Nepal's ailing youth cricket showed its first symptoms when the Under-19 team finished third in 2009 ACC Elite Cup and failed to qualify for the U-19 World Cup in 2010. Before that, Nepal had featured in every edition of the U-19 World Cup since 2000. The youth side this year put up Nepal's worst performance, ending fourth in this year's ACC U-19 Elite Cup. Prior to this Nepal, had won the tournament four times in a row between 2001 to 2007. They finished third in 2009 and second in 2011. Will Nepal cricket take a big leap backward in the following years?
The transformation theory
The Nepal senior team hadn't had much success till a few years ago, but the U-19 side was winning hearts as early as 2000 when they beat Kenya and competed with South Africa to enter the second round of the U-19 World Cup. At that stage, everyone believed that when the U-19 team transformed into the senior side, Nepal would start achieving success at the senior level. And it did. Given that precedent, with a weak youth team (and a failed domestic structure), we will have a weaker senior side in 6-10 years.
The early symptoms: Decline in fast bowling
What is more disappointing for Nepal cricket is the realisation that the failure of the youth team could get hold of the senior team if nothing is done about it. Nepal's weakened fast-bowling attack is an early sign. The side had one of the best fast-bowling units amongst the non-Test playing nations with the likes of Mehboob Alam, Binod Das and Raju Khadka. However, in the past one year, Nepal's fast bowling has failed. Their performance was so disappointing that the team played without a front-line seam bowler in the last two matches of WCL Division 3.
Despite the absence of a strong domestic structure, the senior Nepali team was carefully built by Roy Dias who hand-picked and personally groomed players from the youth side. Players like Paras Khadka, Gyanendra Malla and Sharad Vesawkar, were already part of the senior team when they were still U-17 players. They would feature in matches for Nepal in the U-17, U-19 and senior teams, which helped their growth tremendously.
Now that we have good senior team, the 'youth first' policy doesn't fit anywhere. The youth side has been completely neglected. The U-19 team did not even have a proper practice camp before they flew for the ACC U-19 Elite cup.
In few years, age will catch up with the senior team. With the domestic structure neglected and Nepal's youth cricketers short on experience, the future doesn't look good at all.
If we do not give the young cricketers the attention they deserve, the success of Nepal cricket will be short-lived. With World Cup qualifiers so close, there's no point experimenting with the senior side. A good domestic structure can help groom young players, like Dias did when he involved them in the senior side.
One aspect that needs to be explored is school cricket. School cricket is played at an exceptionally high level in countries like India and Sri Lanka. In Nepal, however, it doesn't exist. Lack of cricket in schools is hindering cricket development in Nepal, making it difficult for kids to convince their parents about the feasibility of taking up the sport. Nepal hasn't had a single player in the senior side who has made it to the team solely on the basis of his performances in the national tournament. The team comprises players who have played for the country at the youth level.
Moreover, the players who excel in the game in their early or mid-20s never make it to the side and usually do not bother improving. Domestic cricket in Nepal needs serious restructuring, one that promotes young players so that the selectors can fall back on them when needed.
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