Even Sri Lanka, now a major cricket playing nation has gone through tough times in the past. Remember when Sri Lanka won the ICC cricket championships prior to becoming a major Test force in 1979? Once achieving the status of a full member country Sri Lanka became the youngest of the lot to win the [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Nepal now driving on top gear in cricket

Roy Dias and Pubudu Dassanayake are the architects

Even Sri Lanka, now a major cricket playing nation has gone through tough times in the past.

Remember when Sri Lanka won the ICC cricket championships prior to becoming a major Test force in 1979? Once achieving the status of a full member country Sri Lanka became the youngest of the lot to win the ICC cricket World Cup in 1996. The feat prompted the whole of Sri Lanka to celebrate in unison.

The Nepal cricket team held training sessions in Colombo on their way to New Zealand. - Pix by Amila Gamage

Similar festivities invaded Nepal, last month when their national cricket team qualified to play in the upcoming ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Championship to be played in Bangladesh. The achievement draws relevance to Sri Lanka too. The likes Roy Dias and Rumesh Ratnayake respectively, have helped Nepal’s cricketing quest and its infrastructure considerably. But with the introduction of former Sri Lanka wicketkeeper/batsman Pubudu Dassanayake Nepal’s cricket improved.

“When I took over Nepal was in the ICC Division 4 segment. In two years we reached the Division 2 and we will be eligible to play in Division I after paying in the ICC World Cup 2015 Qualifiers. Nepal has shown great improvement during the two years, which is a record in ICC. No other Associate Member has achieved such a progress in a short period,” Dassanayake told the Sunday Times during a practice session at the NCC ground.

The Nepal team spent nearly two weeks in Sri Lanka, training and playing a few practice games with local clubs on their way to New Zealand, to take part in the ICC World Cup 2015 Qualifiers. Dassanayake, happily boasted of his native country’s facility-rich cricket structure as he was hopeful of helping the Nepal team qualify for a second World Cup competition following their Twenty20 success.
“Facilities in Sri Lanka are much better than other countries. Sri Lanka officials are flexible about our requirements and they oblige us with much comfort. In other countries we have to make use of what they provide us. So in that case Sri Lanka is a much friendly place for many of the Associate Members. Our players prefer coming here, than India or Bangladesh,” added Dassanayake, one of the few Sri Lankan cricketing godfathers of Nepal.

Nepal coach Pubudu Dasanayake discusses a point with his skipper Paras Kadhka

In Nepal, Dassanayake enjoys the similar recognition as one-time Sri Lanka coach Dav Whatmore, who helped the Islanders win the World Cup in 1996. But unlike Sri Lankans, Nepalese are not totally unaware of the ICC cricketing structure or how competitions are played. Other than that, Dassanayake says, the craze on cricket has nothing but similarities to Sri Lanka.

“Cricketers became celebrities after their ICC Twenty20 World Championship qualification. They were treated like heroes upon returning from the Qualifiers in Dubai. The culture is similar to Sri Lanka and it made my task as a coach really comfortable,” added the former Canada coach who also helped the North American side achieve ODI status in 2009.

Before Dassanayake came to Nepal to lay the icing, legendary Sri Lanka batsman Roy Dias spent eight long years helping young cricketers as he gradually made a cake that would taste good in time to come. In addition Asian Cricket Council (ACC) development officials Rumesh Ratnayake and Bandula Warnapura have identified Nepal as the ‘next big thing’ in world cricket.

Despite their national side achieving the unthinkable, Nepal, in general have many setbacks to overcome. One of the main setbacks in their domestic structure is the lack of competitions. Interestingly Nepal plays a regional tournament, once a year within ten days. Thousands of domestic cricketers loiter during the remaining 50 weeks, without any competition. The similar fate has dominated its schools structure which does not even know of its controllers.

Former Sri Lanka cricketer Rumesh Ratnaytake, an ACC Development Officer has helped Nepal cricket immensely

“Players involved in the national squads are engaged in cricket right throughout but those below that status have nothing. It will be good if Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) can focus on this and help its cricketers get more involved with cricket activities. The ACC, spearheaded by Rumesh (Ratnayake), is planning of introducing a three-day competition in the coming year and at the same time introduce a strong tournament structure for the schools. We are pushing hard because the potential is available,” Dassanayake explained.

One of the potentials to come out through the channeling of Roy Dias is Paras Kadhka, who is currently the skipper of the Nepal national cricket team. He leads a young team which has an average of 22-years in its camp but their undying grit has been the forte that helped Nepal do wonders at international cricket. During the ICC Twenty20 Qualifiers, Nepal won three games that were beyond their control, proving the wonders of their biggest strength, the team spirit.

“All are very happy. As a country we always wanted to qualify for a World Cup and we have managed to qualify to play in the T20. There has been a lot of hard work over the years; it’s been a dream for all of us as cricketers to compete against the best in the world. We’ve worked really hard and eventually the hard work has paid off,” said Kadhka.

When Dassanayake took over Nepal exactly two years ago, he met this good bunch of guys, who are keen to improve. Their skill level, enthusiasm to learn more and importantly cricket being a well followed sport in Nepal urged Dassanayake to apply all his know-how as a coach to help them reach the top. But as he refers his predecessor Roy Dias has done much of the needful during his tenure.

“Those who came through Roy’s scrutiny are usually technically sound. He was involved very much in junior cricket and the present Nepal team is full of players who came through Roy’s system. My task has been made easier. But it’s not just techniques that Roy has perfected of these players. It’s their attitude. You give them a blue print, they fully adhere and implement those plans accordingly; and more or less they play like professionals. They are committed and skilled and they have the potential to even upset any big side at top level,” explained Dassanayake.

The fact that Nepal is a young side, that makes their hopes shine brighter as they look forward for more achievements such as ICC Full Membership status in time to come. Skipper Kadhka believes if everything back home fall in line, the sky will be the limit. The reception they received after reaching Nepal from Dubai after qualifying for the T20 big event, according to Kadhka gives them nothing but more hope and hunger in the world of cricket. With big aims in their hearts the Nepal team’s stopovers in Sri Lanka, which has been habitual during the past decade or so, gives them more positive thoughts.

“We have been traveling to Sri Lanka for almost a decade now. It’s almost like a pre-tour home for us. Before every ICC and ACC tournaments we are in Sri Lanka and the facilities here are really amazing.

“The conditions really help us to improve our game under different conditions. We are really grateful for that. Sri Lankan talent is amazing. We have got, as coaches, Roy Dias in the past and Pubudu Dassanayake at present. Pubudu has done a great change to our system and his vision has pushed Nepal to the T20. Mr. Rumesh Ratnayake has been our development officer for the past decade and he knows inside out about Nepal cricket. We have been very blessed that we have found amazing coaches and personalities. I think more than that we have found very good friends and human beings. They have been our mentors not only as coaches, but even as father figures, brothers and elder brothers. I hope they continue to lend their support to help Nepal cricket to bloom.”

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