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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

World Cup Qualifier 2018: Nepal thrive on the field despite turmoil off it

The Himalayan nation are vying for a place at the World Cup, despite the fact their administration has been suspended from the ICC for the past two years

Leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichhane is one of the stars of the Nepal cricket team. Image courtesy of Johan Jooste
Leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichhane is one of the stars of the Nepal cricket team. Image courtesy of Johan Jooste

All teams at the World Cup Qualifier are fighting their own battles. The issues are relative, and broad-ranging.

The West Indies squad, for example, might contain several Twenty20 millionaires, but they are missing many more leading lights besides. Hosts Zimbabwe are cash-strapped.

Ireland and Afghanistan are trying to make sense of what elevation to Full Member status actually means in practice, after their promotion to cricket’s top rank last year.

The likes of Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Scotland and Hong Kong all have to be resourceful while essentially gathering crumbs from under the rich man’s table.

And while UAE cricket is just about finding its way in the early throes of professionalism, it knows a misstep at the Qualifier could undo all of that at a stroke.

Then consider the case of Nepal. The Himalayan nation are vying for a place at the World Cup, despite the fact their administration has been suspended from the ICC for the past two years.

The sport’s governing body gave the team special dispensation to carry on playing in international competition when the Cricket Association of Nepal was deemed unfit for purpose in 2016.

Since then, a working party set up by the ICC has overseen the selection, management, operations and finances of Nepal’s national teams to help them to continue playing.

“Our manager, our coach, and a couple of senior players get together and help to plan our tour and get the camps together,” Paras Khadka, Nepal’s captain, said ahead of the Qualifier.

“That is how it has been going on for the past while. Obviously we would love to have a proper administration so that we don’t need to worry about anything else other than performing out there on the field.

“Unfortunately there are things we need take care of off the field as well. We are glad to have that responsibility.

"As long as we are honest about what we do, we are more than glad. It is a privilege to play for your country."

It feels not far removed from recreational cricket, where players have to divvy up the responsibilities of being fixtures secretary, treasurer, captain, coach, and then make the sandwiches for tea.

And yet, somehow, Nepal continue to excel. They topped the pool at the six-team World Cricket League Division 2 last month to reach the final phase of qualifying for the 2019 World Cup in England.

They did it in astonishing fashion. If there is a more exciting team to support in international cricket, then they must be exhausting to follow. Nepal claimed qualification with two last-ball finishes in the space of three days in the tournament in Namibia.

The final, decisive win over Canada – which simultaneously smoothed the UAE’s path to Zimbabwe – was secured when the 10th-wicket pair scored eight off the last two balls.

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Read more from Paul Radley:

Meet the 10 teams

Spinner Imran Haider important cog in UAE cricket's wheel

Watch out for the leg-spin cartel at the 2018 World Cup Qualifier

Deja vu for UAE after Nepal loss in rain-marred warm-up game

The lowdown: UAE team at World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe

West Indies challenge awaits UAE at World Cup qualifier

WCL Div 2 shows cup must be inclusive, not exclusive

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“Having had all this mess around, at least we are somehow getting results when it matters," Khadka said.

"We want to keep going this way, hopefully the day will come when we get a full-fledged administration, and it makes it easier for everyone moving forward.”

The ICC deem Nepal “a priority country” because of the massive following for the game there, and say their on-field progress has been admirable against the backdrop of off-field turmoil.

“They have a massive player pool to draw on and I’m not surprised the squad they took over for WCL 2 performed as well as it did,” Will Glenwright, the ICC’s head of global development, told The National’s Extra Time podcast this week.

“With that said, it is a credit to the players. It is a difficult environment for them to deal with at the moment. They are preparing and training effectively without a national federation.

“Whilst we are continuing to do as much as we can to provide that assistance, there is no doubt the optimum model is that they be operating under a national federation that is providing them with the level of support and assistance they need.”

That will not be until this summer at the minimum, according to ICC deputy chairman Imran Khwaja, who led talks over a new constitution in the country last month.

“We are in the process of putting in place some strict timelines which we expect to be adhered to which include the adoption of the constitution,” Khwaja said at the start of February. “Then and only then can we agree the process for Nepal’s readmission at the ICC AGM in June 2018.”

The team, though, remain optimistic ahead of their first game, against hosts Zimbabwe in Bulawayo on Sunday. Khadka is sure his side will be better off at the Qualifier because of their Division 2 experiences.

“More than anything else I think there will be a lot more freedom than in Division 2,” Khadka said. “I hope we can express ourselves and attain the desired results.”

Graphic: schedule for the World Cup Qualifier 2018 in Zimbabwe. Courtesy ICC
Graphic: schedule for the World Cup Qualifier 2018 in Zimbabwe. Courtesy ICC

TV: World Cup Qualifier 2018 matches will be aired on on OSN Sports HD Cricket channel