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Gulshan Jha cannot become Nepal’s Next Disappearing Fast Bowler
Rajan Shah wants CAN to do more to preserve the next generation of Nepal quicks
17-year-old Gulshan Jha has not only become the talk of the town, but his video of delivering a ‘perfume ball’, is gaining worldwide traction. Securing a Rs. 200,000 (roughly 2000 USD) deal with Kathmandu Kings XI for the Everest Premier League has furthered his early legacy as the “Next Big Thing” in Nepal Cricket.
Not to mention that he was selected for the men’s national team on the back of just two domestic games. It was the final match against Armed Police Force that sealed his reputation as one to watch. Representing Nepal Police Club, he picked up four wickets including Sharad Vesawkar to propel his team to the 2021 Kathmandu Mayor’s Cup trophy. Before that, he wasn’t deemed worthy of a spot in the XI for Province 2, his state team, for the Prime Minister Cup that preceded the Mayor’s Cup.
However, his early promise must be preserved by those that administer the sport in the country. It is high time that the Cricket Association of Nepal sets up a high-performance sports science department that looks after emerging quick bowlers. They shine at first, but without proper grooming and perseverance, they seem to fizzle out of the picture. And then another quick comes along before they too succumb to injury and/or poor form and disappear.
Jha has not been exposed to higher-quality batting lineups yet. The Cricket World Cup League 2 series will be a big test for the teenage fast bowler. Speaking to All Over Cricket, Former Mumbai and Haryana fast bowler Manish Sakhalkar —whose career was cut short by injuries — pointed out patterns in Jha’s delivery, which can be improved upon to make him successful in the long run.
“Because of a bent knee, he is not using his full height. He is losing 6 inches (half a foot) of height. If he can sort out the problem of falling back and the straightening of his knee, he will be using his height to its maximum advantage, which will help him extract more bounce and, in the long-term, help him keep away from injuries,” observed Sakhalkar, who is now 48 years old and familiar with the pain of early retirement if an emerging quick is not taken care of early in their career.
“Gulshan is known for short balls and bouncers. Imagine if he can add all those lost inches in his bowling. He can be a long-term option for Nepal cricket. Everyone needs to ensure he stays away from injuries,” added Sakhalkar, an avid observer of Nepali cricket.
A frustrating historical pattern
Cricketing infrastructure is still lacking in Nepal, which has had a detrimental impact on the longevity of too many fast bowlers who’ve disappeared after falling off the radar.
Kamal Singh Airee made an emphatic debut in both ODIs and T20Is for Nepal in 2020/21. He is now sidelined due to injury in his only second year with the Nepal team. Karan KC was seen using bandages in his left ankle after the injury he suffered during the Gautam Buddha T20 Cup held in Chitwan in late 2020.
Not long ago, Nepal was scarily close to losing none other than Sompal Kami. Nepal’s most celebrated fast bowler admitted that his recovery period was physically and mentally draining in an interview on Off de Spotlight, a YouTube interaction show hosted by Sachin Adhikari. The all-rounder stressed that achieving full fitness was challenging and that the rehabilitation process proved out to be mentally draining. The only way he managed to save his career was by going to a specialist in Delhi. It was at this time when CAN inexplicably downgraded him to a Grade B contract despite him being one of the top performers for Nepal over the years. CAN, thankfully, reversed the decision after a massive public outcry.
However, these are just some recent examples. Sadly, the story of Nepal’s endangered fast bowlers stretches back even further.
In 2014, Nepal was left to bare bones just before the world cup with an injury to Avinash Karn. Similarly, soon after the WT20, Jeetendra Mukhiya, the hero of the campaign, was sidelined by injury. Until then, Mukhiya had earned a reputation of being a dependable bowler in T20s, but he was nowhere near Nepal’s scheme of things by 2016.
During his tenure, former Nepal Men’s Head Coach, Pubudu Dassanayake had admitted that Nepal suffered more from lack of facilities than injuries itself. “It is normal for players to sustain injuries. But the problem is the lack of proper sports medical facilities,” he famously noted at the time.
Binod Das and Amrit Bhattarai were long-term bowling partners for Nepal after Mehboob Alam declined due to form and fitness. The stalwart Binod Das’ career ended after nursing a knee injury. Bhattarai also had to retire early due to a knee injury and flew to Australia for alternative career opportunities.
The development of Yagyaman Kumal barely materialized. Nepal’s popular coach Samson Jung Thapa fondly remembers the little-known speedster. “He was supposed to be a tearaway fast bowler for Nepal. Tall, muscular and could bowl hostile lines and lengths. But injuries and lack of direction halted his progress.”
Lalit Singh Bhandari who was part of Nepal’s first-ever ODIs in 2018, was already declining in pace and accuracy before a life-threatening injury abruptly ended his progress. He is yet to play a game since.
Ram Naresh Giri and Bikram Sob, like many before them, have made comebacks but are yet to regain the spotlight. Sob, however, has been provided with the second opportunity after being named in the squad for CWC League 2, so it will be interesting to track his progress.
Fingers crossed for Gulshan
Hopefully, Gulshan Jha will join the ranks of Sompal Kami or a Karan KC and not end up on the path that countless pacemen before him have been down. It often feels as if Nepal is cursed as a fast bowling nation. But a curse implies bad luck. What’s missing here is the intent to create a pipeline of fast bowlers whose minds and bodies can serve the nation for a long time to come.
Header Image: Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN)
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