At a time when there is so little to cheer about, every little victory helps. The resident Nepalis of Abu Dhabi who had packed the Sheikh Zayed Stadium for the finals of the Asian Cricket Council's U-15 Asia Cup on 22 April went wild. There were young Nepali boys thrashing Afghanistan by six wickets.
On the field, the boys had gone equally crazy taking laps around the stadium waving the Nepali double triangle proudly. They rolled on the ground, jumped and hugged each other. It was a dream come true and a promise kept for the young Nepali boys. They wanted to savour every moment of this victory and seemed reluctant to want to leave the stadium.
"You can only imagine the joy we felt," recalls captain Sashi Keshari, "an amazing feeling. The Afghans had lost to us earlier in the Group D league-round match and challenged us. They had arrived late that night and said they could do better. We weren't nervous really, just under a lot of pressure because many thought they would win the second time."
The pressure increased when the opposing team opened well and as Nepal's coach Roy Dias, who is from Sri Lanka, says, "After Afghanistan lost to our team the first time, they had been improving with each game. Our edge was that we had a good plan and luck on our side."
The night before the match, our boys had been planning a game strategy, working out their opponent's strengths and weaknesses while identifying their own. If their game plan worked as they had hoped, they knew they would win. And they did.
"Our team was very strong and we had quite a few all-arounders. We had great batsmen, bowlers and fielders," says Pradeep Karki, assistant manager of the team and assistant secretary of Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN). "CAN has steadily been increasing the standard of Nepali cricket players. This U-15 team was chosen after nearly nine months of selection matches with players from various cricket development regions."
CAN has divided Nepal into six cricket development regions: Biratnagar, Birganj, Kathmandu, Bhairawa, Nepalganj and Baitadi. Each club in the various districts under these regions participated in the district level matches. The winners advanced to the regional level before being pitted against each other for the national team. Only 33 make it to this stage, out which 18 are chosen from three triangular matches. The final 14 are then put in closed camp for training.
This U-15 team trained for 20 days, the first phase was conducted in Birganj and the last 10 days in Kathmandu. "Training in hot and humid Birganj helped," says Keshari, "Abu Dhabi wasn't that bad because we had grown used to playing in the heat. And the many matches we played before we were finally selected boosted our confidence. Each selected player had a special talent and as a team, we were more balanced than the others."
The intensive training included upping the performance of each individual player. They learnt to focus and every time they entered the field, they were mentally and physically prepared. The U-15 team also played against the national team during practice sessions and the seniors, who had played in Abu Dhabi before, generously tipped their juniors on what worked and what did not.
What really worked for them though, according to Dias is their "determination, dedication and discipline". Antim Thapa was named 'Man of the Match' and Anil Mandal was declared the 'Best Batsman'. Everybody is talking about Nepal's batting power now and our spinners really bowled over spectators. Says Dias: "I'm really proud of them not just because we won, but we won each match convincingly".
15 going on 17
Nepal will host the ACC U-17 Asia Cup this year in June or July. The U-15 boys are more excited than ever about participating. As the cricket scene in Nepal develops, they hope to add to the energy and enthusiasm. "We are already preparing for the U-17 national team," say the U-15 boys, "and we hope to win that coveted cup too."