When Sunil Dhamala was growing up near Chandigarh in India, it was not the teenager, who was running after cricket. It was the other way round.
Born to a family living in one of Nepal’s remotest districts Kalikot during the peak of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal in 1997, Dhamala and his family moved to India for better opportunities within a few years after Sunil’s birth.
And as the young Dhamala’s vocal chords learnt to say ‘aama-buwa’, his hands picked up the technique to hold the bat, and then to use it to hit the ball out of the park. “I don’t exactly remember when I started playing cricket, but I think it must be during my early teens,” says Dhamala, who is on the list of probables for Nepal’s World Cricket League fixtures against the Netherlands this week.
“Cricket was, and is, everywhere in India. It was also the area where I lived with my parents, and two siblings,” he recounts.
Name a milestone in Indian cricket, and Dhamala would have watched it unfold live on tv. But one event Dhamala, who was just seven, remembers quite well is the 309 then Indian opener Virender Sehwag made against Pakistan, earning him the title ‘Multan ka Sultan’.
And as the young Dhamala’s vocal chords learnt to say ‘aama-buwa’, his hands picked up the technique to hold the bat, and then to use it to hit the ball out of the park.
Sehwag’s innings was special for Dhamala, who considers the flamboyant opener as his idol. “He used to play his natural game, even when conditions were not in favour,” says Dhamala. “That is a trait I have learnt from him. He does not occupy the crease for the sake of it.”
Dhamala went on to play age-group cricket in India, he also represented his district in local tournaments. A teenager surrounded by Indian friends, for whom cricket is more than religion, Dhamala, who did not yet understand what being a ‘Nepali’ meant, dreamed of playing for India some day.
But when his age caught up with the runs coming off his bat, Dhamala fancied playing for his own country, his country of birth. In conversations with Nepali relatives living in Dhangadhi, on Facebook, Dhamala got clues that Nepal also had a cricket team.
“We all have bad runs, don’t we? But that does not mean I should stop playing my natural game.”
“Around three years ago, I came to Dhangadhi for Dashain. There I visited the local academy, and told them I was interested in playing for the local side,” he shares. That decision to play for the local side would be the first step towards entering the domestic structure in Nepal, and eventually the U-19 national squad.
As part of the U-19 team that played the junior world cup in January this year, Dhamala was one of the highest run-getters for his squad going into the tournament. In the qualifiers, he scored a 47 and a 75 against Ireland.
He could not strike similar form at the world cup. However, during the much-hyped encounter against India, he was dismissed for duck. His bat’s silence was broken in the last match against Namibia — he scored a 58 — though the team’s exit was already certain.
The experience, though, has not changed Dhamala’s attitude towards cricket. “We all have bad runs, don’t we?” he asks. “But that does not mean I should stop playing my natural game.”
That’s the attitude he wants to carry to the games against the Netherlands this week, whether he makes it to the playing XI or not.
“That’s what Sehwag would do.”