'It's time our administrators were as enthusiastic as our cricketers'
Paras Khadka is sitting in the away changing room at Lord's, wiping the sweat and dried-on sunblock from his face. He smiles wearily after accepting congratulations for his team's performance, having closed out victory over MCC in their first appearance at cricket's most famous ground. Looking out through the balcony windows as his team-mates bustle about their post-match business, Nepal's captain savours the moment.
Khadka is entitled to feel a little bushed, having directed his players in the field for the past three hours, as London stewed on one of the hottest days of the year. The sort of captain who leads with word and deed, Khadka made 30 batting at No. 4 - the second highest score in Nepal's 217 for 8, including their only six - before chipping to mid-on, and then opened the bowling, reeling off six straight overs of accurate medium-pace with the new ball.
After the final MCC wicket fell, one of three for Basant Regmi, the players went for a walk around the outfield to acknowledge the boisterous support of several thousand Nepalis. It was a different sort of tour to the one Khadka took at Lord's a couple of years ago, and one you imagine he will remember for much longer.
"Playing at Lord's, you don't get this opportunity often, but I threw away my wicket. But as long as the team wins, I'll take it," Khadka says. "I came here in 2014 to do the tour of the ground - never thought I would get to play, so this is one of the dreams that has come true."
As well as praising the efforts of his team-mates, he is quick to acknowledge the crowd. Although only half of the stands were open for use, around 5000 packed into the south side of Lord's on an otherwise quiet weekday to watch what amounted to little more than a friendly against the selection of club cricketers and former pros picked to represent MCC.
"Brilliant - the supporters are unbelievable. Anywhere we play in the world we get massive support, it's almost like playing in Nepal. Thank you, thank you to everybody," Khadka says.
If the opposition were not of the highest rank, the occasion certainly was, and Nepal were grateful for another chance to grab positive headlines in their push for greater recognition. With MCC streaming the match live on YouTube, the visitors were made to feel at home at the Home of Cricket.
"It's set us in front of the global cricketing platform once again, because any game at Lord's, there's attention from all over the world," Khadka says. "We're representing our country and we're very privileged and proud and very lucky that we got that opportunity. The boys have always put in very good effort throughout the years, so we just need to keep pushing ourselves.
"Our goals moving forward are to become an ODI nation, and hopefully in the next 15-20 years become a Test-playing country, so a lot of things need to be sorted, but matches like this definitely help you promote the game."
Nepal's last competitive fixtures were against Namibia in April, and their tour of England comes as part of preparations for two more crucial World Cricket League matches away to Netherlands in August. Khadka says the challenge "moving forward is to be more consistent as a team"; their record after Lord's, against opposition as varied as Indian Gymkhana CC and Eastbourne CC, was five wins from five matches.
With the 2019 World Cup set to be a ten-team event, chances for the Associate nations to qualify are slim. Nepal's first aim is to try and finish in the top four of the WCL Championship - they are currently sixth - and make sure of a place at the 2018 World Cup Qualifier, although Khadka has been intrigued by talk of the ICC expanding the number of teams in a future ODI league. The possibility of another World T20 being inserted into the calendar in 2018 is also encouraging; Nepal made their major tournament debut in 2014 but missed out on qualification for this year's edition in India.
Asked whether he had been following developments at the ICC, he replies with a smile: "Yeah, of course, very closely. There has been news of Nepal, Ireland, Afghanistan being discussed for a second tier. I think Nepal has all the resources. We're still young for Test cricket, I have to admit, but you see the kind of passionate fans we have, the people around the game. We just need to sort out our management issues, then we have the players, the talents - it's just about setting up the structure back home. Domestic cricket has to be the first and foremost thing. Once we set up that and manage our resources well, I'm sure Nepal cricket's going to do fantastically well."
The game in Nepal currently consists of "random tournaments", Khadka says, organised without any formal structure, which is something he wants addressed. However, the situation has not been helped by administrative issues at the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN), which led to the Nepali board being suspended by the ICC earlier this year.
"There are things that we need to sort out," Khadka says. "It's very, very important that all of us sit down and set our egos aside, and all the administrators sit down and think about the game seriously. They have to be as passionate as the cricketers. I think it's about time the administrators did this - the players have put in their lives - players even before us - and haven't got anything out of it, but now the game has grown such that everyone follows cricket back home, people really love the game. We need to manage all of this properly."
The uncertainties at CAN contributed to Pubudu Dassanayake stepping down as coach last year - although the ICC has arranged for his continued involvement as a consultant - but Khadka remains the team's guiding force. He was impressively statesmanlike as Nepal's most prominent ambassador at the 2014 World T20, despite being only 26, and has been at the forefront of their achievements, as captain and star allrounder, over the last decade. Does he ever tire of the weight of responsibility? Despite another long, hot day in the dirt, he seems refreshed for the challenges ahead.
"The team comes first. As long as I keep performing and the team does well, that's good. As a captain it all comes down to how good the boys are doing and how good the team spirit is. I'm very glad and fortunate that I've had a great bunch of boys who have been very dedicated, and it has been very easy for me. So hopefully I will continue and go on as long as possible, as long as we keep doing well."
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick