(By Manoj Karki)
Kathmandu : When the U-19 Nepali national cricket team face hosts Bangladesh in the quarter-finals of the International Cricket Council U-19 Cricket World Cup this Friday, the entire country will be on the edge of its seat given the probability of the country making it through, for the first time ever, to the last four of a world cup of any kind of sport.
And hopes are also high back home because of the two convincing victories that the U-19 Nepali cricket team secured in the first two league matches of the U-19 CWC underway in Bangladesh. Nepal started with an unprecedented win against a test-playing side, beating New Zealand by 23 runs, and then outplayed fellow minnows Ireland by 8 wickets.
Going into the quarter-finals, Nepal will however have to take the beating at the hands of cricketing giant India in the final league match as a one-off match and learn from the many shortcomings highlighted in the match they lost by 7 wickets in the televised match. Nepal was completely outplayed by the side coached by Indian test legend Rahul Dravid, who in fact made a surprise visit to the Nepali dressing room after the match to lift the spirits of the Nepali team. He is also reported to have given some useful tips to the Nepali batsmen while praising the Nepali spinners. Those tips by Dravid would certainly be useful for the Nepali colts as they try create a new history in the Nepali cricket.
Likewise, Dravid is reported to have said Nepal needs to improve in its batting and learn to rotate the strike as scoring runs against the home side known to produce very good bowlers would not be easy before the home crowd on Friday.
Nepal will however take into consideration the fact that it had defeated Bangladesh during the U-19 world cup held in New Zealand in 2002 by 23 runs in the plate semi-finals. And as a matter of coincidence, Binod Das who had led Nepal to victory against Bangladesh then is now the bowling coach of the Nepali team in Bangladesh. His experience will certainly come handy, as Nepal makes an attempt to defeat the Bangladeshi tigers in their den.
Onus will certainly lie on Captain Raju Rijal and his deputy Aarif Sheikh to put up a good score if they happen to bat first or then help build the innings provided they are to chase a challenging total. Both Rijal and Seikh were instrumental in securing the upset win against New Zealand with the captain scoring a composed 48 runs from 65 balls. Given that Nepal is at this stage of the U-19 CWC after a gap of 16 years, Nepali boys will have to work hard to make it count and progress further in the tournament.
Notwithstanding the result on Friday, Nepal can still take pride of its performance in the 2016 U-19 CWC as the berth in the quarter-finals is already a great achievement, given the infrastructure available in the country. Without even a proper cricketing stadium to boast of and lack of a proper national cricket league happening, the strides that Nepal is making in the world of cricket is phenomenal. Furthermore, the politicization of the Cricket Association of Nepal or CAN is making matters further worse for Nepali cricket.
As a result, the concerned authorities including the Ministry of Sports must take this latest feat by the Nepali junior cricket team as a wake-up call for serious consideration in promoting the sport of cricket in the country. The concerned authorities must understand that Nepal will continue to be limited to one-off significant victories like this and not lift a major trophy without a proper plan of action for the development of the sports in the country. Apart from organizing regular cricketing tournaments including a national cricket league, Nepali sports authorities must make the game of cricket a means of livelihood for the Nepali cricketers. The Nepali cricketers must at least be able to take up the game full time and concentrate in achieving the maximum.
Furthermore, lack of international exposure is always a problem for emerging nations whether it is cricket or football or any other sport. The current U-19 team got an opportunity to play practice matches in India, which is reported to have come very handy for the team to play in similar conditions in Bangladesh. As a result, the CAN must ensure that the all levels of the national cricket team including the seniors get sufficient exposure in honing their skills both with bat and ball. One can only imagine, how good Nepal could become provided we had the same facilities in par with the test-playing nations.
In the meantime, Nepal will be looking forward to a positive result from Bangladesh this Friday with an eager hope that its U-19 national cricket team writes a new chapter in the history of Nepali sport, by making it to the top four of a world cup ever.