18-24 April 2014 #703

Playing on the back foot

Cricket like politics is best started at the grassroots
Trishna Rana
DEVAKI BISTA
As the first leg of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the biggest 20-over cricket spectacle of the year, gets underway in UAE, our own cricketers have been on a war path against Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) demanding among other requirements a major overhaul of the 31-member body and timely payment of players’ salaries and perks. The week-long standoff between the board and players finally came to an end on Wednesday after the formation of a Planning and Monitoring Committee with the goal of overseeing CAN and the future of cricket in the country.

Headed by Yubaraj Lama, member secretary of the National Sports Council, the five-member committee consists of the national team captain, coach, and representatives from CAN, and Ministry of Youth and Sports. This adds another ream of bureaucratic red tape and is likely to bring more conflict of interest. Like in national politics, Nepal’s sports fraternity has taken up the farcical exercise of creating vaguely named committees as the solution to all problems when those who are paid to do the job fail to fulfill their duties.

In the first of its kind elections in December 2011, CAN elected Tanka Angbuhang, who is also a Central Committee Member of the UCPN (Maoist), as its president. While the elected members could not be replaced as the players had demanded, rather than setting up a Planning and Monitoring Committee, it would have been wiser to settle on a date for the next elections and also to create clear guidelines on who can be part of the board (for example former cricketers, athletes, or those who have made significant contributions to Nepali sports) as well as the tenure in order to minimise political appointments. With board members currently under the purview of the Commission for the Investigation of the Abuse of Authority, perhaps CAN will be forced to finally clean up its act and show some degree of institutional accountability and transparency.

An affiliate member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) since 1988, Nepal was promoted to associate member in 1996, but we are still nowhere close to breaking into the currently 10-member elite club of test playing nations. In a country where players are not paid their salaries on time, rarely get to compete in practice matches, and where the infrastructure is almost nil, it’s surprising to see our cricketers –both men and women – and especially those from the younger age bracket – competing  with teams far better experienced and endowed than themselves and doing well.

Imagine if these talents had been backed up with support from the government and the medley of sports councils. The government’s recently launched ‘Common Minimum Program’ envisions a cricket national academy and an international stadium for cricket, but without a clear deadline or budget, who is to say this plan too won’t turn out like the Mulpani Stadium which has been ‘under construction’ for almost a decade now.

Then there are chimerical dreams of building a stadium each in the five development zones.  Cricket like politics is best started at the grassroots. So while ‘five-star’ stadiums are good in the longer-term, smaller grounds with proper equipment and training and a mix of slow and fast pitches to get players used to different conditions, and incentives, both financial and otherwise (like free education and housing) should be the way to go in building a new crop of players.

However, cricket in Nepal has been a missed opportunity. If Nepal had even a couple of world-class stadiums and a few shrewd cricketing diplomats with savvy business sense, we could have hosted international matches and tournaments like UAE, also an associate member, is doing with the IPL and Pakistan since 2009. This way our cricketers could have played warm-up matches and gotten regular international experience, CAN could have earned a good side income which could then be funneled into domestic tournaments, and cricket hungry Nepali fans would have had a chance to see their favourite stars live in action.

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