Fans, frolic, frenzy await Nepal's Lord's visit

Supporters from around the world have joined the local community in London to soak in the festivities

"I need you so that I could die
I love you so and that is why
Whenever I want you, all I have to do is
Drea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream
- The Everly Brothers
Nepal players and fans have not had the easiest journey to ODI status. Putting aside the arduous climb from World Cricket League (WCL) Division Five that began on home soil in 2010, the country's cricket administration has been dogged by governance issues. Heading into WCL Division Two in February, they were under suspension, and the little preparation that was funded by the ICC took place in the UAE. It was unlike every other team who got to prepare in South Africa for the like-to-like conditions expected in Namibia.
What followed was one of the most miraculous seven-day stretches in any ICC tournament: four wins, three coming off the last ball, via the last-wicket pair, or both in the case of their last-day round-robin stage triumph over Canada courtesy a 51-run partnership between No. 10 Karan KC and No. 11 Sandeep Lamichhane.
A dramatic turn of events at the end of group play at the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe subsequently left the door ajar for a shot at ODI status. They squeezed through the opening, thanks to a win over Papua New Guinea and Netherlands' victory over Nepal in the loser's bracket semi-finals. So forgive Nepal's players for thinking that they have arrived in London still in fantasyland for a T20 tri-series involving Netherlands and an MCC host side.
"I think it's been a dream," said Nepal vice-captain Gyanendra Malla. "Coming from where we play and then coming to Lord's, the home of cricket, everyone knows how important it is."
That trance-like euphoria is not reserved exclusively for the players, though. More than 5000 screaming Nepalese fans came to Lord's on a Tuesday morning in 2016 to see their heroes make their debut at the hallowed venue. Considering that this return visit will be in the T20 format and on a Sunday afternoon, the crowd size may be double if not more, and the energy levels cranked up in commensurate fashion at St. John's Wood.
"It's a dream come true to be here," said Deshna Bhattarai, a 26-year old originally from Nepal but now working as a real-estate agent on the east coast of the United States. "I cannot express it in words."
Bhattarai and her husband, 28-year-old Utsal Sigdel, flew into London on Thursday from their home in Baltimore, Maryland. Like many Nepal fans, Sigdel traveled to the 2014 World T20 in Bangladesh to support his countrymen.
But how many Nepal fans can say they traveled to Bermuda in 2013 for ICC WCL Division Three, where Sigdel stormed the pitch at the National Stadium in Hamilton to furiously wave the Nepal flag after USA succumbed to Bermuda on the final day of round-robin play? Having been at Somerset Cricket Club hours earlier to see Nepal take just 14 overs to sprint past Italy's 129, Sigdel hopped on to a taxi and traveled across the island, to Hamilton, to witness the result that allowed Nepal to overtake USA on net run rate for a spot in the World Cup Qualifier.
Yet for all of Sigdel's passion for the Red Sun and Moon, his Facebook profile pic is a typical selfie with his wife Bhattarai. This is where Bhattarai puts him to shame in her unyielding devotion to Nepal cricket. Her Facebook profile pic is a selfie with Nepal captain Paras Khadka. It makes perfect sense when you find out that she moonlights as an admin for the Nepali Cricket Fan Club on Facebook, the largest fan group on the site with more than 333,000 members. While Sigdel is busy having a friendly chat with this ESPNcricinfo correspondent about his globetrotting life following Nepal's fortunes, his wife is busy with far more important work: doing a Facebook live-stream of Nepal's training session on the Nursery Ground at Lord's.
"We married because of cricket," Bhattarai says. "He loves cricket. I love cricket. We thought, 'Let's get married!'"
They are not the only ones from out of town for this occasion. A friend from Charlotte, North Carolina, Sachin Parajuli, has also flown across the Atlantic for the historic occasion. A fellow fan-turned-friend, Santosh Gaihre, who they came across at the 2015 World T20 Qualifier in Ireland, has traveled from Portrush in the Emerald Isle to meet them. They're all staying with a Nepalese Londoner named Binodbikash Simkhada, who will be doing a radio broadcast in Nepalese. It will streamed around the world to satisfy the ravenous Nepal faithful.
"We are all cricket loonies," says Simkhada, who casually mentions he is waiting for four more fans-cum-friends to arrive and sleep in his home tonight after a nine-hour drive from Aberdeen, Scotland. "It goes until one o'clock in the morning, we are talking about cricket."
Bhattarai and Sigdel have taken time off work not just for Lord's but also for the rest of the following week as they travel onward to Amsterdam to take in Nepal's maiden ODIs, against Netherlands. It leaves Sigdel just two more days of annual leave from work. But like the rabid Nepal fan that he himself is, he's already got a plan mapped out for using them.
"We are just waiting for the sixth of September," Sigdel says of the final day of the Asia Cup Qualifier in Malaysia where Nepal will take on Hong Kong, Singapore, UAE, Malaysia and Oman for the right to advance to the main draw in the UAE. "If we qualify for the Asia Cup, we are going to Dubai to watch them play India and Pakistan."
Nepal fans are well known for their over-the-top commitment to their national side. What's arguably more impressive, though, is their commitment to their fellow fans as demonstrated by Simkhada's no-questions-asked offer to host virtual strangers whose shared bond is cheering on the national team. In a similar sense to Afghanistan, many fans show up without knowing anything about cricket because the team's success is a cultural point of pride. According to Simkhada, several fan groups make charity a point of emphasis, which is why coach buses from towns like Reading, Farnborough, Kimberley and Aldershot have been paid in order to make it possible for elderly ex-Gurkha soldiers to be driven to Lord's on Sunday morning.
"The community here has rallied," Simkhada says. "It's not easy because a big chunk of the Nepali population is elderly population. The tickets are paid for by the community leaders. It's a cultural event. We can wear the jersey and support the flag.
"It's a big thing for the community as well, this is the biggest sporting event held in the UK for any sport for Nepalese people. Last time it was MCC, people came to see Lord's rather than the game. But this time, people will come to see the match because it's a T20 international."
Last year, Lord's stewards were helpless as Afghanistan fans broke decorum by waving their national flag with unbridled delight during the country's Lord's debut against the MCC. Considering how the MCC relaxed dress-code standards earlier this week in light of a British heat wave, few will be surprised if stewards look the other way once more so Nepal's fanatics can show what dreaming day and night about the Red Sun and Moon is all about.

Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent @PeterDellaPenna