When cricket was introduced in Nepal in 1928 it was a contest between two Rana generals-Gen Brahma SJB Rana of Babar Mahal and Gen Nara SJB Rana of Jawalakhel. Each patronised a team that played one another regularly. There was nothing spectacular about the games they played then except that, in 1934, Brahma became the first Nepali to score a century.
But perhaps the foremost father figure of Nepali cricket was Gen Madan SJB Rana. Madan's is an interesting story. After not being allowed to play for the Babar Mahal cricket team, the cricket-crazy youngster went to Calcutta and trained under the then famous coach, Kartik Bose. After a couple of seasons, Madan found himself in the playing eleven of the Sporting Union club. Madan's offside strokeplay was exemplary-he was even compared to the legendary Lala Amarnath of India.
After his stint at Calcutta, Madan began actively promoting cricket in Kathmandu. He hired coaches from Calcutta, with the likes of S. Banerji and Tara Bhattarcharya coming to Kathmandu in the late 1930s to coach his team, and helping in laying the turf at his Sri Durbar estate at Pulchowk. By 1935, Madan had his own cricket team, the Sri Durbar Eleven.
After his death in 1950, his wife donated a shield to a cricket competition and thus was born the Madan Memorial Shield. By 1952, there were two tournaments in Kathmandu. One was the Bishnu Trophy that was played on a league basis, and the other was the knockout Madan Memorial Shield. The generals' teams had by then vanished with the end of the Rana regime, but two new teams had come up-the Cricket Association of Nepal Team and Kathmandu Khel Mandal. These two, along with a team from the Indian Embassy, battled it out for the honours in the early days.
Two more tournaments were started by 1960, and about the same time B division tournaments also began. But it was only after 1980 that cricket finally spread across the country with the establishment of the Jai Trophy. Designed after the Ranji Trophy in India, Jai Trophy is the only national level cricket tournament in Nepal and every year 12 zonal teams compete to become the national champion. But perhaps the most important factor in making the game popular in Nepal was the introduction of satellite television in the early 90s which brought world-class cricket directly into Nepali homes.
By far, the most important event for Nepali cricket was its being granted associate membership of International Cricket Council (ICC) in 1996. This recognition from ICC not only put Nepal on the cricketing map but also helped get much needed financial assistance from the ICC. From 1997 onward, Nepal has
been receiving ?40,000 annually from ICC.
Now, the ACC Development Committee has identified Nepal, along with Malaysia, UAE and Singapore, as the four 'fast track' countries. With the objective to upgrade two more nations to one-day status in 2005 and Test status in 2010, the fast track system has been designed to achieve this in countries that have the potential for rapid growth in terms of interest, participation and performance in cricket. The countries also get special financial assistance from the ACC.
So far, the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) has done remarkably well despite limited support from the National Sports Council and the very little sponsorship money available for the sport. But cricket in Nepal has all been about one-day limited-overs cricket. Three-dayers and the regular first class matches have yet to be introduced, although plans are on to redesign domestic cricket to include two-dayers to begin with.
There is only one pitch of international standard in the country and the infrastructure is minimal. But it is more than made up by the enthusiasm of Nepal's cricket administrators. Buoyed by Bangladesh's rather amazing success they believe Nepal too can achieve ODI status. As things look, there is reason for optimism, and if everything goes Nepal's way, Nepal and UAE could well be the next two teams from Asia to play one-dayers.