At the beginning of the Asia Premier Cup, it looked like Nepal and the UAE were the strongest teams, the ones the others had to beat if they wished to claim the prize of progressing to the Asia Cup in September. This proved to be the case, the two teams resuming a fierce rivalry in a rain-affected final, which needed to be extended into the reserve day for a result to be achieved. Nepal emerged victorious to the delight of their fervent supporters.
This delight was expressed not just at the ground but widely on social media. Two themes of the postings were clear. First, there were pointed references to the appearance of a match report on the International Cricket Council’s website. Second was the fear that the Asia Cup would not take place because of political tensions between India and Pakistan. Both themes betray the emotion which cricket engenders in Nepal.
It has to be assumed that the reference to the ICC report reflects a long-standing feeling in Nepal and, perhaps, among Associate Members, that the game’s governing body does not recognize and report on their matches and performances in sufficient depth. This would be a surprising accusation, if true, since one of the ICC’s objectives is to grow and promote the game internationally, something that it can claim to be achieving.
One aspect of this promotion was its collaboration with Emerging Cricket. This voluntary organization was started in late 2018 by a former CEO of Cricket Hong Kong as a WhatsApp chat group. The vision was to change the way that cricket beyond the Full Members was projected to the world. As part of its growing coverage via blogs, interviews, reports and commentary for live streams, Emerging Cricket established a partnership with the ICC to create a weekly Global Game column that was shared with the ICC’s 30-million plus social audience. Since late November 2021, the column no longer appears on the ICC website.
The ICC’s match report on the Asia Premier Cup final was a factual one. It focused on a tactical masterstroke initiated by Nepal’s team managers. This saw 17-year-old Gulshan Jha promoted to number three in the batting order in a ploy to negate the left arm spin in the UAE’s attack. Nepal’s response to the UAE’s total of 117 stuttered at 22 for three, but the innings was stabilized by Jha, who scored an unbeaten 67, the target reached in the 31st over. A follow-up column has also appeared on the ICC website, based on an interview with Nepal’s captain, Rohit Paudel.
Nepalese cricket and its supporters possess a long-harbored ambition of pitting the team against India and Pakistan. Victory in the Asia Premier Cup puts this ambition within sight as the team is placed in the same group as both of their neighbors. Whether this dream is going to be fulfilled rests on Indo-Pakistani politics. The Secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India Jay Shah has stated that India will not travel to play in Pakistan, the host nation for the Asia Cup. Shah is also president of the Asia Cricket Council, the continent’s regional administrative body.
Rumors abound of a hybrid tournament in which India plays its matches in another country in the region. Other rumors focus on cancellation or postponement, arguing that India does not need such a tournament, whilst others suggest that the whole tournament should be played in another country. None of this is pleasing to Pakistan. Imagine the disappointment should Pakistan and India reach the final, only to find that it would be played at a “neutral” venue, rather than in Pakistan. There is also the issue of broadcasting economics. Star Sports will have calculated its expenditure on the basis of two Pakistan versus India matches. Were India to decide not to participate, surely such calculations would need review.
India is clearly in the driving seat in these cricketing skirmishes. It will retain its stance that it does not believe that a secure environment can be created for the team, despite Pakistan’s assurances to the contrary. It does not need the income, whereas the Pakistan Cricket Board does. The PCB’s tit-for-tat threat to withdraw from the ODI World Cup in India in November seems to be a case of potentially shooting oneself in the foot. Most commentators expect the team to be present.
The power of India in world cricket grows apace. It will come as no surprise that rumors are circulating of the BCCI offering contracts to players who perform for Indian-owned franchise teams in the Indian Premier League and Indian-owned teams in franchise leagues in South Africa, the UAE and the Caribbean. It now seems inevitable that players, whose international careers are coming to an end or have stalled, will sign up to this new regime. The next stage in this development will relate to younger players, who may sign up and then request to be released to play for their country, if selected.
The thrill of playing for one’s country still remains paramount, but for how long? Nepal’s players and supporters are prime examples of this thrill. How galling must it be for them to think that their dream of playing against India and Pakistan in the same group in the Asia Cup could be thwarted by internecine politics. At the Asia Cup, the players have an opportunity to make their mark, to test themselves against the best.
Prior to that, Nepal, along with the UAE and Oman, the top three finishers at the Asia Premier Cup, will feature in the ACC Emerging Teams Asia Cup in July, when they will play ‘A’ Teams of five Full Members in the region. This is another opportunity for the players to showcase their talents. It is to be hoped that reporting of their performances is not drowned out by bigger events, most notably the England and Australia Ashes series. Emerging cricket nations will need a louder voice.