Rajan Shah – Journalist/Writer/Momo Cricket
Nepal cricket never remained the same when in April 2014 Nepal national players led by Captain Paras Khadka boycotted the national one-day championship rounding for non-payments, change in venue and scheduling just few months after the historic participation in ICC’s world championship tournament. Nepal Sports Council (NSC) stepped in, so did Sports ministry, it was a huge pile of administrative mess. 3 years later, ICC eventually suspended Cricket association of Nepal (CAN) citing the interference of government in the cricket governing body. CAN, NSC and Sports Ministry all played their part in the suspension of the cricket governing body.
In came, Nepal Premier League, only couple of weeks after the player’s boycott. Nepal Premier League (NPL) was another one-day premier tournament organized by Zohra Sports Management (ZSM) led by Aamir Akhtar. NPL not only brought players out of strike but provided them with paychecks, revealing amounts for the first time in Nepal’s professional cricket history and venue away from the chaos of the Kathmandu. The same tournament’s T20 version was renamed to Everest Premier League (EPL) after running into controversy with then CAN President Tanka Angbuhang who was suspended along with the governing body by ICC.
The venue Fapla Cricket Ground was a river barren dry land few kilometers away from Dhangadhi city. It later went on to become first international cricket stadium project of Nepal led by Subash Shahi, the chairman of Dhangadhi premier League (DPL), in public-private partnership. It also influx the breath of fresh air in Dhangadhi’s cricket loving natives that inspired the successful SPA Cup and finally DPL competing on par with current top cricket event of Nepal, EPL.
Nepal premier league, now known as Everest premier League, may had its own share of controversy to start with, something that has become mandatory with every visionary things that happens in Nepal, has become the best cricket event in Nepal overcoming everything that CAN failed to do. Providing cricket grounds, match fees, marquee players, introducing unknown talents, providing exposure to young players, organizing annual domestic event, paying non-capped players, glamour, entertainment, you ask for it, etc.
Something has to be right with EPL for it to grow stronger by year but CAN is all but suspended.
When South Africa, for being one of the strongest cricketing nations struggled to launch their own version of premier T20 event; EPL has stepped into its second year promising to be bigger, better and bumper this time around.
More managerial freedoms to the franchises, overseas players, marquee players, and talent hunts have made sure it reaches to Nepal’s every corner possible. Thanks to talent hunt program, a Ranji Trophy player or a Hong Kong international shared the same dressing room with a player who has not played a single professional or official cricket match.
CAN is suspended. There is no cricket governing body in Nepal. Nepal Sports Council is trying to set up a domestic cricket in the form of Prime Minister Cup. There is no means of livelihood for sportsperson in this country, EPL is, and if not the answer, trying to do just that.
In a poll on twitter, 28% people agreed on EPL being a means of livelihood. However, rather satisfyingly, 36% has voted for EPL to be an ideal platform for youth. Cricket fans, experts, doctors, literatures, writers, former Ranji players, cricket players, singers, etc voted for the poll.
22% also expressed their concerns on toxic t20 culture that it has brought in a country which don’t have proper one-day tournament but also have defended by stating that is the last thing Nepal needs to worry about right now. Any cricket event in Nepal is 10/10 boon and EPL has just raised the bar to next level.
Rest 14% is simply happy to watch a professional quality cricket event in Nepal.
&In all reality, my career started from EPL. It was special for me. Then, I got selected for Nepal U19 team for Asia Cup. So, it was like, EPL opened the doors for me to make a name for myself. It is a blessing for all Nepalese cricketers. This is the only tournament where most players get exposure. And for me, it was much more than just blessings& said Anil Kumar Sah, the youngster who is one of the very few talents from Asia who stood tall against the menace of Afghanistan’s unplayable mystery off-spinner Mujeeb Zadran in recently concluded Youth Asia Cup 2017.
And this isn’t the Asia cup Anil is talking about, he was selected for previous Asia Cup too which was held in 2016. EPL was the first televised tournament in which Anil Sah was featured which gave him opportunity to showcase his skills not only in front of handful of peoples in a national camp but millions of peoples all around the world. Anil Sah’s development is a prime example of EPL being the platform for youth: from being nobody to premier league cricketer to national cricketer to now an EPL champion and a berth in senior national squad.
More pros than cons
When IPL was launched in 2008, it extended the dynamic of cricket in India. The youngsters started taking the center stage. Cricketers, at some extent, were picked and promoted on back of their televised IPL performances. When BPL started in 2012, it provided the much needed self-belief among Bangladesh cricketers to prepare, face and perform better at international matches. The difference in numbers and statistics for Bangladesh national team before and after the BPL speaks for themselves. CPL only strengthened the Caribbean’s stake to be the best players of the format. T20 become a form of cricket which helped West Indies to stay relevant despite of their free fall in other formats in same time. There is little to no doubt playing with and against state players will help Nepali players to learn and execute more efficiently, similarly, a certain youngster like Anil Sah will find his feet playing with the best the nation has to offer.
Dwayne Bravo became the most sought out t20 allrounder inspiring a generation of Andre Russell, Carlos Braithwaite, Jason Holder, Rovman Powell, etc. He is the same guy who was seen as the next Test great from WI during late years of Brian Lara career. T20 helped him re-invent and become Champion DJ. There is little to no doubt a certain Dipendra Singh Airee or Sompal Kami or Karan KC won’t do that for Nepal. We saw glimpses of it in last edition. Airee’s mid-air somersault, Karan’s big hitting had fans talking about them. It continued this year too. Karan has become that death over specialist that Nepal national team misses. Dipendra led a franchise team. And Sompal struggled which shows us the level of competition that has developed in EPL.
What EPL does for cricket development in Nepal has its own list of perks. To start, Anil Sah was first introduced from EPL. He never looked back. Aasif Sheikh’s spell bounding effort in final didn’t stop skipper Paras Khadka from stating, and I quote, “it was a sight to behold. Never before in the Nepali domestic cricket scene had a young man displayed so much composure, such resilience and excellent craftsmanship. “
Sharad Vesawkar continues to emerge as a skilled captain and inspiring leader after lifting the Everest Premier League and Nepal Premier League trophies back to back and reaching the last DPL and EPL finals. In short, cricket blossomed. It presented options for Nepal national teams with concrete evidence.
The Christmas of Cricket
The mood was celebratory. Like the one feel just before the Christmas (or Dashain in Nepal’s context) vacations. No irony that EPL happened during Christmas period. That time of the year when despite the entire list of problems we only hear good and positive things about Nepal cricket. Everything sounds just so perfect.
The official EPL theme song is as catchy like a world cup song. It captures the emotion that this sport is all about and peoples using the theme as their mobile ringtones. There is sense of pride among viewers and fans to see an official cricket event theme sing making rounds of youtube and television.
It doesn’t only helps players or organizers but it provides platforms to hundreds of other involved peoples creating new jobs and exploring new avenues. At least, it channels the inner passion in youth of the nation to pick up the bat or ball, head for the ground, something more worthwhile than social media and play-station driven modern society.
EPL is not only cricket in barren lands of Nepal but also a treat to eyes. If in present context, having cricket is boon for Nepal, Everest Premier League is exactly that.