Second innings for Nepal's captain


Cricketing legend Paras Khadka's decision last week to retire from international cricket and pursue ‘sport politics’ has disappointed fans, and spurred speculation about his future plans.

“My journey as an international cricketer ends here but the cricket dreams for my country have just started,” Khadka wrote on Twitter on 3 August, leaving the door open to a potential administrative role in the sport that could elevate Nepal as a Test country.

For many, Khadka stepping down came as a shock, and nearly a week after his announcement social media is still resonating with fans imploring him to play for a few more years, with some even urging him to be ‘Nepal’s Imran Khan’ and running for political office.

— Paras Khadka (@paras77) August 3, 2021

Former captain Binod Das says Khadka has at least two more years left in his tank. “Had he chosen to stay on, Nepali cricket and the nation would have benefited greatly,” says Das.

Khadka has previously stated that many other players and non-playing staff are contemplating retirement to work at the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN), which has been plagued with scandals that cricketers like Khadka have blamed for Nepal lagging behind in the sport.

Khadka is one of Nepal’s greatest cricketers, combining astute middle-order batting with a mixed bag of deceptive bowling. The anchor of an often-chaotic batting line-up, Khadka scored 315 runs in 10 One Day Internationals (ODIs), 799 runs in 33 Twenty-20 internationals and 1,497 runs in 44 first-class matches.

Capable of bowling both off-spin and medium pace, Khadka also took nine wickets in ODIs, eight in T20s and 26 in first-class games. He holds the record with 15 other players of taking the most wickets, four, on ODI debut, a feat he achieved against the Netherlands in 2018.

Nepal received five-year long ODI status in 2018, allowing it to go head-to-head against established international outfits like the Netherlands. However, political meddling in CAN and a subsequent ICC ban followed by the Covid-19 pandemic meant that only a handful of games have been played in three and a half years since.

With just one-and-half years left on its membership, fixtures will come in thick and fast for the Nepali team. At such a critical juncture, losing their talismanic skipper will hurt the game.

“He should not have stepped back at this time, without experienced heads like him in the pavilion, Nepali cricket is sure to suffer,” adds Das, claiming that Nepal’s ODI status itself may now be at risk.

Despite the loss of a cricketing stalwart, there is also much to be gained from Khadka’s retirement. A player of Paras’ experience entering sports administration is bound to be constructive, says former chair of CAN Binay Raj Pandey.

“How will Nepali cricket flourish if it is administered by people who don’t know their fours and sixes? Paras understands the game and the problems plaguing it, so CAN could do with a capable leader like him,” he adds.

Khadka has time and again proven himself. Under his leadership, Nepali cricket has leapfrogged from International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cricket League Division-5 minnows to narrowly missing out on the knockouts of the T20 World Cup, in just four years. His calm and calculated approach to the captaincy was credited as the driving force behind Nepal’s surge.

Khadka’s reputation on the pitch will translate into results off it in an era where sports administration demands sectorial knowledge and technical expertise, explains Pandey. “Nepali cricket is desperate for managers and overseers who have cricketing nous and know-how.”

The former national captain's on-field experience will be crucial in getting Nepal to play Test cricket, the most revered format of the game. This means Nepal will need concerted and transparent administration to supplement the conveyor belt of talent it produces.

“Paras’ stunning credentials as a player and his undergrad degree in management will combine to contribute effectively heading into sports politics,” notes former CEO of CAN Bhawana Ghimire. “His first innings has finished, and the next one is just starting.”

Ironically, Khadka has already been accused of playing politics in the past, as he used his considerable leverage within and outside the game to influence CAN office bearers.

Under his insistence, in 2018 the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) filed a case in the Special Court against 10 senior CAN officials, including then Chair Tanka Angbuhang, Vice Chairs Chatur Bahadur Chand and Binod Mainali and General Secretary Ashok Nath Pyakurel. CAN’s membership to ICC was subsequently revoked.

Chand returned to CAN as President when the investigation acquitted him, prompting Khadka to relinquish the national team captaincy on 15 October 2019.

Khadka has the skillset, passion and reputation as well a taste of Nepal’s cricket politics to propel him forward in the industry. All he needs is support to help implement his vision onto Nepali cricket.

Says former chair of CAN Binay Raj Pandey: “He has excelled as a player, and so we must support and trust him in whatever path he pursues next.”

Translated by Kaustubh Dhital from the Himal Khabar.