Over to the government
On March 15, in arguably the country’s biggest sporting achievement till date, the Nepali men’s cricket team secured the One Day International status. The new status allows the team to play ODI cricket for the next four years. In this period, besides the ODIs, the men in blue-and-red will also get to play in the InterContinental Cup, a competitive four-day precursor to the five-day Test cricket.
On his triumphant return home, skipper Paras Khadka said Team Nepal’s next target is the ODI World Cup. With the players having done their bit, he added somberly, the onus is now on the government to improve Nepali cricket.
He was right on the mark. The Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) was suspended by the International Cricket Council in 2016 due to excessive government interference. In its absence, domestic cricket has suffered and Nepal’s international participation been severely curtailed. Without the lifting of the ICC sanctions on CAN, it will be hard to build a robust domestic base, the only surefire way to do well in international cricket.
In the meantime Nepal can play ODIs even with the sanctions. Having secured the ODI status, Nepal government can now directly negotiate with other Test- and ODI-playing countries for bilateral (or trilateral) games. During his recent Nepal visit, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had hinted of ‘cricket diplomacy’ with Nepal. This is the perfect time to not only approach Pakistan, but also our other cricketing neighbors like India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Perhaps the biggest signal of the seriousness to improve Nepali cricket would be for the new government to immediately resolve the old row over CAN leadership and appoint a new, non-political governing body consisting strictly of ex-cricketers. No more politicians or their henchmen running Nepali cricket, please. The paltry pays and perks of Nepali cricketers should also be raised. This in turn will prompt other youngsters to take up the game as a viable career option.
The next four years will be make-or-break period for Nepali cricket. If Nepal cannot capitalize on this rare opportunity, there is no shortage of countries that are keen to snatch Nepal’s ODI rights. If that is allowed to happen due to continued neglect and political interference, it would be a huge breach of trust of millions of Nepali cricket fans.
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