Does CAN care about Nepal Women's Cricket? - #WakeUpCAN
Nepal are heading into the Womens T20 World Cup Qualifier without much international action
The gap between international assignments for Nepal’s men’s team and the lack of adequate domestic fixtures for them has inspired the recent #WakeUpCAN trending hashtag. Now, multiply this apathy twofold or threefold to understand the Cricket Association of Nepal’s apathy towards women’s cricket.
Nepal will be competing in the T20 Women’s World Cup Asia Qualifier beginning on the 22nd of November in Dubai, where they’ll play against the UAE, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Bhutan, and Kuwait. The team that tops the table after a single round-robin group of games will advance to next year’s Global Qualifier for the 2023 T20 World Cup.
Over the years, squads have been chosen from random ‘talent hunts held before many international and domestic tournaments. Speaking to All Over Cricket, off-spinner and Nepal stalwart Karuna Bhandari points out that there’s been gradual progress of late in this area through a small increase in domestic cricket fixtures.
“Previously, it used to be just one series in a year (4/5 matches), but we played twice this year. So, it’s progress. We need matches. There is no better way than playing matches to improve ourselves,” said Bhandari.
Just let that sink in for a moment. An international cricketer who plays for the single most supported associate nation is grateful for playing ten domestic matches in a year.
That too before the team’s biggest tournament in the last two and a half years. It does represent progress but is that progress enough to consistently get Nepal into global qualifiers? Is that progress enough to get Nepal’s women into a World Cup?
For over a decade, a core group of cricketers in the national setup have been toiling away in pursuit of their World Cup dream. They’ve come close on a few occasions, but for stalwarts such as Bhandari, Sita Rana Maga, and Sarita Magar, the Asia Qualifier could be their last chance of making a name for themselves on a global stage. Even skipper Rubina Chhetri has stated that the upcoming qualifier could be her final assignment in Nepal colors.
Lekh Bahadur Chhetri was the second-ever captain of the Nepal Men’s team. Dubbed the “Father” of Nepal Women’s cricket, he was the driving force behind the establishment of Nepal’s first-ever women’s team in 2007. Speaking to All Over Cricket, he stressed that when he started the team in 2007, he expected Nepal to regularly compete in global qualifiers and even World Cups by now.
“These days we are simply happy about participating in ICC tournaments. In Asian qualifiers, we should do well but there is no genuine plan to ensure Nepal will compete at global qualifiers as well. We are so far behind when comes to ideal preparations,” he laments.
“In hindsight, expecting everything from players only is unfair. CAN needs introspection on what is necessary for sustainable progress…I’m not satisfied with how things have stagnated compared to 10 years ago. CAN is busy in internal turmoil,” added Chhetri.
He mentioned the recent news of General Secretary of CAN Ashok Nath Pyakurel resigning from his position and President Chatur Bahadur Chand somehow being unaware of this despite being on the same board. Indeed, CAN’s administrative woes have held back the progress of both senior teams, but to make matters worse for the women’s team, there is not nearly enough female representation on the executive board let alone a dedicated women’s wing.
Encouragingly, Nepal will get some international action prior to the Asia Qualifier. They are set to play three T20Is against Qatar in Doha from 16th – 18th November prior to departing for Dubai on the 19th of November.
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The last International tournament played by Nepal was the South Asian Games (SAG) held at home in 2019. Since then, the pandemic has resulted in no international matches for the team in recent times, with the domestic competitions held in 2021 being the only exposure the players have gotten so far.
During this period, Nepal’s vice-captain Sita Rana Magar has relied on self-training to stay fit and active during the long interval.
“Playing the world cup is our dream. We believe in ourselves and look forward to doing well in upcoming qualifiers,” shared Rana Magar, the only surviving member of Nepal’s first-ever international cricket team in 2007.
The selected squad is dubbed ‘well balanced’ by the coaching team and senior representatives alike. However, a few injuries have hit Nepal hard in addition to a couple of eyebrow-raising omissions.
The untimely injury of all-rounder Suman Khatiwada is a big blow to Nepal’s chances of winning the Qualifier. Her pace bowling could have proved handy on the surfaces at the ICC Academy, which are unlikely to favor spin as heavily as those used during the previous Asia Qualifier in Thailand in 2019, where the top five tournaments wicket-takers were all spinners. With left-arm seamer Sonu Khadka fizzling out of the picture in recent times, Khatiwada would have added some much-needed balance to the line-up as someone who is also one of the best batters in the country.
Veteran Sita Rana Magar will shoulder slow-bowling responsibilities after the confusing omission of veteran Nary Thapa, who finished as the joint-highest wicket-taker with 13 scalps in five games in the 2019 Qualifier. Her exclusion is widely believed to be on grounds of fitness, which raises questions about the consistency of selection. She was, after all, deemed fit enough to captain Lumbini Province in the Lalitpur Mayor’s Cup earlier this year.
Thapa’s absence is good news for Hong Kong and UAE fans. The Nepal legend picked up six wickets in a big win against Hong Kong in the last Asia qualifier two days after she picked up four wickets against the UAE.
Batter Indu Barma identified Hong Kong and the UAE as main threats: “Mission World Cup is our focus. We understand our team is the favorite to qualify. The incoming new players have further strengthened us. HK and UAE will be key matches.”
The batting responsibilities rest on Barma, vice-captain Rana Magar, captain Chhetri, and Jyoti Pandey, who will be making her Nepal comeback after a long break from the team. Pandey top-scored with 283 runs in 9 innings spread across the Prime Minister’s Cup and Lalitpur Mayor’s Cup to ensure her inclusion. With the ball, off-spinner Bhandari will be relied upon in the middle overs, and she will either be partnered by newcomer Kabita Joshi or Sangita Rai. Dolly Bhatta remains the specialist finisher in the squad with a reputation of being a big-hitter.
Nepal team’s head coach Jagat Tamata remained diplomatic when All Over Cricket spoke to him. He expressed his concerns about the lack of match exposure while stressing that extensive practice and training sessions have been implemented to give Nepal the best chance of success.
However, LB Chhetri differs ahead of Nepal’s preparation ahead of the week-long Dubai tournament.
“I am not complaining about regular domestic matches. It’s been beaten to death. I am not convinced how no plan Bs are in place even after this many years. Have we ever hired a specialist batting coach if our batting is a problem?”
Similarly, he added that proper mental conditioning of cricketers is equally important ahead of high-stakes tournaments and especially when there are extended long breaks.
“CAN at least should work on the psychological aspect of players, men or women, when there is so much gap between international tournaments,” he opined.
Previously, Nepal’s World Cup qualifying journey had ended after losing to Thailand by a wicket in a match at the Women’s World Cup Asia Qualifier in 2016. At the 2019 Qualifier, in pursuit of a target of 125, Nepal was demolished by 57 runs as their chase never got off the ground. As the winner of the 2019 Qualifier, Thailand not only progressed to the T20 Global Qualifier but also the 50 over World Cup Qualifier set to get underway on 21st November.
Thailand also professionalized women’s cricket before Nepal did, and remarkably, it is the women’s game that funds men’s cricket in the Southeast Asian nation.
This is far from what is the reality in Nepal cricket. While the A-grade, B-grade and C-grade men’s contracts are worth Rs 50,000, Rs 40,000 and Rs 30,000, respectively, their female counterparts receive Rs 15,000, Rs 12,000 and Rs 10,000, respectively, across the three tiers.
Technically, this does represent progress in comparison to the old system where Nepal’s female cricketers would receive stipends for each game they played. Yet, the gender pay disparity is a sobering reminder of how far Nepal Women’s cricket has to go before it can compete with full members and the highest-ranked associates.
Asia Qualifier Squad: Rubina Chhetri (C), Jyoti Pandey, Indu Barma, Kajal Shrestha,
Sita Rana Magar, Kabita Joshi, Karuna Bhandari, Sarita Magar, Apsari Begam
Sangita Rai, Sabnam Rai, Dolly Bhatta, Kabita Kunwar, Saraswati Chaudhary
Reserves: Roma Thapa, Sarawati Gharti Magar, Ashmina Karmacharya, Mamta Chaudhary
Kajal Shrestha (WK), Sita Rana Magar (VC), Jyoti Pandey (WK), Rubina Chhetri (C), Indu Barma, Karuna Bhandari, Dolly Bhatta, Apsari Begam/Sarita Magar, Kabita Joshi/Sangita Rai, Kabita Kunwar/Saraswati Chaudhary, Sabnam Rai
Written by Rajan Shah with inputs from Jay Dansinghani
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