When Nepal's U-21 Cricket team sets off for the South Asian Games next week, we can be sure that our boys will be in good hands. Since veteran Sri Lankan batsman Roy Dias became coach in 2001, Nepal's age-group cricket teams have won nearly every tournament they have competed in.
Roy Dias played for the Sri Lankan national team from 1973-1987, and was the first Sri Lankan batsmen to score 1000 runs in test matches. He was also on the first Sri Lankan squad to qualify for the Cricket World Cup in 1979, and would go on to coach the national team during the 1999 World Cup. Since he came on board as national coach, Nepal's age-group teams have won several ACC Trophies and the Plate Championship at the 2006 ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup, among others.
Dias' unique contribution as coach has been a focus on the basics.
"I want them to have a solid footing in basic techniques. The top world players, like Sachin Tendulkar, all have excellent technique," says Dias.
Cricket enjoys grassroots support that is rare for Nepali sports. The national cricket teams are fairly diverse, with many members coming from Tarai districts. Local enthusiasm for cricket is motivated in part by the success Nepal's neighbours (four of seven countries in South Asia are test-playing nations) and, more recently, our own age-group teams, have had on the cricket pitch.
Nepal cricket also enjoys a fairly robust structure. There are six cricket development regions, many college-level cricket scholarships and the domestic league is reasonably lively.
However, cricket infrastructure is poor. We have few cricket grounds, many of which subsitute mats for actual pitches. Batsmen who practice on these grounds are usually unprepared for the slower pace of bowling on real pitches. Binay Pandey, president of the Cricket Association of Nepal, says this goes a long way in explaining some of the difficulties the national team has had in batting.
Part of the reason for Nepal's poor cricket infrastructure is that it was never colonised. "In India, the British left behind many wealthy cricket clubs that can afford good equipment," explains Pandey.
This is partly why, despite the impressive feats of our age-group squads, the national men's side continues to struggle, ranked 21 out of 94 non-test playing nations. Cricket pundits, however, are quick to add that the men's side plays against much tougher opponents, since other countries allow expatriates into the national team.
So, what chance does Nepal's U-21 team stand at SAG, where it is in the same preliminary group as cricket-powerhouses India and Pakistan? Dias is optimistic.
"If we play in a relaxed manner and remember the basics, we can cause an upset," says Dias.