Historic week for Nepal cricket as it prepares to host its first official ODI during World Cup League Two

Match against Oman on Wednesday a chance to broaden the horizon of international game

Dubai, February, 03,2019: Nepal team celebrates after dismissing Usman of UAE during  the T20 series  at the ICC Global Academy in Dubai. Satish Kumar/ For the National / Story by Paul Radley
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This week could be a momentous one for international cricket.

Not because India are playing New Zealand. Again. Or because England are playing South Africa. Again. Or even because Test cricket is set to continue its revival in Pakistan.

Instead, something new is about to happen. For the first time, Nepal will get to play full, officially-recognised one-day internationals in their own backyard.

On Wednesday, they will play their first fixture in the Cricket World Cup League Two (CWCL2) against Oman at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu.

OK, so it might pass cricket’s mainstream by. But the match will be the hottest ticket in the valley, and the tri-series – also involving United States – could have lasting effects on the international game.

Administrators are expecting to sell 10,000 tickets. Surely there will be many more than that wanting to attend.

Substantial crowds for cricket in Nepal are not a new thing. Far from it. The only novelty is the fact this will be official ODI cricket for the first time.

In 2014, when UAE went to the World T20 in Bangladesh, coach Aaqib Javed said he was confident his players would cope in front of big crowds in Sylhet as they had played in Kathmandu before.

Nepal’s side made their own debut at a major global tournament in the same competition.

Pictures of Durbar Square in central Kathmandu being filled to the rafters with supporters watching live telecasts of their matches went viral online.

Ever since, Nepal supporters have been seen in various social media-friendly images depicting a rare passion for the game. Like when they played a bilateral series in Dubai last year, and pictures emerged of university students surreptitiously tuning in to the livestream via their smartphones, while their lecturer vainly tried to educate them.

The same was the case for a passenger on a motorbike, stuck in traffic, but similarly ensconced in the broadcast on his phone.

It is a passion unrivaled in any country beyond the Test-playing nations – and even including many of them, too.

Even Chris Gayle has noticed. The Universe Boss has signed up to play in the Everest Premier League, Nepal’s franchise T20 competition, this season.

Nepal has the resources to follow the path of Afghanistan in international cricket. Maybe they won’t become part of the 'establishment' the way the Afghans have any time soon. But they are certainly able to give few of the big boys a black eye.

Are the team a match for their fan base? Who can say at this point.

Were it not for the fact that two matches were postponed in Oman last month after the death of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, all the other teams in CWCL2 would have played eight matches so far. And yet Nepal have played none.

It feels like this new competition is starting properly only now, now that the side with the biggest following are getting their chance.

The league is nominally a path to the next World Cup. Realistically, the seven sides involved have the odds stacked against them to make it to India.

But the increased exposure provided by 36 guaranteed ODIs over a three-year span is not to be sniffed at.

How voraciously the expansion of this particular format is received remains to be seen. It is not one that ICC is pushing per se. Twenty20 cricket is the focus of the governing body’s development plans, and there is sense in that.

But this week could provide a glimpse of a prosperous future beyond the established countries for ODI cricket. International cricket has long needed to broaden its horizons, and one thing Nepal does better than most is spectacular horizons.