29 November-5 December 2013 #683

Here’s to losing

Here’s to losing! Too long have Nepalis followed the fortunes of overpaid, overweening Indian cricketers. Like our interest in Salman’s puffball pecs and Kareena’s pencil pelvis, this feckless fandom does not square with our natural suspicion of Big Brother. The result is an adulteration of the incandescent purity of sporting emotion. When India wins, we rejoice, but with a hint of guilt. When India loses, we snort and mutter about their ghee knees, and flick the channel to Salman and Kareena.

If only we had a team to support.

Nepalis never got around to saying this until they had one. Football was and still is so dominant that we almost never noticed just how talented our young cricketers were. We knew they were making waves in the under-15/17/19/21s, but by the time the big league came around, our batsmen and bowlers were more likely to be washing dishes in Amrika than training for the next tournament.

And then the Paras Khadkas of the youth teams began coming through into the men’s team. Nepali cricket began to grow up. Suddenly, we were winning game after game after game. Suddenly, we had a real team. And when we overcame a sluggish start to win the Division Three League earlier this year, we were in with a real chance at World Cup glory.

On the day Tendulkar finally left the building, then, Nepal thrashed Denmark to kick off its campaign at the ICC World T20 Qualifiers. It was symbolic. Soon enough, we were one win away from a place in the 2014 T20 World Cup, and for once, I felt envious of the Nepalis waving flags in the Abu Dhabi stadium. I couldn’t spot a single Hong Kong supporter in the stands, and perhaps it wasn’t surprising. Who would support a yellow man’s team of brown men led by a white man?

It was a humdinger of a match, as they say. Hong Kong’s captain bust a finger wicket keeping in the 18th over, Nepal’s captain committed hara-kiri in the 19th over, and Nepal blasted 13 off the last 6 balls to get over the line, just. It was the biggest day in our sporting history.

In 1996,rank outsiders Sri Lanka beat Australia to win the ODI World Cup. By 2011, they were expected to win. Yesterday’s Sri Lanka is today’s Bangladesh. And today’s Bangladesh, quite possibly, is tomorrow’s Nepal. We will go to the T20 World Cup, and we will most likely lose all our matches before being unceremoniously ejected from the high table. It will be gutting, but we will be screaming for our own tribe. We will love them and hate them, but all will be forgiven until the next time.

I want to feel the pain of being a Bangladesh fan. I want to feel the pain of losing. I want to anticipate that solitary win that will make it all worthwhile, that shaft of sunlight piercing the leaden clouds. I don’t imagine that cricket is the saving of Nepal, no. As Shehan Karunatilaka says, “Despite the fairytale of '96, it wasn't the cricket that ended our civil war. It was the tanks and the fighter planes.”Yes, sport can bring the nation together, but after the streamers are taken down and the balloons lose their shape and drift about the legs of empty chairs like the wrinkled breasts of abandoned women, we will know there is work to be done, elsewhere.

Cricket won’t write our constitution for us, but it will make reality a little more tolerable. Or tangible: the multi-ethnic nature of the Nepali squad may make it easier for Nepalis to feel a kinship across barriers that have been accentuated of late.

Sport fulfils a function similar to art. It makes us feel bigger and better about ourselves, it helps us transcend the limits of individuality and identity. In that, it can be a thing of beauty. So here’s to the big league. Here’s to a decade of being thrashed by the big boys, and brought down to earth by fellow minnows who we thought we’d long surpassed. Here’s to losing, and losing, and losing, as long as we win, once in a blue moon.

Nepali Kukur