Rewarding the faith of Nepal's fans is going to be a tougher task from here. © ICC

Rewarding the faith of Nepal’s fans is going to be a tougher task from here. © ICC

The 2018 World Cup Qualifiers were a source of heartbreak and anguish for Ireland, Scotland and Zimbabwe, ODI sides who failed to make the cut for the 10-team pinnacle event to be played in 2019. The story was different for Nepal.

The country acquired ODI status through their top eight finish in the tournament, with convincing wins against Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea. For a country where cricket was hardly popular until the early 2000s, the feat has been remarkable, and could be the start of Nepal’s climb towards becoming the next big cricketing nation from Asia.

The fact that thousands of fans flocked the Tribhuvan International Airport to greet their national heroes on their return for Zimbabwe showed how much the game and the new honour meant to the emerging cricketing nation.

“It means a lot to us, and to our people at home. We had a warm reception and they were genuinely proud of our achievement. Hopefully, we can keep rewarding their faith,” Paras Khadka, the popular Nepal captain, told Wisden India.

Rewarding that faith is going to be a tougher task from here though. The administrative body in Nepal was suspended in 2016 by the ICC on grounds of political interference, and cricketing governance has taken a setback. According to the Nepal captain, the country has the resources to further the interests of cricket, but the lack of proper management is hindering progress.

“We have all the resources, the only thing we need is proper management to manage the players and the domestic competitions. The members of the board and the ICC are in constant touch and it all depends on them,” said Khadka.

Bhawana Ghimire, who was formerly the CEO of the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) and is now a liaison officer for ICC in the country, echoed those thoughts.

“After the suspension of CAN by ICC we don’t have a governing body for smooth running of domestic cricket,” she explained. “We’re not able to run anything, the long-format game, the fifty over game. We never had two-day or four-day games but those were in the pipeline, but we’re not able to go through with that.”

Despite the suspension, ICC devised a system to keep the game running so as to not let the administrative setback affect players, which explains how Nepal were able to participate in the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers.

The global body is aware of the burgeoning interest in the country for the sport, and are taking steps to reinstate the national body.

“It’s left to the ICC to take care of the international teams when they go for international tournaments at the moment. They are working keenly to reinstate our administration to enable a good governing structure and domestic competitions,” offered Ghimire.

“Nepal has an advisory committee who have drafted a constitution. There’s an AGM in the first week of April to assess that constitution,” she added. “And if it is approved there’ll be a ‘free and fair’ election process. If all goes to plan, we could have CAN running in the next 3 – 4 months.”

But for now, ODI status remains a feat to be cherished and built upon. The feats of the national team, be it the thrilling win over Afghanistan in the first round of the 2014 World T20 or the recent surge to ODI status, have spurred Nepalis to take a keen interest in the game, so much so that it is now estimated that cricket has surpassed football in popularity.

“The game has absolutely grown to No. 1. Ever since 2014 when we reached the 2014 World T20, the game has spread rapidly and now cricket can easily be the No. 1 sport in the country. Cricket has one thing that has been a unifying force and has brought all of Nepal together,” said Khadka, with a hint of pride.

“Cricket wasn’t very popular here 15-16 years back, but now the sport has grown to No. 1 in my opinion. Football is still popular here, but cricket has grown leaps and bounds,” added Ghimire.

One specific event even before the start of the World Cup qualifiers probably did as much to fan those flames of cricketing interest as any other; the selection of Sandeep Lamichhane, the 17-year-old Nepal legspinner, by Delhi Daredevils for the IPL 2018 in the auctions held in January this year.

"Because of Sandeep Lamichhane all youngsters in Nepal can now dream of the IPL" - Bhawana Ghimire. © Sandeep Lamichhane

“Because of Sandeep Lamichhane all youngsters in Nepal can now dream of the IPL” – Bhawana Ghimire. © Sandeep Lamichhane

“IPL is the platform every youngster aims for, so it means a lot. Everyone dreams of playing in the IPL because it is such a popular league. All youngsters can now dream of the IPL and it has given them more motivation to take up the game. That’s why Sandeep’s selection in the IPL is massive news,” felt Ghimire.

“For Sandeep to make it to the IPL… it’s created waves in the country. It has given something for youngsters to dream of,” echoed Khadka.

Both Khadka and Ghimire, cited Test status as their next big goal, while recognising the challenges that lie ahead.

“The immediate goal is to work our way into 50-over World Cups. But eventually, the big goal is to become a full-fledged Test playing country,” said Khadka. “To reach that goal it is going to be a lot of hard work. A lot of toil has gone into achieving what we have so far. But we have to work on it and keep scaling up.”

Ghimire sees it through a more administrative lens, making it clear that Test status will come at the end of a long path.

“In order to get Test status, we first have to preserve the ODI status we have achieved. We have to get the structures in place to arrange bilateral series in the country,” she said, spelling out the exact challenges that await, while pointing at more than a decade’s work to come. “We need to get our body reinstated and then we need to upgrade our grounds to ODI status. Domestically we have to start organising long-form cricket and grassroots cricket.

“We need to get a lot of things right to achieve Test status by 2030.”

The attainment of ODI recognition amid an administrative crisis speaks volumes of Nepal’s dedication towards cricket. If those issues are resolved soon, it will help clear the path for Nepal to march towards the lofty ambitions they have set themselves.