Pallekele (Sri Lanka), Sep 4 (PTI) The Nepal cricketers seemed a bit startled as a handful of fans, journalists and camerapersons jostled for their time after the net session at the indoor facility here.
They were even coy. At home or even during the Associates tournaments, buzz of this magnitude has been unfamiliar to Nepalese cricketers.
But they are now playing the Asia Cup 2023, standing alongside the big boys – India and Pakistan in Group A.
“It is a surreal experience for us. I can now feel how cricketers from India and Pakistan are being followed by fans and media,” Nepal captain Rohit Paudel told PTI.
They earned that chance to rub shoulders with the powerhouses after their win in the ACC Premier Cup earlier this year, beating UAE in the final.
But the flashlight on players from the Himalayan nation is not blinding enough to make them forget about the rough roads they had to traverse to reach this point.
‘We don’t have too many facilities back at home. We need to come to Kathmandu from our villages to do proper cricket training. It is tough, but we had to do that to be in touch ahead of matches,” said GC Pratish, a bowling all-rounder from Pyuthan village of Nepal.
Sandeep Lamichhane is the only player in Nepal who has some exposure to top level, professional cricket for a sustained period.
The leg-spinner has been part of Delhi Capitals in the IPL, besides appearing in various other leagues like CPL, BBL, PSL etc.
Lamichhane has seen the hard work the Nepalese players had to put in to climb the ladder from close quarters.
“Everybody now sees that we are playing in the Asia Cup. But hardly anyone knows the hardships we had to go through to reach here. Most of these players are living outside Kathmandu as far as in Far West and Central Nepal.
“They need to come to the city to train, live in rented houses, away from family. It is tough on them. But they are aware of the need to make sacrifices to write a story for themselves. It is the love of cricket that drives them,” he said.
However, enthusiasm can only drive a team this much.
Lamichhane underlined the need for more fund flow into Nepal cricket to maintain the strides they have already taken.
“Many of these players are associated with the Army or Police clubs, giving them a chance to train in off-seasons. Some are under contract with Nepal Cricket Association too,” said Lamichhane.
Binod Kumar, who is accompanying the team as manager, noted that Nepal needs to improve its domestic cricket circuit to keep the supply line of players intact.
“Sadly, our domestic structure is not good. It mainly revolves around three departmental teams – Nepal Police, Nepal Army, Nepal Armed Forces – and a 7-team provisional tournament.
“It runs for 2 to 3 months as we don’t have proper stadiums but we do have some grounds. But we are working with ACC and ICC to mobilize the resources. We are also reaching out to corporates and promoters for funds,” said Binod.
Nepal head coach Monty Desai is aware of the issues surrounding an upcoming cricketing nation like Nepal.
While admitting that the team needs more time to settle into international cricket, Desai has been impressed by the determination of his players.
“From what I have seen, these players have a lot of determination and they are self-starters. They are ready to go any distance for cricket, and that has kept our dressing room a happy space,” said Desai.
Desai has extensive coaching experience with teams like UAE, Afghanistan, West Indies and with Rajasthan Royals in the IPL.
In the past, he was also associated with the Nepal Under-19 team. Hence, Desai is aware of the challenges of working with an Associate nation.
“There are budget restrictions and the infrastructure is still developing. It is not like working with a (ICC) Full Member team. We need to work around limited resources, but that is a challenge that I am excited to go through, and we are in it together,” said Desai.
Understanding that they need to stay together as a team, Lamichhane said he is eager to pass on the experience to the next generation of Nepal players.
“You get nothing easy at this level. I am ready to assist them in cricket and in life. That is my duty as a senior player in the side.
“We are hoping to make a good impression against India, and that will be a boost for them and Nepal cricket. Hopefully, that will make corporates invest in our cricket more,” said Lamichhane.