Back among the big boys: Nepal’s road to the T20 World Cup can inspire a new generation

T20 World Cup
Nepali players celebrate after qualifying for the 2024 T20 World Cup.

Despite losing to Oman in the final of the T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier, the Nepal cricket team will take part in the 2024 T20 World Cup that will be held in the US and the West Indies. Nepal confirmed its berth by beating rivals UAE in the semi-final of the qualifiers in a jam-packed Mulpani Cricket Ground on November 3.

The entire nation celebrated the team’s accomplishment. The team were back in the World Cup after a decade. This would not have been possible without the hard work, motivation, and dedication of the team along with the constant mentoring from head coach Monty Desai. However, the most crucial element was the fans, who served as the team’s unwavering support system. They cheered for every victory and responded with encouragement in the face of setbacks.

Back on the big stage

Nepal first took part in the T20 World Cup in 2014 under the leadership of Paras Khadka. Drawn in a tough group against hosts Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Hong Kong in the first round, Nepal’s performance was one for the ages as they narrowly missed out on the second round finishing second on net run rate behind Bangladesh.

Many believed this campaign would act as a springboard. However, the team struggled in the T20 World Cup Qualifier in Ireland in 2015 finishing ninth and missing out on taking part in the event in India. This was followed by the loss of their T20I status in 2015 after consecutive unsuccessful qualification attempts in 2016.

Road to glory

Gulshan Jha after hitting the winning runs against the UAE during the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup League 2 in Kathmandu on March 16.

Post 2014, the growth of cricket in Nepal faced significant challenges, including political interference, internal conflicts within the team management, and a lack of accountability. The sport also grappled with financial and infrastructural crises, which particularly affected the organisation of high-quality domestic tournaments. Consequently, this led to instances of irresponsible and immature gameplay during crucial moments. Nepal also contended with the poor state of grass-root cricket and the subpar quality of practice venues.

What also did not help was the government and affiliated bodies’ neglect, despite the sport’s popularity since its inception and its growth potential. Furthermore, the International Cricket Council (ICC) suspended the sole governing body, the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN), in 2016 due to political interference. These challenges, combined with ongoing issues, led to a decline in Nepal’s cricketing standards, resulting in repeated failures to qualify for the T20 World Cup.

Growth over the years

Despite that, Nepali cricket continued. The contributions and accomplishments of former Nepali cricketers such as Shakti Gauchan, Sharad Vesawkar, Jitendra Mukhiya, and numerous other unsung heroes were always valued and acknowledged. Their dedication ignited a transformative passion for cricket in Nepal as many in the current team picked up the game following them. Moreover, Nepali cricket continued to progress over time. In 2018, the team earned its ODI status, and the subsequent year saw the successful reinstatement of its previously lost T20 status after Nepal received ICC Membership.

That gave Nepal an added boost ahead of the inaugural ICC World Cup Cricket League 2. Before Monty Desai’s appointment, Nepal was in danger of losing their ODI status, which would have jeopardised all the progress they had made. Prior to Desai’s arrival, Nepal had faced a tough stretch, losing 14 out of 24 games. However, Desai’s influence brought about a significant transformation, completely turning the group’s dynamics around.

By winning 11 out of their last 12 matches, Nepal not only kept their ODI status but also secured a spot in the 2023 World Cup Qualifier held in Zimbabwe. During the qualifier, while Nepal faced formidable opponents like Zimbabwe, Netherlands, and the West Indies, they displayed commendable resilience, putting up a fight in each match. Additionally, they achieved a victory against the US, demonstrating their competitive spirit.

Nepal also got to take part in the ACC Emerging Cup 2023 talking on Pakistan A and India A. This proved to be a good test for the team which then went on to take on the senior teams in the Asia Cup 2023. Results did not go their way, but the manner in which Nepal competed against the best in the world, showed signs Nepal had what it takes.

The greatest progress for the players seemed to be in terms of their gameplay, approach, and sensibility towards the game. Given the right opportunity and guidance, Nepali cricket attracted the attention of the entire cricket fraternity and was applauded for their fearlessness.

Additionally, the team had the chance to train with the Rajasthan Royal Academy, allowing players to identify and address their areas of strengths and weaknesses. All these preparations allowed Nepal to perform brilliantly in the qualifiers with an increased sense of competitiveness. 

Positives to take

T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier

The T20 World Cup qualifier tournament highlighted several noteworthy individual and team performances from Nepal. Despite close defeats against Oman, the team showcased their skill and earned another chance to compete on the main stage.

Standing in Nepal and the T20 World Cup were familiar foes, UAE. In front of what seemed like tens of thousands at the Mulpani Cricket Ground, Nepal outshone the UAE, securing their spot in the T20 World Cup—a feat they had last accomplished in 2014, exactly a decade ago.

This was a team effort and different players rose to the occasion.

Aashif Sheikh’s composed half-century innings against the UAE in the semi-final, along with Gulshan Jha’s rapid-fire half-century in the thrilling encounter against Oman in the final, allowed Nepal to post a respectable total. This, coupled with a brilliant innings from captain Rohit Paudel, exemplified the maturity and discipline the team had developed over the years. Despite some concerns, particularly in the bowling department, the undeniable rise in the team’s standards, particularly in fielding and batting, stands as a significant achievement from the tournament.

Nepal had a chance to finish the tournament strong, but Oman proved to be too good as they won a nailbiter in the final thanks to Naseem Khushi and Bilal Khan.

As Nepal gears up for the T20 World Cup 2024, addressing bowling concerns while upholding batting and fielding consistency will be paramount. It will be crucial to grasp the nuances of overseas conditions.

Additionally, making judicious use of left-arm orthodox bowler Lalit Rajbanshi, who has proven to be invaluable in the past, in tandem with the inclusion of Sandeep Lamichhane, presents a significant challenge that needs to be navigated effectively ahead of the major tournament.

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Timsina is a BSc. CSIT student at Mahendra Morang Adarasha Multiple Campus, Biratnagar.

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