Cricket World Cup 2019: Nepalis slam ICC for denying likes of Sandeep Lamichhane chance to star on biggest stage

'Door is shut' on Associate teams after governing body's decision to restrict Cricket World Cup 2019 to 10 teams

The London Tigers second XI huddle together during a match at Vale Farm sports fields in Wembley. The team is run and sponsored by a Bangladeshi, is captained by an Indian, and also includes Pakistanis, three Afghans, and two Nepalese. Paul Radley / The National
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The cricket played at the Vale Farm sports fields in Wembley could not be much further removed from that which is on show at the World Cup.

The venue itself, which has a clear view of the arch of the nearby Wembley Stadium, is rudimentary. Three neighbouring ovals, serviced by one ramshackle outbuilding that has graffiti over its walls, and another that has metal shutters and severe-looking anti-climb spikes.

And this is the recreational game, so it stands to reason the standard of player is a few rungs lower than that being played out at the World Cup venues.

It is scarcely less competitive, though. A few overs into one of the games, between Friends United and the London Tigers B team, a bouncer clangs into the helmet of a batsman who is on a day off from studying for his GCSEs.

A couple of balls later, a row ensues among fielders after one of them has a wild shy at the stumps, with the batsman having not left his ground, and with no-one backing up the throw.

It is a scene repeated no doubt, all around the country. Cricketers who have been inspired by their heroes on the TV, then are trying to put what they have seen into action.

Not that everyone involved lists the players featuring in the World Cup as their inspiration. Some find their heroes elsewhere.

“I’ve had the passion for cricket since I was a young boy,” says Bikram Gurung, a Nepalese opening batsman for the London Tigers team.

“I trained at the same academy where Sandeep Lamichhane started. That was a back 10 years ago, and I carried on because the environment was good for cricket at that time.”

Gurung, 25, originates from Chitwan, the district of Nepal that is also home to Lamichhane, the teenage leg-spinner who has carved out a star profile for himself in the world’s Twenty20 Leagues over the past 18 months.

As part of a Nepal side who missed out on one of the two qualifying berths at this competition, Lamichhane is one of a variety of absent stars at this World Cup. Players who have had their path blocked by cricket's decision to invert the wisdom of more or less every other sport, and shrink its main global event rather than look to expand.

Gurung, who recently completed a master’s in electrical engineering, moved to London eight years ago with his family. He says he does have an interest in the World Cup as he loves cricket, but he thinks the appeal would be greater if it was more accessible to more countries.

“There is a bit of excitement,” Gurung says. “As a Nepalese guy, obviously I wanted to see Nepal in there, but the World Cup is restricted to 10 teams now.

“The door is shut, really, because you basically have to be ranked in the top 10 to get into the 50 over World Cup.

“But, still, I do go and watch highlights in the evening, and if I have time I do watch live as well.

“I support England, because I live here, and England has given me lots of opportunities. I got my education here, and what I have got now is all because of England. It is in my heart.”

Gurung is one of two Nepalese players in the London Tigers side. The other, Raj Pandey, also supports England first among the World Cup sides, then India, primarily because of Virat Kohli, but also because they are Nepal’s neighbours.

“Any cricket lover has an interest in the World Cup,” Pandey says.

“It is a festival for cricket lovers, but this World Cup is only 10 teams. More teams need to be there, at least 14 teams.

“It is not only Nepal. There are a few teams who are very good teams. They kept it to 10 teams because they wanted competitive cricket – but look at how Sri Lanka and Pakistan did in their first matches.

“ICC need to give chances to Associate teams because they can be good. Our country has had its problems in cricket, but if we can get more opportunities, we can produce more players like Sandeep Lamichhane.”

Bikram Gurung, a Nepali cricketer for the London Tigers team. Paul Radley / The National

Of the 66 players involved in the three matches going on at this field in Wembley, all are of South Asian origin, other than four, who are of West Indian heritage.

The London Tigers side are from Southall, an area of London in which only 35 per cent of residents were born in England, according to the most recent census data.

The team itself embodies that multiculturalism. It is run and sponsored by a Bangladeshi, is captained by an Indian, and also includes Pakistanis, three Afghans, and two Nepalese.

At least some of them are able to see their teams play in the World Cup. This fixture, being played on the first Saturday of the World Cup, coincides with Afghanistan’s opening game of the tournament, against Australia.

As such, Tasal Farhad, a 17-year-old schoolboy fast-bowler, has had to decide between watching the Afghans on TV, or playing for London Tigers. He says the decision was made for him.

“This game is important and the captain called me and told me I had to come to play today,” Farhad says. “I will still watch them, and I will go to the next match.”

Farhad moved from Nangarhar, an Afghan border town next to Pakistan, to Southall two years ago to be with his brother, who is eight years his senior.

When he arrived, he only spoke Pashto. Already, he speaks English fluently.

"My focus was to go to school and hang out with British people, so I can learn English quickly," Farhad said.

“There are no other Afghans at my school. One of my friends at school told me my cricket was good, that I was a good bowler, and I should play for a club.

"There are different cultures in this team, and it a good thing to be able to play with other people.”

Nepal bowler Sandeep Lamichhane is absent from the World Cup after the ICC reduced the tournament to its 10 highest-ranked teams. Pawan Singh / The National

And his teammates do all have cricket. Not that all of them have the World Cup in common.

“[Watching Nepal in a World Cup] would inspire the team at the moment, and also the new generation,” Gurung says. “It would help a lot.

“And it is not only about Nepalese. It is about other Associate teams, like Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland.

"The door has been shut for them as well because of this 10-team restriction in the 50-over World Cup.

“These teams should get more priority, too. I hope the ICC will think about it and review their decision.”