Sandesh Sigdel, Kathmandu
Nepal, having secured their ODI status miraculously, is now preparing for the onset of the next ICC World Cricket League Two cycle, set to commence later this month. However, their first challenge lies in facing the Canadian team, which is visiting Kathmandu for the first time.
Amidst winter snow blanketing much of the North American nation, Canada is currently touring Asia with the aim of gaining valuable match practice before their League Two campaign kicks off in March. Following a three-match ODI series against the senior Nepalese team, Canada will prolong their stay to duel against the newly established Nepal A side as well.
But before all else, the challenge at TU awaits the Canadian outfit. Nepal will test the mental fortitude of their familiar adversary, the Canadian head coach Pubudu Dassanayake, who played a pivotal role in Nepal’s ascent up the international cricket rankings and their qualification for the T20 World Cup in 2014 in Bangladesh.
Pubudu, for instance, is someone who knows Nepal well. Through his two stints- one that was highly successful and the other somewhat underwhelming, Pubudu has worked with various players in the Nepali team today. Among them, he has nurtured a few to achieve the success they enjoy today.
Similar to his first stint, his work with Canada has more upsides than downsides. Firstly, Canada, from the Challenge League, the tier below League Two, have now gained ODI Status for the first time since 2014 following a successful Qualifier Playoff in Namibia last year.
Canada’s journey to Hong Kong concluded with a bittersweet ending as they lost the tri-series final against Malaysia. The upcoming task in Kirtipur is set to be tough, a fact well acknowledged by the Canadian team. However, rather than being daunted, they are excited by the challenge.
Saad Bin Zafar, the Canadian skipper, emphasized their awareness of the home atmosphere that Nepal enjoy and expressed his excitement to play here. Although Canada won’t be playing any League Two matches in Nepal, Zafar conveyed his happiness for the upcoming series. Coach Dassanayake echoed his captain’s sentiments and added his own delight in revisiting Nepal.
Zafar also asserted that the outcomes in Hong Kong do not accurately showcase the prowess of his side. Canada experimented with young players in Hong Kong and, according to the skipper, will field a stronger squad in Nepal.
On the flipside, Nepal are in the midst of youth experimentation and resting a few regular players in this series, ahead of the crucial League Two tri-series against the Netherlands and Namibia. U-19 heroes Aakash Chand, fresh off the U-19 World Cup, and Hemant Dhami, who was rehabilitating in Nepal after an injury setback, have earned their maiden international call-ups. U-19 skipper Dev Khanal is also included in the squad.
In addition, the Madhesh duo of Pawan Sarraf and Anil Shah make their returns, while Dipendra Singh Airee, Gulshan Jha, and Karan KC are given a break.
Left-arm pacer Rijan Dhakal from Bagmati Province has secured a maiden spot in the squad after outshining his fellow Province mate and National Team regular, Pratis GC. Surya Tamang, the highest wicket-taker in the PM Cup, who is yet to debut in ODIs, also returns to the squad aiming to address a strike-spinner vacancy in the international scene.
Monty Desai’s arrival brought miraculous results for the Nepali side, which was teetering on the brink of losing its ODI status last year. The record of 11 wins out of 12 matches and the unbeaten ACC Premier Cup campaign, leading to participation in the Asia Cup and qualification for the T20 World Cup, primarily achieved at home, underscore the impact of Desai’s guiding principles.
Desai, adamant in his vision of expanding the player pool for the national team, has seen his efforts come to fruition with the formation of the A Team, the expansion of the PM Cup, and the heroics of the U-19 players. However, the primary challenge after Desai’s nearly flawless tenure thus far is to sustain these results moving forward. Expecting to replicate the same success would be foolishness for two main reasons: firstly, Nepal won’t play all their matches at home, and secondly, lightning rarely strikes twice.
Nonetheless, the groundwork laid by Desai will be crucial for Nepal, especially considering the frequent coaching changes over the past six years. As Nepali cricket embarks on a new chapter starting today, the events of the previous 12 months become somewhat irrelevant.
The past twelve months were similar to a fairytale story, but the challenges ahead are starkly real. Desai, as he ultimately expresses, harbors a deep desire to elevate Nepal to the status of a Test Nation. The journey toward this ambition commenced twelve months ago. The new cycle, beginning today, holds immense significance for the lofty goals that Nepali fans have set for their cricket team.
“Walking into the unknowns with excitement”. This is Desai’s mantra. And indeed, whatever lies ahead for this cricket team, today marks the beginning.