Like everything that has anything to do with India, Nepali sports lovers either loathe or absolutely adore the Indian cricket team. Those who grew up believing their garrulous political leaders, that the ‘big brother’ to the south is responsible for every evil that befalls the country, from petroleum shortage to deterioration of law and order situation, tend to support any opponent that plays India. On the other camp are the Nepalis who can see the ‘meddling’ Indian political establishment and its cricket team as separate entities and come from families where support for the Indian team has been passed down generations. Thus when Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni touched down in Kathmandu on Sunday, the first group thought it best to shrug off the visit as a no-event. But as the hundreds of cricket fans who lined up for autograph of the charismatic World Cup-winning Indian captain during his press conference and thousands more present at the TU cricket ground for a glimpse of the Jharkhand-native indicate, the group of supporters of Indian cricket is no smaller.
Dhoni’s goodwill trip has been seen as a great opportunity for Nepali cricketing establishment. During the press meet, Dhoni expressed his desire to see “one more team from the sub-continent” play at the highest level of the game. But as the Nepali national team’s struggle even against second-tier teams in recent times suggests, Nepal will need to get many things right before it can hope to join the likes of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh at the top. Again, as the Indian captain indicated, it is vital that Nepal develops its cricketing infrastructure to improve the standard of the game in the country. Indeed, Nepal cannot hope to be counted among the top cricketing nations with just a single international-standard ground in the whole country. The second international-level ground at Mulpani, Kathmandu has been ‘under construction’ for eternity; the planned third stadium in Pokhara is proving to be a mare’s nest.
Then there is the question of experience. There is no way Nepali cricket can improve unless our cricketers get to play at the top level consistently. As Nepal is not one of the ICC-designated Test playing countries, it can’t play against the top sides in the world. But it could certainly explore the next best option of playing against the second-tier teams from Test playing countries. Yet even this looks like a long-shot as the Cricket Association of Nepal struggles to finance the limited number of in-country tournaments. One of the ways the financial shortfall can be made up is through sponsorships. Currently, what little sponsorship money comes into Nepali sports is funneled into football, arguably the country’s most popular sport. As the national cricket team struggles on the international scene, cricket has perhaps justifiably failed to attract the attention of the big business houses.
Visits like Dhoni’s undoubtedly help in adding to the sport’s sex appeal in the country. But it also puts the country’s glaring failings in developing its cricket infrastructure and top-class players under spotlight. We hope the next time Nepal’s new goodwill ambassador for cricket comes calling, his earnest wish to see better facilities and greater sponsorship of Nepali cricket would have to a degree been fulfilled