Bhupendra GC, Kathmandu
From the T20 World Cup to ODI recognition, Nepali cricket has come a long way in the last decade. Despite producing one after another historic achievement in the pitch, the country faces obstacles in off-the-pitch affairs. The supreme governing body, the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) got suspended from the International Cricket Council (ICC) for a few years, new leadership came and is still trying to operate independently.
With ODI status in the bag, the goal now is to gain test recognition. But the basic requirement of a long-format domestic tournament is still not set up. Accredited national competition in domestic cricket is mandatory to get Test recognition but CAN have not organized any such.
Even if Nepal aims to get the Test recognition after 10 years, it will have to move forward with rapid preparation and planning from now on. As things are now, there is almost no thought about it. CAN doesn’t seem to have any interest in that.
Except for some senior players, others have no experience of day cricket. All have grown up playing limited-overs, mostly T20. The lack of day cricket is considered to be the main factor behind bigger innings in international cricket.
The ICC is considering restarting the Intercontinental Cup. There is talk of naming the second class test among the associate countries. Earlier, it was recognized as first class. But in Nepal day cricket has become is a far call for a player. The T20 style is very popular from the village to the center. As the popularity of the T20 only grows, the dream of achieving test status only seems to go farther.
T20 style is not a go-to option to show talent or improve performance. Short-form is result-oriented, but long-form helps the player to mature. It also plays a big role in improving the performance of the players.
There are only a few players who have consistently played for the national team in the last decade. The main reason for not being able to perform consistently is the weak domestic structure. Any player must perform in the domestic competition to be a regular in the national team.
Due to a lack of domestic tournaments, a player makes it into the squad with several good matches. The player then fails to continue the form in the national setup and then falters.
The last time Nepal played a first-class match was against Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in 2019. When Nepal donned a white jersey after 14 years, Nine players, including captain Gyanendra Malla, made their debut at the home ground. The only players to have previous experiences were middle-order batsman Sharad Vesawkar and all-rounder Sompal Kami. Vesawkar has played five first-class matches and Kami has played three.
Nepal entered the world of colorful jerseys in 2008. Before that, Nepal used to play all international competitions in white jersey. At present, all tournaments in Nepali cricket can be seen only in colorful jerseys. Day cricket, which gives a glimpse of Tests, has disappeared. Apart from a few competitions played at the school level, the game of white jersey is lost.
Nepal first made its first-class debut in 2004 through the Intercontinental Cup. At that time, Nepal had played with Malaysia and UAE. Then faced Hong Kong and UAE in 2005. After that, Nepal could not make a place in the competition.
As a result, we had to wait 14 years for the first-class game. After the match against MCC, the captain Gyanendra replied that Nepal had forgotten about first-class matches. The white jersey, red ball, and fielding decoration against the MCC at the TU ground gave a test glimpse. The environment was nothing less than a Test game.
The CAN organized its first two-day national competition back in 2007. Six regions competed in the tournament with one visiting the other. But due to the then Madhes movement, the competition halted.
Playing from Region No. 4, Shakti Gauchan had scored a century against Region No. 6 Baitadi at Bhairahawa. Shakti says that day cricket should be essential for the development of cricket. ‘Day cricket must happen. The dream of Test recognition without day cricket is far away. T20 and ODI are in place. There should be day cricket from U12. This is something that the people in the association and the organization need to think and understand, ‘said Gauchan.
The countries with Test status prioritizes day cricket in the age group. There is very little T20 exposure for players in the age group. But in Nepal’s context, it has been seven or eight years that there has been no U-19 national competition in the age group. U12, U13, and U15 and U16 have disappeared, ‘he added.
Former CAN president Binayaraj Pandey says that Nepal has already lost the golden opportunity to get Test recognition. ‘We had a blueprint of what was needed to become a Test recognition back then. We needed to host at least a two-day and four-day national cricket tournament. We failed to organize that and missed out on that opportunity, ‘he said.
He says that Nepal has lagged far behind due to the domination of people who do not understand well. “By the time Afghanistan and Ireland got Test recognition, Nepal would have got Test recognition if there was no turmoil. We made it to the World Cup and got ODI recognition. It was not that difficult to get Test recognition with the scenario, but we lost the opportunity,” he said.
He suggested that Nepal should think in time to avoid a situation like Kenya. “Kenya, who lost to India in the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup, is now in the Division Four. Bangladesh and Kenya were offered Test recognition. Kenya did not get it then. Now we can see where Kenya is, ”he said.
‘We cannot deny Nepal will suffer the same. We have to keep improving. If we improve day cricket structure, we can play Test in 15/20 years. Otherwise, it is foolish to say that we will become a Test recognition team in the next five to ten years, ”said Pandey.
In 2019, the WaiWai Great Himalayan Cricket Academy (GHCA) hosted the U-19 two-day competition between six academies. It is the only day competition from the private sector. But due to Corona, the next edition halted. Young opener and wicketkeeper Asif Sheikh captained the GHCA in the tournament.
“We are playing ODIs now. Having two or three ODIs at home made it very easy to play T20. Similarly, if we could play day cricket, it would be very easy to play ODIs, ‘said Asif.
“Test is an enjoyable style of cricket. If you can play in Tests, you can adapt to any format. The ability and technical knowledge have a lot of influence on your performance. I like to play long-format games. I am excited to play a similar competition in domestic cricket,” Asif said.
CAN president Chatur Bahadur Chand says that he is not ready to hold any day national competition immediately. Chand informed that CAN is thinking about it.
Long-style cricket has become a stranger in Nepali cricket. It may seem normal at the moment but will have a big impact on the development in long run. Moreover, domestic and international games are important for Nepal, which has dreamed of Test recognition.
Nepal, Scotland, Oman, Netherlands, and UAE are now the associate teams claiming Test recognition. Scotland and the Netherlands not only have a good domestic setup, but the players also go to play at the world’s most prestigious county tournament played in England. Many players of Oman have played in the leagues of Pakistan. Oman is also looking to improve its domestic infrastructure. Oman has reached the stage of hosting the T20 World Cup in terms of infrastructure. The UAE’s home structure is no less than that of the Test team.
Nepal is at the forefront of possibilities but lags in terms of implementation. According to the ICC’s new plan, second-class Tests are possible. But sadly, Nepal’s domestic structure has been a big issue. Therefore, to develop cricket in Nepal, it is necessary to revive the lost red ball and white jersey culture.