T20 World Cup: From fanboys to competitors, Nepal are keen to make up for lost time

Coach Monty Desai says his players need to believe they belong if they are to make an impact on the competition after decade-long absence

Nepal's Dipendra Singh Airee, left, and Sompal Kami run between the wickets during their Asia Cup match against India in Kandy, Sri Lanka, last year. AFP
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Thrilling fixtures involving non-Test playing nations in the opening days of the T20 World Cup have already proved the value in expanding the competition.

Aaron Jones’ record-equalling haul of 10 sixes for the United States was the perfect start for the hosts as they beat Canada in the competition curtain-raiser.

Papua New Guinea posed a real threat to the other co-hosts, West Indies, before being beaten in Guyana. And then Oman and Namibia had to be split by a Super Over.

On Tuesday, the Associate nation with the biggest following of all will make their long-awaited return to the global stage.

Expectations on Nepal weigh far greater than on any side beyond cricket’s mainstream – and even many inside the elite.

The first-round game against the Netherlands will be their first for 10 years, and their absence has been keenly felt by their millions of supporters.

Nepal have not been entirely without big match experience over recent times. Their upturn in form over the past two years has led to fixtures against leading nations.

In 50-over cricket, they faced West Indies at the ODI World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe last summer. A few months after that they played against India and Pakistan at the Asia Cup.

In each match they started brightly, before lapses at vital moments saw them spiral off towards defeat, each time by hefty margins.

Monty Desai, the Nepal coach, says his side need to start believing they belong on the same field as the stars of the game if they are to create upsets at the T20 World Cup.

“There is a shift in the mind when they start feeling like they belong,” Desai said.

“This is a real test, and again they have the opportunity to do that. We have an opportunity to play at a World Cup and start believing that we belong through our actions on the ground.”

Ahead of the Asia Cup last year, Rohit Paudel, the Nepal captain, acknowledged the fact his players felt something like fans. Understandably so. Nepal are a young side, whose players have grown up idolising the likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, and Babar Azam.

“Once you go the ground to start the game it becomes a game that everybody wants to win,” Paudel said back then. “It might be a fanboy moment when the game finishes if we get an opportunity to talk to the senior players from India. We can learn from them.”

Thanks to Desai’s contacts, that is precisely what happened. Desai, who had been a scout and coach for Rajasthan Royals in the early years of the Indian Premier League, arranged for an audience with the stars in India’s dressing room after their Asia Cup fixture in Sri Lanka.

The players mingled. Kohli presented Aasif Sheikh, Nepal’s leading scorer in that game, with a medal. He then laughed at his own expense about dropping a catch off Sheikh early in Nepal’s innings.

Desai said the whole experience was eye-opening for his Nepal players. The fact they were shocked by Kohli packing his own kit away attests to just how much they had been in awe of him.

“Thanks to Rahul [Dravid, the India coach] for allowing me to do that, because I wanted them to connect to the human side of all these cricketers,” Desai said.

“I know they were observing how Virat was packing his kit on his own and not depending on anyone else. They were thinking, ‘Wow, he is a superstar, but he packs his own kit.’

“Lalit [Rajbanshi, Nepal’s left-arm spinner] was having a chat with [Ravindra] Jadeja. Rohit was having a chat with some of our batters. We want to close that gap.”

Desai likens the impact playing more regularly on the biggest stages can have on Associate players to that felt by Indian players in the early years of the IPL.

“There was a time when Indian players were in awe of overseas players before the IPL happened,” Desai said.

“In my personal experience, in the first five or six years especially. They saw their heroes from other countries – Aussies like Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Shane Warne – and even our own cricketers like Rahul Dravid, and they started rubbing shoulders with them in the IPL franchises.

“It started making a difference. Now if you see, the next generation of Indian cricketers are coming out ready straight away because of the environment that is in place. They feel like they are ready as soon as they enter those dressing rooms.

“In the small window of opportunity we had at the Asia Cup, we were trying to bridge that gap. When we played against Pakistan, players like [Mohammed] Rizwan and Babar were speaking to our players after the game.

“The smaller the gap becomes, the more these players will feel they are in the same league. That is important for world cricket.”

Desai thinks the immediate success of young Indian players in the IPL shows the exposure the competition provides has made them believe they belong straight away. He wants his players to feel that same sense in the future.

“In the first seasons, these young players were hoping they would impress so they would be selected,” Desai said.

“Now they know they are good. They know someone is going to pick them. And they know they belong. So they come in as if they are already superstars.

“That is a huge difference. It is amazing what the environment can do. And that is the need of the hour for us at the moment, I feel. More exposure, and more opportunity for them to play in the same leagues.”

Updated: June 03, 2024, 12:00 PM