had said just before the tournament, “We are here not to win the world cup, but to prepare a team for the future.” On that account, Women’s U-19 National Cricket Championship has failed.
There have been 3 editions of ACC U-19 Women’s championships. Nepal is undefeated in any of them. In ACC Women’s championship, Nepal finished as runners-up in the first edition in 2007. But following that, the team has failed to cross the semi-finals. Nepali girls say Bhutan has been putting up strong challenge against us.
Yet, Cricket Association of Nepal chose to have U-19 Women’s nationals in 25-over-a-side format, just because the ACC tournament will be held in similar format. There’s a clear message in this, we are just preparing to play in a tournament, not prepare a team for the future. If we did, the tournament would have been played in longer format, so that we could groom players. Was it because they were women?
In the week when women’s rights activists were busy parleying for 33 percent representation in Constituent Assembly – saying it would empower them – some cricketers were being marginalized in the capital. If only those demanding political representation had time to think empowerment can come through non-political tools as well.
PS: This write-up appeared in yours truly’s weekly column in The Kathmandu Post – OFFSIDE – on 1st June, 2013.