Coming of age
Winning the 2006 Under-19 World Cup Plate championship has opened up new avenues for Nepal cricket. To connect Nepal with cricket is something hard because the nation has been identified in international sporting circles as prominent in soccer although they have been an associate member of the ICC since 1996, the year Sri Lanka won the World Cup.
The arrival of former Sri Lanka vice-captain Roy Dias as Nepal's coach in September 2001 was the turning point. Today Nepal can proudly hold up their heads and say that they can be counted as one of the up and coming nations in international cricket.
By winning the Plate championship in Colombo, Nepal proved that their wins over the two Test-playing nations, South Africa and New Zealand, in the semi-finals and final were no fluke.
As Kanishka Chaugai, the captain, recalled: "Both matches were poised till the last ball was bowled but we did not lose hope at any stage. During the South Africa game we had to defend our total although they had wickets in hand. In the final we were 75 for 6 against New Zealand, chasing 205. Ultimately it was the hard work we had put in that paid off in the end."
Dias described the win as "one of the biggest victories I have ever achieved as a coach". "I thought we had no problems with the non-Test playing countries, but beating two big teams like South Africa and New Zealand in the semi-final and final showed maturity. We were under pressure all the time. Even at 60 for 7 chasing 205 for victory they really felt that they can do it. For them to achieve that I am sure everyone must be very happy," he said.
Tarini Shah, the team manager and vice president of the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) described the victory as "the biggest sporting achievement for Nepal in any world event. I believe it is the launching pad for bigger events to come. Our aim will be to qualify for a place in the 2011 cricket World Cup and our focus will be very much on these boys to take us there.
"We were determined we will do better this year and defeat more than two Test playing countries. That is the reason we came 15 days ahead of the tournament to acclimatise and get acquainted with the wickets and the grounds. Ultimately it paid dividends for us in the sense that we were not weather fatigued. We could fight out till the 50th over which we did against South Africa and New Zealand. We extend our thanks to Sri Lanka Cricket for giving us this opportunity as well as the ICC who approved for our 15 days prior to the tournament."
Prior to winning the U-19 Plate championship, Nepal's only other big achievements were winning some of the competitions conducted by the Asian Cricket Council and being the runner-up to Zimbabwe in the Plate finals of the 2002 U-19 World Cup held in New Zealand.
"It's a big boost for Nepal to win a tournament of this nature," said Dias. "I got a call from the CAN president saying that the ICC and the ACC had called to congratulate them. Maybe now is the right time to promote our cricket. Funding is also necessary," he added.
"Overall I think most of the companies might come forward to help Nepal to go right to the top. There is another big event for me in March. We have to play a four-day game against Namibia. It is a very important game for Nepal cricket because if we do qualify we will get into the eighth place of the Continental Cup and for the next two years there will be plenty of cricket for these guys, most of whom will form the senior team. Cricket will continue and that's what Nepal needs," he said.
Dias (54) played for Sri Lanka in their formative years as a Test nation. He represented Sri Lanka in 20 Tests and 58 ODIs between 1981 and 1986 and was one of the their best batsmen. He also served as coach of the Sri Lanka team when they beat England at the Oval in 1998.
"I think it's great to be coach of a team like Nepal because I feel that I have done something. I have a lot of faith in them that's why I am there. I know the players right through from the Under- 15 age group. It is easy for me to coach a side that I've known for the last 2-4 years," he said. "Even the senior team comprises of players who played in the 2002 U-19 World Cup. We understand each other and if they have any problems they come to me and then I take it up with the cricket association. They have a lot of faith in me and they know that I am there to help them and not to make money. Even their personal problems they come and tell me. Coaching a country like this there is less pressure on me, less tension. I really enjoy working with these guys."
Dias is a coach who believes in keeping things simple. Dedication, and a total absorption in the game, he believes are his greatest strengths. "For me I believe the coach should be with the players not behind a lap top or in some corner. When you are handling youngsters like this who haven't got the experience, every ball or every over you have to tell them what to do. I told the first seven batsmen that they must bat the 50 overs and not leave it to the bowlers. I am always with them and give them whatever advice I can," he said.
"I watch every ball and I can go back and say what happened in 2002. I told these guys I don't need a lap top or computer to recall a particular incident. I know it is inside me. That I think is God's blessing."
To Nepal, Dias is actually a cricketing godfather. Even the CAN hierarchy first consults him before they take a decision. Coming from an established Test nation coupled with his cricketing background, Dias has earned the respect of the Nepalese people who hold him in high regard. He has already won the highest award in the country presented to him by the King of Nepal.
"I remember once when my vice-captain came and asked me permission whether he could get married on a particular day because there was a match on. Even the parents of the cricketers come and tell me to look after their children. I am very happy working with them because I have a free hand," said Dias.
Chaugai reveals that, "From the moment he (Dias) stepped into Nepal there has been a drastic change in our cricket. He is a lucky coach for us. Any tournament we play we perform well. This time the miracle has happened and everyone is feeling good. It's a great feeling to be the winning captain of the side. I really feel proud of my team and its members and for my country."
Dias' recipe for success was to make the player believe in themselves. "I always told them that they are a good side and that they can beat the top sides. I am very hard on them and I also shout at them. That's the only way they can learn because that's how I learnt, the hard way. I am putting back my experience into them and they really appreciate that."