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    Cricket in Nepal
Cricket in Nepal
Nepalese cricket team. Source: Midjourney

Cricket in Nepal

Kathmandu’s Unique Morning Rhythm

Unlike many cities in the Indian subcontinent, Kathmandu starts its day early. Marketplaces buzz into life at dawn, and the sound of temple bells acts as an alarm for the city. However, similar to much of the region, the responsibility of household chores falls on the women, while men gather at roadside tea stalls, leisurely reading newspapers and discussing the frequent changes in the country's leadership. Amidst these conversations, Nepal’s cricket team provides a rare source of optimism.

Nepal team. Source: The Kathmandu Post
Nepal team. Source: The Kathmandu Post

Cricket's Unifying Passion

Nepal's fervour for cricket has captivated the world's attention, with the sport enjoying immense popularity across the nation. The men's cricket team, despite limited resources, has performed admirably, even coming tantalisingly close to defeating South Africa by just one run. Cricket in Nepal, once a rarity in my childhood in Pokhara, has grown immensely, with local matches now played on rough pitches reminiscent of Mumbai's famous maidans.

In Kathmandu, the Tundikhel ground hosts cricket matches under challenging conditions, whether it's the heat and dust of summer or the smog of winter. Players from the men's national team have become household names, appearing in advertisements and receiving widespread recognition. Municipalities broadcast Nepal's World Cup matches live in public spaces, and brands offer rewards for every run or wicket, showcasing the nation's deep connection to the sport. Images of Nepali fans perched in trees to watch their team have gone viral, symbolising this passionate following.

ICC Men's Cricket World Cup League 2: Nepal. Source: Onlinekhabar English
ICC Men's Cricket World Cup League 2: Nepal. Source: Onlinekhabar English

Cricket has firmly established itself in Nepal, albeit later than in other parts of the subcontinent. However, it remains predominantly a male-dominated sport, as highlighted by the support for Sandeep Lamichhane despite his controversies. Historian Daniel Wright once noted in 1877 how the Gorkhas showed little interest in games like cricket, preferring their military duties instead. It wasn’t until 1946 that the Cricket Association of Nepal was formed, but true popularity only arrived in the early 2000s, coinciding with Nepal’s participation in U19 World Cups and other international tournaments.

During this period, Nepal was preoccupied with significant political changes, including the overthrow of the monarchy, a civil war, and the drafting of a new constitution. Cricket’s prominence surged in 2014 when Nepal qualified for the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh and secured wins against Hong Kong and Afghanistan.

Cricket's Role in a Divided Nation

The 2014 T20 World Cup remains a faint memory, but Nepal’s participation symbolised hope amid political turmoil and identity crises. The team, comprising players from various ethnic backgrounds, offered a glimpse of unity to a nation divided along ethnic lines. Players like Malla, Khadka, Vesawkar, Alam, and Kami, who famously hit Andre Nortje out of the park, represented a cohesive national identity that resonated with many Nepalis.

However, as cricket's popularity grew, so did the shadows of adulation and nationalism. Nepalis are known for their reverence towards their leaders and are equally capable of intense patriotism, a blend perfectly captured by the sport. This nationalism, however, can lead to blind support, as seen in the unwavering defence of players like Lamichhane. Despite the cricket board being mired in controversies and corruption, including allegations of spot-fixing, the players, especially stars like Lamichhane, have become icons, celebrated far and wide. The Tribhuvan University ground, Nepal's cricketing hub, often fills with thousands of enthusiastic fans despite the country's modest cricket infrastructure.

Nepali pride in local achievements often blurs the line between pride and unquestioning support. This was evident when politicians transformed Lamichhane’s US visa denial into a matter of national pride. The Sports Ministry intervened, and one politician dramatically claimed that Nepal's existence was at risk because its "lion" was caged. Although the US refused him a visa, the Caribbean welcomed him, prioritising the team's need for its best bowler over moral considerations. Public sentiment often dismisses allegations against Lamichhane, reflecting a broader societal trend of scepticism towards such claims.

Nepalese cricket team. Source: Midjourney
Nepalese cricket team. Source: Midjourney

The Moral Conundrum in Nepali Cricket

Should a national cricket team uphold higher moral standards than the rest of society? Teams are often seen as reflections of their communities, so it's not surprising that the same issues affecting Nepal's institutions also plague its cricket. The notion of cricket as a gentleman's game has long been debunked, and Nepal, like other nations, plays the game with its own complexities.

While moral integrity may seem an idealistic expectation, it would be refreshing to see sportspeople rise above the fray. In the context of Lamichhane's defence, it’s difficult to claim that the team stands apart in terms of ethical conduct, despite their impressive performances on the field. Demonstrating a higher standard of behaviour is challenging, especially for a young and aspiring team, but showing they possess a different mettle from the rest of society wouldn’t have required much.

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