Saturday, December 31, 2011

Have a start, got to score…

End of the year is always a time for stock taking. What we achieved in the year; Where we failed; How much could have been done and How much is left.
But it's also a time to think, what we could do more. As a year ends, another one begins. That's the beauty of time. That's the beauty of sport. After every year, another one has to follow. After every match, despite failures, another is always in waiting. Life goes on.
But some years leave their mark. Some delible, some indelible. Nepali sport saw a few of those. Both of the popular team sport, Football and Cricket, saw changes. Both sport got new coaches, foreign bred, tested. Graham Roberts in Football and Pubudu Dassanayake in Cricket. Both aggressive in their own styles. Both deserving respect because of their past deeds. And if initial performances – especially the mindset of players – are anything to go by, both look capable enough to take their respective teams to another level.
Coaches come and go. Their contribution is judged with performance of their team, as long as they stay. But one thing that has long term effect on the sport is its infrastructure. And that, thankfully, is likely to change with the beginning of football's National League.
All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) could not have chosen a better time for the league, as it falls, right at the end of one year and start of another. This could be the best transition in football that we have seen yet. It has been long that centralized structure of football has been criticized in Nepal and rightly so. The game's structure has hardly given much to the players from out of the valley to ply their trade. Since the leagues, for years, have been played only among clubs of the capital, it has made the players from countryside toil harder to make the cut. Likewise, the fan base of the game has also dwindled. This has been seen several times in Dashrath stadium, which has had to host close to hundred matches a year. Apart from matches where some big clubs play, spectators have refused to come to the stadium. One visit to Dharan, where Budha Subba Gold Cup is held, and Pokhara, where Sahara Cup is held, is good enough to show you how much football is loved outside capital. The fan base is there, and unless they see their teams playing at the biggest stage possible at the national level, European football will take them away from Nepali football.
Although ANFA hails it as the first ever National League, football pundits would remember that such similar tourneys were held in 1998 and 1999. In these two editions, four clubs from mofussil played with the biggest clubs in Nepal. Valley Sporting from Pokhara and Munal Club from Jhapa had participated in 1998. In 1999, The Boys Group from Dharan and another club from Rupandehi participated in 1999. The Police Club took the title on both occasions, but if you ask players from these four clubs about the best experience they've had on football field, they'd tell you these tourneys meant a lot for them. They played with who's who of Nepali football, and after the matches, they came back richer in experience, skill and temperament. Everyone associated with the sport will tell you, there's nothing like playing at the highest level. No matter how much drills you have, it's nothing compared to match practice.
Mitra Milan Club of Dharan and Sangam from Pokhara have the potential to change the game forever in Nepal. If they play hard, which football lovers would want them to, they might register a strong case in favor of matches being played out of Kathmandu more often. There could be a strong case of having home and away matches right now, but at least this is a start.
This would be a very good opportunity for football fans in Pokhara and Butwal to enjoy nation's best footballers showcasing their skills. It should, but doesn't happen very often in Nepal. So fans, as the New Year begins, go to the stadia not only to enjoy matches, but to make sure you put up a strong case that there are venues outside capital for football in Nepal.
The league is being organized outside the valley, since capital's venues are being readied for AFC Challenge Cup. Hopefully, ANFA organizes more such tourneys outside, even when the stadia in the capital are in good shape.
If that happens, we know for sure, Nepali sport will be happy in the coming years.

(This post, unlike other posts on Sports by yours truly, did not appear in anywhere and is exclusive on Verma's Perspective)
Pic courtesy:

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Poem? You must be kidding!

Yours truly had never ever attempted a poem, let alone write one. The idea was simple: You should not ruin something you respect. And never ever try to malign the field. Never ever, for a moment, I could see myself up to it. It was sacrosanct, beyond touch, beyond reach.
At the age when you start thinking more about receding hairline than the lines of verse, there has been an attempt. This is a naive, silly attempt and should not be mistaken as anything serious. Whether yours truly tries any further, should not be an issue of speculation. The idea is: Enjoy it, if you can...


अपने धड्कन को सुना है आजकल ?
घडी सी, टिक-टिक...
मेकानाइज्ड सा, नन-स्टप सा...
कभी खतम होने वाली, बोरिङ सी धुन कि तरह...
लेकिन अब, दो टिक टिक के बीच का वक्त...
लम्बा होने लगा है...

इन्तजार, अब मुश्किल हो चला है...

(for my babe)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

If everything goes well…

"If everything goes according to the plan, we might qualify for the World Cup," said Nepal's cricket coach Pubudu Dassanayake, in a conversation to yours truly recently, before he was to present his 3-month plan to Nepal's cricket leaders.
The point that the Sri Lankan born coach means well for Cricket Nepal could be denied here. For the line is an optimist one. But the catch, for many, would be the big 'if' present there. Many would say: If everything went according to the plan, we would have played previous world cup. For around a decade ago, we were 'readying' ourselves to become the next big thing in Asian Cricket.
The fact is, not many things went according to the plan. It was not us, but Afghanistan, that rode that 'elite' bus, becoming the next ODI team. For there was no plan, on our side. So there was no following it. Promises were made. But the promises made were not translated into plans.
But now, Cricket Nepal has a coach, who's not just followed player's manuals, but has gone through modern coach's manual too. And a modern day coach plans and helps players execute them. It's a regimen he has to lives through. It's a talk that he has to walk. It's a routine that he has to follow.
Incidentally, Dassanayake's plans coincide with the historic change in Nepal's cricket. Historic change being the first ever election in Cricket Association of Nepal. The historic change being a non-cricketer coming to lead cricket.
And this event itself needs some reflection, ahead of scrutinizing whether the plans will be executed or not. The sports journalists are like any other journalists, except that they're not cynical. We might be skeptic, but cynicism eludes us. At worst, we still believe in guarded optimism. No wonder yours truly has taken pride in saying, "Sports page is the one that records achievements. The front page is full of failures."
To reuse the phrase, 'If everything goes according to the plan', Cricket Nepal will now be led by Tanka Angbuhang for four more years. President of CAN has already told media about 'his' plans, which he expects to carry out during his tenure. And the plans include, National Cricket Academy as well as development of cricket infrastructure across the country, among several others. These are noble plans, even if we were to say they're not new. Oft repeated, they've just not been put into proper implementation.
The point here would not be contesting the plans, but the manner in which the first ever election at CAN happened. If you ask Pawan Agrawal, the Presidential candidate who withdrew at the last moment, he'd tell you, "I withdrew, but I would continue working for cricket." He might also tell you, the cricketers will get a chance to lead CAN, when the next election comes, or if the present committee fails.
But the insiders will tell you, what kind of people went to convince Agrawal to withdraw his candidacy. How some other big names were sidelined, prior to the election. Here, we would not even go to the extent of talking about the venue chosen for election. Some would see a plan there, but that's not the point.
Despite the start, which obviously has not send good signals, Angbuhang has some credentials that can help. At 30 odd years, he's young and comes from a regimented background not much different from modern day cricketer's drills. He's got an organization that could back him to the core. Not having cricketing background could also help at times, as he would be free of bias that comes from representing certain regions.
He has plans, he says, which obviously is a good start. But then, he has to realize, not everything goes according to the plan.
If everything went according to the plan, Sachin Tendulkar would have become a decent medium pacer (Given his height and the fact that, at young age, he registered himself to a fast bowling academy).
And if everything went according to plan, Angbuhang would have become Sports Minister and not CAN President (Given the background he has).
About Dassanayake's plans? Well, we'd definitely know in 3 months whether they work or not!

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 24th December, 2011)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Will to Win

"Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."
Perhaps the adage exemplifies how sports changed in the latter half of the 20th century.  Attributed to UCLA coach Henry Russell Sanders and/or American football coach Vince Lombardi, the saying exemplifies how professionally sports began to be taken post 1950s.
There was a clear shift from the Olympic spirit from then on, which preached us that 'The most important thing is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle '. While the Olympic spirit gave us a 'chance to celebrate our shared humanity', Sanders and Lombardi taught us how to be 'winners'.
This line made the marketers (read mega brands) crazy, and the players; along with them the administrators, and also the fans, the enthusiasts. Players, for their wins, needed more money, administrators needed more money to sell the sport to mega brands, and mega brands wanted to collect all the money from the fans. The fans, paying more than ever now, wanted result of their payment in the form of wins and were desperate for that. And the cycle continued. The only problem was it happened mostly in the nations that were ahead of us, in terms of development.
As we lay behind in development, so were our sports administrators. They found an excuse for their lethargy, saying 'at least we are participating'. We took the bait, we felt that's true. We knew we deserved better, but we were ready to wait… eternally.
But now, with the turn of the century and reach of media, thing are no more same. Tiger Woods' failing marriage is watched as eagerly in Nepal as in USA. Globalization has made sure same things are offered on platter everywhere. It has made sure Nepal has F1 enthusiasts, despite knowing hosting such races in the country would require a miracle of gigantic proportions.
With the change, demands of the fans have changed. They no longer want their players to lose, nowhere. They back their players, so that they finish top of the podium.
They become disappointed when their cricket and football team lose semi-finals on the same day (ACC T20 Cup and SAFF Championship). They also resort to throwing stones at opponents, in hope and in frustration. Unpardonable, but something that needs to be understood... The administrators may need to improve security, but they also need to understand that wins actually help in these cases.
For that, it needs to be instilled in the players that they can win. If Nepali footballers can play good enough to be in semi-final and dominate possession, they can surely win.
Till now our performance shows that: If points were given for ball possession, our side would edge out many, except perhaps the world cup winning Spanish side. Likewise, if points were given for crowd presence (and missiles hurled by them to the visiting teams), Nepal would edge out Australia (and perhaps, India – unless the match is played in Eden Gardens).
The belief, the push for the win was not visible from the players' body language – both in football and cricket. Their shoulders drooped with every advancing moment, fear evident on their faces. Winners prowl with pride and not crawl in fear.
We saw New Zealand side beating Australia in Australia after a gap of 26 years. For these many years, they could not, since they did not have enough belief.
One should note that we have teams better than what the results has shown us, in both the games. And we need results now to prove the skill, the class they have.
Before new lines are written in these columns, we are likely to have new executive committee of Cricket Association of Nepal, following its first ever election. Whoever leads it, regardless of the political affiliation, he will have to work on the will to win for the players. Sooner, than later…
Underdeveloped and developing may not be excuse anymore. Some insiders say, CAN has more money in its coffers than Sri Lankan Cricket Board. And Sri Lanka, we know, have been the world champions.
Winning isn't everything. The will to win is the only thing.

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 17rd December, 2011)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The 'F' Factor

2001: An important year in history of Nepali sport, especially cricket. The year was to change how cricket was viewed in Nepal. As Kathmandu played host to Youth Asia Cup (later termed as ACC U-19 Cup), the home team defeated Malaysia in the final, with Roy Dias – former Test Cricketer from Sri Lanka – in charge of young boys that were to form a core for the senior team later.
As Malaysian Colts faced Nepali boys in the final, the Malaysian coach – incidentally a Sri Lankan – told yours truly, during the innings break, "It’s difficult for my boys playing against a good team and such a huge crowd. When they play at home, not more than 100-150 people watch them."
That quote sounded like a forfeit already, although half of the match still remained. Indeed, the size of the crowd at the Tribhuvan University Cricket Ground was many folds that the visiting team had ever seen. And they were vociferous too, making it very clear whom they supported. Every delivery that Lakpa Lama tweaked, every ball Binod Das swung, were cheered and made even more difficult to face for the batsmen. For they all came with a roaring noise in the background. And the Malaysian team succumbed, handing Roy Dias and his wards the biggest trophy for Nepal till then.
That is what fans can do. Make their heroes look larger than life, turn them into invincible beings. The clapping hands and roar can create doubts in the opponents' mind, making them falter at the slightest opportunity.
2011: A decade has passed and Nepal stands at another crossroads. There is a change in the team, the in-charge is different. New Coach Pubudu Dassanayake is definitely a breed that the previous coach was not. The players have grown up, and are not slaves to teenagers' anxiety anymore. And together they are working to modernize their approach to cricket. They are ready to turn a corner.
But the fans are the same. They still want the trophy. They still want their players to play like invincibles. They still are ready to back their team, with their claps, with their roars and quite possibly, with their aggression.
Sports watchers, across the world, have a sense of solidarity with their teams. While watching sport, their blood pressure rises, just like the players, and you can see them yelling even at the television screen at home. Crowded by identical beings, their behavior on the ground can go awry at times.
Here, we've seen the best of the fan factor; we've also seen the worst of it. We've seen them queuing up for autographs; we've also seen them invading the pitch.
Fans, as they are biased, can be a double edged sword. They can kill for you, and sometimes they can get you killed. For every cricket enthusiast, it would be wise to remember the incident of February last year and the embarrassment it caused us internationally. The pitch invasion by the crowd during Nepal's match against US in ICC World League Division 5, would always remain as a dark spot in Nepali cricket. As the match was disrupted, Nepali cricket was shamed. ICC, following its own investigation, slapped a conditional ban on hosting matches at the Tribhuvan University Ground.
None, who love cricket in the country, would want a repeat. And for that, the onus is on the spectators themselves. They don't want to be taken as a bad host. For that, they have to prove that they've matured, just as their players have over the years. They need to ensure that the opponent team has to be respected, even if they don't receive moral support. After all, they're also trying to prove themselves, as much as our team does.
And the day fans start being just, nobody can stop cricket development in the country. Not even political interference.

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 3rd December, 2011)
Photo: taken by self

Saturday, November 26, 2011

We Will Wait !

“Don't whisper a word. The whole world will be able to hear you. Wankhede is stunned into silence. Rampaul spoils the party, Sammy holds the catch at second slip.”
Perhaps obituaries would sound comparatively pleasant to some cricket fans. The lines appeared on ESPNCricinfo web portal, as Sachin Tendulkar departed without scoring what could have been his 100th international century – just one-hit-over-the-boundary short of it. As many firsts that the man has pocketed, this would be another first in the history of the game.
The dreaded words appeared: 'SR Tendulkar c Sammy b Rampaul 94'. At little under 140 kmph, this may not be the best ball West Indian pacer Ravi Rampaul might have bowled, but certainly will be the most memorable for him.
Right at the moment, the waving flags stopped, as if time froze. The clapping hands were on the heads. The crowd remained glued to their seats – silent in disbelief – as if this was not real. It couldn't be, they'd come in hordes to see their favorite player touch a milestone nobody else had dreamt of before. The shock on the faces of spectators, beamed through the TV, looked as if a catastrophe had struck the stadium.
A long walk for the most coveted batsman in cricket history followed, at the ground that’s been called his home ground, for past couple of decades. A sigh came from him. He looked at his bat. He looked at the crowd, as if to say, I’m sorry…
Before that very moment, all media, including social media was abuzz with mention of SRT's possible century. Fans crying out for support, anticipating a celebration… A tweet read: "In the train, around me everyone is logged onto either ESPNcricinfo or radio. Smiles and random fist pumps." Then, Tendulkar was going more than run-a-ball, having scored a four and a six in a Fidel Edwards over, bowled close to 150 kmph. Tendulkar looked ominous, giving people glimpses of his creativity, as he leaned back, played upper cut to score two sixes off Edwards, in the innings and also showcased the best of his straight drives. As thousands roared, the century was for his taking.
Just a moment later, after his shock dismissal, a frustrated tweet read: "No he is not out. That was a wide ball and no ball and dead ball and Ravi Rampaul is involved in match fixing and takes drugs." Anger, just because he ousted Sachin.
This is the awe that he inspires in a country of more than a billion, and beyond. Having been a witness to his batting and spectators' admiration in the Test Match in Delhi recently, this scribe learnt a few things about what cricket is for his fans. For them, cricket exists because SRT plays it. Yours truly - being an admirer of the cricketer and watching the match in expectation of his 100th ton - was still amazed to see fans chanting "Sachin, Sachin" at their loudest, even when he picked the ball that rolled to him. For others, boundary-saving efforts were treated with mere claps.
A fellow spectator said, "I wonder how he is able to pick his bat, under such pressure. I've seen, this is even louder in Mumbai". During the match, when Virender Sehwag was out, the noise reached its crescendo. Not in appreciation of Sehwag's batting, but because Tendulkar was coming in to bat. Everybody wanted him to score the 100th. However, he missed it, and the fans still clapped. They were frustrated, but I could not hear a word of criticism.
It's not easy to manage such adulation, being human. It's not easy to shut your ears to such decibels. But then, it's not easy to be Sachin Tendulkar.
He will definitely score his 100th, sooner or later, as Amitabh Bachchan tweeted: "Heartbroken! Ah well another day maybe. We'll wait!"
Another fan, in yours truly could not resist the temptation and wrote: "Sad that Sachin did not score the 100th... Proud that he played like Sachin we admire... Would be sadder to see him crawl to it..."

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 26th November, 2011)


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Is it Cricket?

These are difficult times to be a cricketer here. Mind you, under normal circumstances it would be busy times with a major championship not too far away (ACC T20 Cup gets underway in a fortnight).
Cricketers in Nepal have always considered themselves unlucky. In the beginning days of cricket here, most could not play, given it was only within a reach of richer few. Hence most were unlucky. Till late 90s, Nepal had no participation at international level, so the players were said to be unlucky. When the cricket administration prospered and coffers did not show zero balance, the cricketers said they were unlucky as they did not receive anything out of it.
Circa 2001, yours truly once met a national level cricketer who said he was unlucky not to be in the national team, forgetting a small matter of letting nearly 50 wide balls, in a small matter of 4-5 matches.
But the cricketers, for now, really have a difficult time. For, they're caught in transition. As if transition from long standing coach was not difficult in itself, they have an unenviable task of going through the restructuring – or should one say, reconfiguration – of Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN). It should be noted here that the past coach, Roy Dias, coached Nepali team since beginning of this century, and had played majority of his cricket in the 80s. Meanwhile, the new coach, Pubudu Dassanayake, played his cricket in modern era and coached a team to the World Cup. He is used to more modern ways and equipments of coaching and is trying to use it with the boys here. The national team players, though young, will take some time to adapt to that mechanism.
And, during the same time, they have to deal with the new administration of CAN, led by a Central Committee Member of a political party. Imagine the confusion, when the coach hardly knows the abilities of the players and the whole cricket administration is into the hands of someone totally alien to cricket. If we add to that the Nepali organizational culture of never keeping institutional knowledge or memory, you know what could go wrong. For players, it's like starting afresh, akin to doing an entry level job in a fast food joint, after managing it for five years.
If you were a player, it could be difficult not to be scared. The new CAN, the ad-hoc body supposed to hold election for an executive body, has announced that its new statute will not be in compliance with the ICC provisions. The person responsible for recommending the statute says, he was not aware of ICC provisions. That coming from a former cricketer and administrator sounds like a blatant excuse. World governing body of almost every sport has some provisions for the national bodies, especially on governance. If you are not aware of that, and are still preparing something as important as statute, you have disqualified yourself.
ICC is very clear on stopping political or government interference in national cricket boards. That would also include National Sports Council (NSC), known for dissolving the national sporting bodies, upon the whim of its chief. Continuing the tradition, Member Secretary of NSC, Yubraj Lama, appointed Tanka Angbuhang – Maoist Central Committee Member – as President of CAN. Perhaps to return the favor to the party that got him the most powerful position in Nepali sport. He was a sportsman once, but what he is practicing right now is definitely not cricket. Special mention should be given NSC appointing past president Binay Raj Pandey as Patron of CAN, without even notifying him.
With all of it going on in the background, one would be surprised if the players can still focus on learning newer techniques in cricket. And cricket fans would just hope that in this insane environment, at least the players would keep their sanity.

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 19th November, 2011)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Worry Called Cricket

If you were to visit Tribhuvan University Grounds these days, you could see Nepali cricketers, led by captain Paras Khadka, in practice drills. They are busy in preparation for the SAARC Under-25 Twenty20 Cricket, which Maldives will host.
As the boys look sprightly during the net sessions, a rumor that yours truly heard this week comes as a flash. The story is: Recently, President of Cricket Association of Nepal, Binay Raj Pandey called Paras Khadka for a meeting. Paras sent a message saying he would meet the new President of CAN, as the change of guards is likely.
The truth in the story cannot be verified and hence should be called a rumor. But the anecdotal reference gives you a rough sketch of behind the scenes in Nepali cricket. We’ve heard of Nepal cricket skipper’s dissatisfaction over CAN’s handling of cricketers, and sometimes they’ve been justified too.
Even if the story mentioned above is rejected completely, what cannot be undermined is that CAN has not been able to hold elections for a new executive committee. Pandey ascended to the throne five years ago, and has been time and again been told to hold elections, especially after Yubraj Lama became Member Secretary of the National Sports Council.
The scene is fast heating, as Pandey tries to take stock of what his team has done during their tenure. And we cannot forget the division within the executive committee due to political appointment of some members.
Rumor mill also has it – mentioned to this scribe on the condition of keeping it off-the-record – that a certain section of present CAN executive committee members lobbied for a politically affiliated head of the cricket body. Their logic was that they already have a team, and the team can handle cricket even if the chief is a politician. Logic seems right. One person cannot just do everything. He needs a team to accomplish things. A good team, to be precise…
The worry is not the logic, but the division within the so called ‘guardians’ of cricket. The worry is, their lobby is getting stronger. The worry is, there are some politicos from the ruling party who are providing these lobbyists with fodder, and incentive.
In a recent meeting, Rumesh Ratnayake, Development Officer of ACC, told the writer of these columns, “The pace of growth of cricket in Nepal in last decade hasn’t been what we expected. We thought it would go at 70 miles per hour but it was at 20.”
Now Rumesh was a fast bowler as a cricketer and his love with speed can be understood. But the gap in expectation and results has been worrisome. Ratnayake said, “At a point we thought Nepal could achieve Test status, not only ODI.”
Somehow, the custodians for past half a decade have to realize they’ve fallen short on promises. Half a decade ago, Pandey was labeled a savior for Nepali cricket. Now, he looks a sorry figure, with his comrades fast disappearing.
But what should also be remembered is that present team inherited virtually empty coffers when they took over and now CAN balance could read anywhere between 70-90 million rupees. While the failings are listed, the achievements also have to be accounted.
One cannot deny the change needed to modernize Nepali cricket. But the change cannot be whimsical, which is what may happen, given the stance taken by various players in sports right now. Too much of political interest is not likely to help the sector. We’ve already seen that with the executive committee headed by Pandey, which was for most of its tenure, split into half.

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 22nd October, 2011)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Curious case of Sharad Veswakar

'I love scoring goals for England and playing for England. That's one of the reasons I didn't retire – I love playing for my country.' said David Beckham once, despite knowing he did not feature in the future plan of English football team. Arguably, David Beckham is one of the most celebrated names, if you consider European football post 1990s.
Sports psychologists tell you: Pride of playing for the country does make sportsmen run that extra mile, push the barriers a bit further, and makes them feel responsible. Because, in the back of their head, they're thinking about trying to uplift masses that back them.
But can we imagine a situation where a player plays without a country? Impossible you'd say? Then what is the case of Sharad Veswakar, one of the mainstays of Nepali Cricket team?
Sharad Veswakar, who has represented Nepal right from Under-15 level to national cricket team does not have a citizenship of Nepal. Something wrong there? Yours truly says – it's completely insane. It's as if he doesn't exist, except in the record books, where his century for Nepal stands.
Nepal Citizenship Act 2006 says, "Any person born at the time when his father or mother is a citizen of Nepal, shall be a citizen of Nepal by descent." Furthermore, it adds, "A child born to a Nepali female citizen from marriage with a foreign citizen in Nepal and having permanent domicile in Nepal may be granted naturalized citizenship as prescribed, provided the child has not acquired the citizenship of a foreign country on the basis of citizenship of his father."
Yes, Veswakar has a Nepali mother and has been residing in the country as far as he can remember. Yet the boy in his mid-twenties is not our own, at least legally. Worse, this is the status WE have given him. We take a lot of pride in collecting hundreds of thousands of rupees to send SMS to India, just to help a Nepali-speaking person become an Indian Idol (It should be noted that yours truly has no malice against Prashant Tamang or his singing). Yet we act indifferent, when somebody takes pride in playing for us and treat him with disdain.
"President is the only person we've not spoken to, this issue. From the rest we've already received assurances," This is what Nepali captain Paras Khadka had to tell this scribe, during a conversation some time ago. Just over two years ago, a delegation of cricketers had met Madhav Kumar Nepal, then Prime Minister, to return with a bagful of promises. Two Prime Ministers later, the issue is just there, while several thousand more – a number of them non-Nepalis – have become 'proud' citizens of this country.
Over the years, we've seen so many cricketers, who showed a lot of promise at early age, taking to a foreign land, to have a secure future. But this man hasn't budged. Whether he could not go out or did not wish to – is not the question. The question is: Can't somebody stand up and say – you've done us proud and deserve to be a citizen of this country? Not that giving him citizenship would hurt national coffers.
He told this scribe once, "Whenever the issue is raised, I feel as if it's a joke. I try not to think about it and focus on my cricket." But any sane man can understand focus becomes a tad more difficult when you have more serious issues in your head.
Perhaps, it is a joke. Some cruel joke, where he is a victim of his own stardom, for he can't go and pay a few thousand rupees – just like many do – to become a Nepali citizen. Till he musters up courage to do that, perhaps he will remain a refugee in his own country. For we have a habit of forgetting things - taking it too easy - especially if the issues are related to sports, no matter how important.
But, yours truly wishes his status would change and change for good. No matter how faint, hope remains.

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 15th October, 2011)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Of Departure and Arrival

"I really respected him" – This remark may neither raise eyebrows nor would it register very strongly on anyone's mind. But if you know that it was Sachin Tendulkar making such a remark, you would stick to the word 'really' and start admiring the person, whoever the great batsman is referring to.
Tendulkar was referring to Former Indian captain Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, who passed away on 22nd of September 2011. It would be interesting to know that Tendulkar was barely a 2-year old when Pataudi played his last International match. It needs sheer genius in a person to earn respect, in the heart of a cricketer who started playing serious cricket, a decade after he had retired.
Most of us, who have grown in the constant shower of cricket, just because we are close to India, have heard of him. Hardly a few have seen him play. Yet we know of him. Probably, among the cricketers who played before the television era, he was the only icon that we knew, with the exception of Sir Don Bradman and Great Garry Sobers. Not many can boast to have such a long shelf-life after retiring, something most sportsmen would envy.
Having seen him only in interviews, except some grainy black and white television footages, yours truly learnt that cricket is just an extension of this princely being. The aura of the Republican Prince – as termed by a cricket writer – was overwhelming. A desire to interview the person behind Ray Ban glasses grew. It's perhaps not worth mentioning that yours truly could only get to as far as meeting Sharmila Tagore, his wife for 4 decades.
As I asked her, how it felt to have been married to a Rockstar cricketer, she would reply, "I married a human being. His cricket never interfered our lives." A line with a smile, which used to floor millions during her film days, now with added affection... A lesson you learn, in life – Keep things simple.
We've seen a lot of cricketers who could not carry the weight of their lineage. Ask, Rohan Gavaskar (son of Sunil Gavaskar) and Liam Botham (son of Ian Botham), how difficult it could be. Mansoor Ali Khan had a proud lineage to live up to, cricket historians and writers still write about Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi's leg glance and his famous opposition to Douglas Jardine's Bodyline tactics.
Yet he became the youngest Test captain of the world – the record remained till Tatenda Taibu became Zimbabwe's captain in 2004 – and made India a team that could win matches abroad (India won its first abroad series under him). He is the one credited with giving Indian cricket a new and proud face, 4 decades before Sourav Ganguly patented the style towards turn of the century. Khan would be remembered for developing Indian spin quartet as a force, akin to what the West Indians developed in form of the pace quartet, albeit much later. All this happened, after he had already lost vision in one of his eyes. Interesting to learn that he donated another one, a week before he died…
One reason why the great Imran Khan said, "… he was a genius of great proportions."
While the cricket world pays farewell to Pataudi, we wait for our next coach, Former Sri Lankan Cricketer Pubudu Dassanayake, who's due to arrive coming week. He has already said that he would want to take Nepal to higher rank and possibly into the World Cup. We would love to see that. He has already proved his mettle, taking Canadian team into the World Cup.
One thing Dassanayake would do well to remember is that his compatriot, Roy Dias has already done the groundwork. He would rather not reinvent the wheel and try to add on to the achievements we've already had. Much will also depend on how 'localized' he gets and tries to earn the respect of the players, who sometimes get complacent and carried away.

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 24th September, 2011)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Art of Losing

Nepali youth team did not do well at the AFU U-16 Championship group D Qualifiers at home, despite our best wishes and sizeable crowd support. First two matches, the boys were blanked. Never a good sign if you are pinning your hopes on young talents, when some of the youths in the national team are showing signs of fading early.
Before the start of the series, Coach Sunil Shrestha told us, 'There's not much difference among the sides at the age-group level'. That meant we had a good chance, and we grew hopeful. Of the four countries participating, we were the lowest ranked side. Oman, Saudi Arabia and Syria are ranked ahead of us by FIFA, well 30 places or more. But these were age-group matches. Our boys did not appear too weak, in front of them. And at this level, skill is considered ahead of physique.
But we were blanked.
Losing matches is part and parcel of the game, and would always remain so. It should always be taken that way. Win some, lose some – is a mantra many sports stars reiterate. To top it, we had some important players who were injured. Those who would rally the midfield, Bibek Basnet and Umesh Thapa were out of the team before the tourney began. Some others also picked niggles while in the play.
But the manner of loss should be studied, scrutinized. And maybe a little bit of history too.
The boys, right on the first match against Syria looked out of sorts. There seemed to be no plan. The hold on the ball was not seen. And things hardly improved in the next matches.
But this is one tourney, so that is not important. A few bad days on the field do not make players any lesser.
What the football administrators should actually look into is the fact that our youth team has not won a match against any other nation in last 4 years. After 2007, when the boys defeated mighty Jordan 3-1, we have lost 7 matches and were blanked in 6 of them. The last people to score a goal for Nepali U-16 team were Nirajan Malla and Sujal Shrestha, against Kuwait the same year. Both are in the national team now.
That basically means that the present U-16 players haven't heard of Nepali U-16 team winning, while they've been at the Academy. That doesn't do good to their morale. Losing, like winning, is a habit. You practice for it, everyday. And if you haven't heard of winning ways, the loss creeps into your system, and you start accepting any result as 'it was to be'. The drills become rituals, and players – especially the young ones – do not see a point in them. They just follow orders. The losses start hurting less and less.
Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.
And the greatest disservice ANFA could do to football would be ignoring this. This should be the time they do not let this failure look like an orphan. For players would need support from their administrators, especially after morale shattering losses. Otherwise, they would start becoming machines produced to serve substandard products. There is every chance that mediocrity could become their way of life, if left unattended.
There are fears that these young minds may start thinking that winning or losing is not personal. It actually is, despite what Don Corleone said in movie The Godfather. Thinking otherwise may derail them. Unless the loss hurts, one can do nothing about changing the result. They should be told, the sport is played more in mind than on the field these days.
The administrators, Coach included, could do well to tell them the importance of fitness. How to avoid injury at such an age would go a long way in preserving good talents for the future. And we could have our best boys taking the field against any opposition.
Or else, our boys will perfect what we could say: The Art of Losing.
(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 17th September, 2011)
Disclaimer: The picture shown in the post is courtesy:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Of Awards, Missions and 'My People'

Jess Owens once said, "Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust."
And Owens was arguably one of the most influential athletes of all time, winning 4 gold in Berlin Olympics in 1936, when Hitler staged the game to showcase the Aryan supremacy.
Despite what Owens said, awards do, and would continue to, mean a lot to the athletes. These are the reasons why they play for, when the game they play is not enough to buy them sustenance. Probably that's why Pulsar Sports Awards gets a lot of publicity. So much that players go ahead players or their fans go ahead getting pamphlets printed and paste it around the walls. So much, fan groups rally around requesting for SMS votes. The national football team went to the eastern region, to play friendly matches against Sunsari, Morgan and Jhapa – with the permission from ANFA – to gather support for its captain, who happens to be one of the nominees for Popular Player of the Year.
At the risk of irritating a lot of sports journos, yours truly would also like to argue that the awards have become popular also because it is organized by Nepal Sports Journalist Forum. Most sports journos are affiliated with the forum, and the news gets month long (or more coverage in popular newsprint), making it widely read, and thus popular. One question could be asked here: Would it get as much coverage, if some other organization covered it?
If the answer is yes, there is nothing wrong with it. But if the answer is no, rethinking is needed. Are we overdoing it?
Despite this criticism, it has to be reaffirmed that the award has done more good than bad to the morale of the players, and should be lauded along with the players who receive the trophies.
As far as Nepali sports sector is concerned Yuvaraj Lama is the man to watch (and it is being said after a lot of deliberation). The Member Secretary of the National Sports Council, since his appointment, has rarely missed the headlines for more than a week.
And now he's back to it again, announcing Mission SAG 2012. Commendable, if you notice this is 2011 and never did we announce preparation for South Asian Games, this early. Probably this is the first time, NSC has a plan, with a four-phase training programme, with each phase having quarter of a year implementation schedule. Probably this is the first time, science has taken precedence over guess work. Probably this is the first time, determination, psychology and suitability to the sport, is to be recorded. These were the words alien to sports practice.
Histrionics is Lama's forte, and many who have watched him in filmdom will vouch for it. He loves a big stage, and makes the best use of it. This is evident from his goal of 40 gold medals for Nepal, in next year's SAG. Quite a climb, you would think, if you remember we bagged 8 in the last edition in Dhaka, last year.
Daydream? Not exactly… But, maybe ambitious, if not unattainable… The Member Secretary will have to get his entire team – which includes of groups and subgroups with different interests, occupying spots the NSC – on one point agenda, if we were to reach close to his goal.
We have not forgotten the promises he made when appointed to the post. Of transparency, good governance and keeping slate clean as far as political appointments are concerned. He has failed once already, by appointing 'his men' at NSC, giving in to political temptation of doling out jobs to party cadres. This is interesting, if we take into account some of the employees at the organization were removed, as too many people were considered 'unnecessary'. No competition… No openness… No transparency…
Shakespeare, in Julius Caesar wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them”… We believe, so does one's good deeds… The Member Secretary may well decide what lives after he says goodbye to his position. 

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 10th September, 2011)
Disclaimer: The picture shown in the post is courtesy:

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rupak Memorial Awards: A shot misfired?

All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) awarded 12 of its prized possessions this week. Since it started, Rupak Memorial Awards have held its position in Nepali football. And it would have saddened former national captain and FIFA referee Rupak Sharma - who passed away in an unfortunate accident - to see that the award was discontinued for some years.
For restarting the awards, ANFA deserves a pat on its back. Restarting a discontinued event to an organization is akin to a player trying to force his way back into the game after injury. It's a mental fight, which gets tougher by every passing day. And ANFA should be lauded. After all, these prizes are what makes the players struggle harder, compete better.
However, much as the restart needs to be congratulated, it should be critically viewed. There are some chinks in the whole episode that should not be ignored and if not corrected in time, would neither improve ANFA's image nor its working style. Some questions would demand answer.
The first of them being, how can we have two best players for every year? The awards are constituted to felicitate excellence and unless the real best is awarded, the whole purpose is lost. It is easy to select two each year as it gives selectors easier option of not leaving the second best; but it compromises the dignity of awards. The merit of awards comes under scrutiny. Mind you, it has not come as exception but general rule. Second bests are second bests, no matter how good they are. Silver medalists are never termed champions.
It would be sad to know that ANFA, or the selection team headed by former national coach Bhim Thapa selected two players for each year, just to please everyone. But awards are not meant for keeping everyone happy. It is to honor and inspire excellence. Short cuts should not be preferred.
The other question that could pop up to an inquisitive mind, would be: How were Bikash Malla and Ritesh Thapa named the best players of the year gone by. Now the point of argument should not be mistaken here. It is not to diminish the service they have provided to Nepali football. They have, to the best of their capability, done a good job under the bars.
But the point here is, both these players are not the first choice goalkeeper for the national team. It is Kiran Chemjong, who has pushed his way as the number one keeper in Nepal. And his name was missing from the list. How can the top one be left out and two second bests are honored? We should note that Bikash Malla – who showed a lot of promise during his earlier days – plays for the Army Club now, which has not even been among the top 3 sides in the National League. If the reason to choose these players over the top keeper is to appease someone, the award loses its value.
One more question would come for awarding Nirajan Rayamajhi for the year 2064. Nirajan has been a great servant of Nepali football, he shares the record scoring most international goals for Team Nepal along with Hari Khadka. But for the year in question, national league was not held and Rayamajhi was playing for NRT, which hardly gets to play many tournaments. How many matches did he play to get the award?
Rayamajhi deserves accolades and also awards, for what he has been. But giving it to him for unjustified reasons would only lower the nobility of the player and the award.
Some of players who have played with distinction over these years, like Tashi Tsering, Kumar Thapa, Surendra Tamang and national captain Sagar Thapa, are missing from the list. Their contribution needs to be recognized.
One fact that should make ANFA management happy is that 4 out of 8 awarded players are the product of first batch of ANFA academy. This should be an indicator ANFA takes seriously, and pump in more effort in grooming the players.
And as far as awards are concerned, players should be happy that they're happening, at least…
(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 27th August, 2011)
Disclaimer: The picture shown in the post is courtesy:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

National Games: Opportunity, despite Challenges

CPN-UML leader KP Sharma Oli is seen playing Dandi Biyo while inaugurating a Sports Tourism Festival. Circa: April 2011

The news of National Sports Council (NSC) proposing to organize National Games in the first quarter of coming year must have brought back butterflies in the abdomen of the numerous athletes. This normally happens, even to the top players; just before they are take on an opponent in a match. Not necessarily a sign of nervousness, but the stress of approaching duel. Stress, by itself, is not bad.
Seven months away it is, yet some of the players must already be licking their lips at a chance of another round of competitions. For if they're not, they're not worthy of being the athletes we would be proud of. An athlete, like a warrior, should welcome any opportunity of a round of duel.
But for most players in the country, the duels – keeping in mind that our players mostly do well in individual events – are too few and far in between. This is why the National Games holds a lot of importance, especially for the players who are not already representing the nation at international competitions. Almost all the players, barring a few who take sport as a hobby, dream of playing for their country at the top level. And the National Games provide them the stage where they can upstage a present champion; the podium where they announce their coming; the platform where they humiliate the also-rans.
Moreover, the multi-sport jamboree brings in a lot of fanfare, makes the youngsters dream. Dreams of podium finish; Dreams of clinching the honours; Dreams of rising to the occasion; Dreams of pushing themselves harder...
 One should also mention here that the Games are to be held in Far Western region. It should only help develop and nurture sports culture.
And for these reasons, the announcement or proposal – whatever it might be called as of now – has to be lauded.
Having said all these, the challenges are still many. The proposed Games, which are to be held in the far western region, are still not a certainty; it still needs the nod of ministerial cabinet. And in given circumstances, the members of the cabinet are counting hours of being in power, rather than weeks or months.
The players and sport administrators must be keeping their fingers crossed. They must be fighting, in their mind, the possibility of news that the Games are postponed. After all, it has already been done earlier this year.
And even the government gives its nod, some major challenges remain. That of infrastructure. With just over half a year to go, how many grounds – forget stadia or arena – can be built? Even if they are built in a jiffy, what would be the standard of infrastructure? National Games is also to prepare players for international competitions. Would it be possible to guarantee that? Rallying 5 regional sport development bodies and 72 district bodies to focus on the Games is a tough ask by itself, since it is time consuming. And to top all that is a small matter of: Funds. 30 million Rupees has been allocated for infrastructure and you don't need to be a Chartered Accountant to say, "It's not enough."
In an interview to yours truly, right after being nominated for the post of Member Secretary of NSW, Yubraj Lama had spelt out priorities for his tenure. Establishing Sports College topped his agenda, while regularizing multi-sport competitions (like National Games) and resolving conflict between sport bodies (like Nepal Olympic Committee and other associations) also were on his list, as he said.
In the latest announcement of NSC, initiatives have been taken for these areas, by forming committees and taskforces, which might even work.
But those, who are not Lama fans, would term these decisions as populist. They could say that the government will change and his days on the hot seat are numbered. He may not get opportunity to implement them, relieving him of the burden.
So the NSC Member Secretary, Yubraj Lama, must have stressful days ahead. To get permission to organize event, and that too successfully…
But then, as we earlier mentioned – Stress, by itself, is not bad. Let's see how he lives it.

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 13th August, 2011)
Disclaimer: The picture shown in the post is courtesy