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)