Nepal's guiding light
When Roy Dias, the former Sri Lankan batsman, first came to coach in Nepal through the Asian Cricket Council, he thought he had made a mistake. On his second day in charge, he watched a 40-overs a side practice match between the Under-19 boys; the game was over so quickly that they had enough time to complete another game. His first thought was that these boys couldn't play. That was back in 2001. Cut to 2008, and Dias is still around for his fourth Under-19 World Cup with Nepal.
In 2001, the Nepal board gave him a two-year contract to keep him on for longer. Dias has been the coach of both the senior and the junior side since, and his tenure has seen Nepal produce remarkable results. They were Plate runners-up at the U-19 World Cup in 2002, beating Pakistan and Bangladesh before losing in the final to Zimbabwe. They won the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Youth Asia Cup in Karachi and qualified for the U-19 World Cup in 2004, and memorably beat South Africa and New Zealand to lift the Plate Championship in Sri Lanka in 2006.
"When we started, I felt the standard was not there but I realised the challenge was to make the players believe that they were good enough," Dias told Cricinfo. "I could see improvement with every tour especially at the age-group levels."
Dias felt the sides he had coached in previous U-19 World Cups were better than the present one. "The best side was in 2006 and also 2002. The batting is thin in this team but I won't blame them because, to improve, you have to play a lot of cricket and there's a lack of that in Nepal."
The weather in Nepal is hostile for cricket. It's bitterly cold in the winter and it rains heavily between June and September, making practice very limited. Dias has taken many teams to Sri Lanka to prepare before a tournament. In the build-up to this U-19 World Cup, they were invited by Bangladesh for three one-dayers. One was washed out and Nepal were defeated in the other two.
While there is a need to develop infrastructure, Dias said that there is no dearth in interest in cricket in Nepal and believed it had overtaken football as Nepal's most popular sport. "We just need to have regular tournaments to bring the talent out," Dias said. "Most of the boys are more interested in their studies because that is their career. Cricket won't take them far but you do see young kids playing cricket."
Cricket is played all over Nepal but the main centre is the capital Katmandu. It has the only really good turf facility in the country. "Most of the other regions don't have grounds," Dias said. "They have to come to Kathmandu to play with decent facilities. Other grounds [in other places] are being developed but that's only in preparation for a tournament. They are not permanent facilities."
There isn't a structured domestic or club tournament in the country either. Nepal is geographically divided into six regions - Biratnagar, Birgunj, Kathmandu, Bhairahawa, Nepalgunj and Baitadi. The regions select their side from their districts and they come to the capital to play in a tournament. It is from that tournament, which involves roughly 70 cricketers, that Dias picks his national and junior teams. He says he used to travel to the regions to look for talent but it's become hard to do that because of the political situation in the country.
However, one massive problem that Nepal must tackle if it is to develop further - and countries like Malaysia face similar issues - is keeping the young talent within Nepal cricket after they finish with the junior levels. Dias says he's lost several promising players because they have left Nepal to secure their futures.
"Kanishka Chaugai, the captain in the 2006 World Cup, was a brilliant batsman but he got a scholarship to go to the US to study," Dias said. "You can't stop these kids because what can cricket get them. I miss him especially in the senior team. I've lost about four or five players like that from 2002. One is B Chalise, a utility player, who played in 2002. Monick Shrestha also went to the US. If they had stayed back we could have built a good first team."
Dias also fears Paras Khadka, the current U-19 captain who's playing his third World Cup, will also be lost in a few months time.
|I don't blame any cricketer [in Nepal] for going abroad. For them cricket is secondary because they can't make a living out of it|
With the interest growing at the junior levels, Dias said the most important thing was the players' finances. Most of the players in the senior team don't have regular jobs and it was vital to give them a monthly salary so that they could support their families.
"The companies - hotels, airlines and banks - should recruit at least one person. If you don't have a job then you look elsewhere. That's why I don't blame any cricketer for going abroad. For them cricket is secondary because they can't make a living out of it."
Several players aren't from very well-to-do families and the cricket board has to provide them with boots. High quality cricket equipment isn't manufactured locally either, so bats and pads have to be imported and often it's beyond the players' means. The Sri Lankan board has been of tremendous assistance.
"When Thilanga Sumathipala was the chairman [of Sri Lanka cricket], he asked me what I wanted," Dias said. "I said 'can you start an academy or indoor nets?' He said that was out of the question but asked if I wanted equipment? So we got cricket gear worth Rs 250,000 [approx US$2300]."
Dias has been involved with Nepal cricket for so long that he knows his young players. The selectors, too, pay heed to his advice. He provided anecdote from his greatest moment as Nepal's coach.
Basanta Regmi, the Man-of-the-Match in Nepal's historic win over New Zealand in 2006, had suffered a head injury in a motorcycle accident and the doctors had advised him not to play. He missed the national tournament in 2006 and therefore the selectors did not pick him in the squad for the U-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka. He had been part of the squad for the 2004 tournament and on Dias' insistence, he was later included for Sri Lanka as well. Regmi had scored 75 runs up until the final but against New Zealand, with Nepal struggling at 75 for 6, he scored a crucial 66 from No. 8, and paved the platform for a memorable win.
George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo