Once a flourishing entity Nepal’s youth cricket has completely lost its charm. (Between 2000-2012 Nepal had participated in six Under 19 World Cups and defeated the Test nation’s youth squad in as many as six occasion.) But with the latest triumph of the rookie U16 team in the ACC U-16 Premier League the hopes of reviving that charm are sky high.
Nearly all members of that victorious squad will feature in the U-19 national tournament that starts from Tuesday. Plus with age bar lowered (1996 September compared to 1993 September for the previous year) majority of players are completely new for this level. That hope, the victorious U16 team-member’s enthusiasm and the nervous excitement of new faces is sure to serve this year’s national tournament a bit different flavor than the previous ones.
Nine regions are divided into 2 pool of 4 and 5 teams. Top two teams from each pool qualify for Semi Finals. Previous experience at national or international level could be the difference between the squads. All eyes(hopefully selectors as well) will be on the U-16 players. How these players perform at a bit bigger stage will be the highlight of the tournament.
Dhanghadi and Kathamandu stand out from the other squads of the tournament.
Based on known faces Region No. 9 (Dhanghadi), the finalist of the previous year’s tournament look strongest of the nine sides. Sunil Dhamala who played some decent knocks at ACC U-19 Asia Cup 2014 is captaining the squad. Raju Rijal who played alongside Dhamala in the Asia Cup adds to Dhanghadi’s strength. Rabi Chand and Roshan Adhikari members of ACC Premier League winning team.
Region No. 3 (Kathmandu) is the most exciting squad of the tournament. They have in the squad 3 members from the triumphant U16 squad-captain Sumit Maharjan, the best bowler of the ACC U16 Premier League – Jitendra Singh and Ashish Pokharel. In 15 year old Bishal Babu they have a talented all rounder. Arjun Adhikari who represented Region No. 3 in the senior level the previous year is perhaps the finest wicket keeper in Nepal.
Teenage prodigy Anil Kharel declared the promising player of ACC U16 Premier League is playing from Region No. 4 (Bhairahawa). Nepal’s star batsmen in the ACC U16 Premier League Sushant and Pranit Thapa are part of Region No. 5 (Nepalgunj). Nepalgunj is being led by another U16 star Akash Bista who was awarded the player of the tournament at 2012 edition of the ACC Event. A year later Bista was recieved the best bowler’s honor in the senior national tournament.
WHAT IS AT STAKE?
U-19 World Cup Qualification -This national tournament will also act as selection tournament for the ACC U-19 Premier League scheduled to be held in Kuwait on November. The winner of that six team tournament qualifies for the World Cup and the runner up get’s one more shot at the cherry-playing global qualifier with runner ups of similar U19 events of other four ICC Regions (Europe, America, EAP and Africa)-and the winner there gets the sixth spot for the Associates.
Nepal Cricket’s Future
This tournament will serve to show us the future faces of Nepal cricket. Most of the players of current senior side built and brushed their skills playing extensive top level youth cricket. Players like Paras, Shakti Gauchan, Sharad, Basanta who were introduced early into the U19 side brushed shoulders with the youth side of test nations in as many as 3 U19 World Cups.
The teams participating in this tournament are incredibly young for (instance the average age of players Bhairahawa is 16) giving the management similar opportunity. Investing repeated exposure to top class cricket will definitely give Nepal quality prospects for future what many like to call “the bench strength”.
The current senior team is considered by many the golden batch. Kenya had a similar batch that went as far as the semi finals of 2003 Cricket World Cup. Namibian and Bermudan golden bunch out of no-where carried their team to the 2003 and 2007 World Cup respectively. Failing to re-produce match winners Kenya’s immense success was short lived.
With the pitiful state of domestic cricket investing on these young cricketers in perhaps Nepal’s only escape from the dull and aching future.
Also good shows at U19 level tournament(along with our tremendous fan base) will add to Nepal’s bargain in terms of ICC(and other private corporate) investing in our development plans.