After a devastating earthquake struck just outside Kathmandu in April, cricket has been put on the backburner in Nepal as people struggle to rebuild their lives out of the wreckage. Nepal's vice-captain Gyanendra Malla hopes that securing a second consecutive World T20 berth this week at the World T20 Qualifier in Ireland might lift the spirits of his countrymen.
"The first thing is we want to be on the top two spots and qualify for the World Cup," Malla told ESPNcricinfo after his side's warm-up match against Oman. "Everyone has the same goal. We want to be in the World Cup again for our country so we can put a smile back onto our Nepali citizens."
Nepal came third at the 2013 qualifier in the UAE, finishing behind Ireland and Afghanistan, and a tense last-ball win over Hong Kong clinched their maiden World T20 berth. At that tournament in Bangladesh, Nepal scored a thumping win over Hong Kong and hung tough against the hosts before ultimately losing. A win over Afghanistan put them level on points with Bangladesh but an inferior net run rate ended their campaign in the preliminary phase. The experience made them hungry to work hard so they could return and feel the same highs all over again. Following the earthquake, though, the Nepal squad had to shift their training camp from Kathmandu to India.
"Hats off to the boys," Malla said. "What they have gone through and to come up and train again, we're trying to be normal in the practice sessions. I think the team has done a good job in that situation to play again for the nation."
After coming off a rough 3-1 T20 series defeat against Netherlands in the lead up to this tournament, the Nepal squad arrived in Ireland over the weekend. Most players were experiencing British conditions for the first time since the 2008 WCL Division Five in Jersey, where they finished in third.
While the core batting line-up is mostly the same from that 2008 tour, the pace bowling unit is completely different. Mahaboob Alam, who took a tournament-best 19 wickets including all 10 against Mozambique, Amrit Bhattarai and former captain Binod Das are absent. It has taken some time for youngsters like Sompal Kami and Karan KC to adjust during the early part of the European tour. Death bowling is one area where the Dutch batsmen capitalised on Nepal's inexperience.
"I think they are really new to these conditions, our fast bowlers," Malla said. "The spinners have done really well for us in the past but the fast bowlers are learning. They are trying according to the conditions and I think they are now slowly realising where they want to bowl and what the plans and executions should be. We'll see from Sompal and Karan very good bowling in these conditions."
Nepal's first match of the tournament is against USA on July 10 and the two countries have a brief but intense history of hard-fought contests dating back to 2008 at Division Five in Jersey. Nepal hold a 5-3 advantage over USA in 50-over cricket, but USA beat them by five-wickets in a warm-up ahead of the 2013 World T20 Qualifier in UAE.
Even without the explosive Steven Taylor, USA's batsmen possess firepower suited to T20 cricket but Nepal's discipline and finesse has been a deciding factor in 50-over contests between the two sides. Malla smiled when asked about the rivalry with USA and is confident his side will get off to a winning start if they remain focused.
"In this group there are very good teams," Malla said. "Hong Kong have moved up and Namibia. PNG are playing well, over the past two years they have been playing really good cricket. We are not thinking too much about the opponents. We do have respect for [USA] but I think if we can do what we are used to and do it well, we can beat them."
Although he bats at No. 3 or 4 for Nepal, Malla opened the chase for Nepal in the first two T20Is against Netherlands in Amstelveen last week, scoring 24 and 12. Rather than reacting to a top-order collapse, it provided an opportunity for Malla, who is Nepal's most dynamic batsman, to establish momentum and he hinted that it is a strategy Nepal could possibly use again during the tournament.
"I think it depends on what we're going through," Malla said. "For our openers, we were trying something new and for me it was new to go and open to set the tone." However, the preferred plan still appears to be keeping Malla and Khadka in the middle. Malla says some of the young batsmen will have opportunities to make a name for themselves.
"There are guys who have very good potential. I think they can come through but it's just that we have less experience and exposure. Slowly they are catching up and I hope in this tournament they come big."