Nepal supporters the real winners even as their team lose to Oman in World Cup League Two
Defeat by 18 runs fails to dampen the mood of Nepalese fans as they embrace the spirit of cricket
Given the anticipation felt in Kathmandu for Nepal’s first home one-day international, there was always one nagging worry: what happens if they don’t actually win?
Would the massed crowd at Tribhuvan University stay silent? Would they boo? Would they riot?
As it happened, they did lose on Wednesday. By 18 runs, in their first match of the new Cricket World Cup League Two, to a talented Oman side who are zeroing in on top spot in the qualification league. For the record, Nepal were bowled out for 179 in 46.5 overs chasing 198.
At the halfway stage, it felt as though the home heroes had the game in their grasp, only to see it slip away from them.
So how did the home faithful respond to the setback? With the sort of good grace that – much though cricket aspires to certain standards of etiquette – is not exactly universal in the international game.
Nepal might be the newest country to host ODI cricket, but they are already showing everyone else how it should be done.
There were clues to the fact that the match organisers, while they might have hoped for the best in this match, they also planned for the worst.
There are 10-foot high fences surrounding the playing area at Kathmandu’s international cricket stadium, topped with barbed wire.
There were 800 security personnel deployed for this match. Some among the Nepal Police officers carried sticks. Others carried rifles.
Some were dressed in full combat gear including riot shields. And a van from the bomb disposal unit even pulled away from the ground at the break between innings.
Nepali cricket fans care so deeply about their team they have been known to riot in the past. But this was not a day for any of that. Whatever the result, this was going to be a celebration.
That much was clear ahead of the start, as supporters thronged the road up to the ground.
Vendors peddled wares including flags and miniature stickers of the leading players, like Sandeep Lamichhane and Paras Khadka, at a cost of 10 rupees (30 fils) a piece. Around 7,000 ended up buying tickets, which were priced at 200 rupees (Dh6.50).
At the weekend, when they face United States on Saturday, that number is expected to be 15,000 – which is the number at which the capacity has been capped for this series, for safety reasons.
Brilliantly, the goodwill surrounding this historic day extended to celebrating the opposition, too.
In scoring 69 not out, Mohammed Nadeem played the innings that eventually took the game away from Nepal.
Unprompted, the crowd rose and applauded Nadeem when he reached 50, even though it was already apparent it could be the seminal effort of the match.
The batsman was moved by the show of appreciation, suggesting such generosity of spirit was rare.
“It really made me happy to see the crowd was supporting both sides,” Nadeem said.
“Normally this doesn’t happen in most countries, but the Nepali crowd is really appreciative of both teams. This is a great thing for cricket.”
Nadeem was not the only one the home crowd had eyes for. Oman’s wicketkeeper, Suraj Kumar, was born in India, before moving to Muscat as an adult to work for a company that manufactures metal cans.
He has never lived in Nepal, but both his parents are from there, and he speaks the language fluently.
As such, the crowd treated him as one of their own. The early arrivals chanted his name while the two teams warmed up in single-digit temperatures ahead of the game.
When he came to the wicket to bat, he was afforded the sort of welcome any of the home batsmen would have been happy with.
OK, they were a little more gleeful when he was dismissed for a duck two balls later, but there were no hard feelings.
At the end, a large group of home supporters beckoned to him for a selfie. He was only too happy to oblige.
Zeeshan Maqsood, the Oman captain, said his players were thrilled to play in front of such an audience.
“The crowd came here for us, and we like to see that every time,” said Maqsood, who took three vital wickets as Nepal were bowled out for 179.
“We don’t like to play in empty stadiums. Cricket is that type of game, so we love to see crowds like this.”
Gyanendra Malla, the Nepal captain, was impressed with how the opposition’s achievements were cheered.
“The game is growing in Nepal, and everyone is starting to catch up with the spirit of the game, the laws, and they understand it better,” Malla said.
“It is good to see them applauding other people’s efforts as well.
“At the start of the day, there was a bit of nervousness. This is the first ODI at home for us, so there was nervousness when we started. But once it started, it felt like just another game.”
Updated: February 5, 2020 08:01 PM