Cricket in fact dates back to the 1920s in Nepal, when it was introduced to the Rana dynasty on their travels in England for study. They kept it very much to themselves and the rest of the aristocracy, although they did go to the trouble of creating a national governing body in 1946. When the family was ousted five years later, the Cricket Association of Nepal was left somewhat in limbo, eventually joining the National Sports Council to try to gain more widespread popularity.
As Nepal developed as a country, so did their cricketing infrastructure. Once improved transport links allowed travel outside the capital Kathmandu, a development programme was put into place that introduced Nepalese children to the game in school. It quickly became so popular that participation had to be limited while the requisite facilities were built. By 1998, just two years after their first international match, facilities including the University ground in Kirtipur were so impressive that they were used to host the ACC Trophy. The new millennium saw the development scheme really start to bear fruit, as the Under-19s progressed all the way to eighth in the U19 World Cup, although the full men's team met a rampant Namibia in the ICC Trophy and could not progress past the first round. They did, however, reach the semi-finals of the ACC Trophy.
They kept up these consistent performances by making it to the 2004 Trophy final and finishing fifth in the 2006 edition (which was the result of a shock loss to Qatar) before reaching the 2008 semis, 2010 final, and finally winning the 2012 event in a tie with the UAE. On the back of this local and youth success, they could reasonably have been a little miffed at being entered into the very bottom rung of the World Cricket League in 2008. They would undoubtedly have progressed into the final, and promotion, had they not had the bad fortune to meet Afghanistan in the semis. Thwarted for another two years, they have since climbed by winning Division Five (2010), Division Four (2012) and Division Three (2013) to cement a place in the World Cup Qualifier to go with their berth in the Twenty20 version of the same.
Cricket has developed an incredible following in Nepal, and is part of the national identity.
Nepal's strength as a team is in the spin bowling department. The three-pronged attack of Basanta and Sanjam Regmi, along with ex-Rajasthan Royals tweaker Shakti Gauchan, is good enough to restrict most Associate batting line-ups, and was the cornerstone of an impressive World Twenty20 Qualifier in the UAE last year. They will be hoping to better it and progress to an expanded World Twenty20 in Bangladesh next year
The team as a whole does have a slightly alarming trend to buckle under pressure. Their loss to Qatar in the 2006 ACC Trophy is just one example, but more recently, in the World Cricket League Division Three in Bermuda this year, Nepal went into the competition with the heavy tag of "favourites". They crumbled, losing their first two matches, and making a miraculous comeback necessary to just squeak home by the tiniest Net Run Rate margin.
All-rounder Paras Khadka not only leads the side and takes the new-ball, but is also the biggest hitting batsman in the team. He regularly takes on the responsibility of difficult situations, none more so than against Italy earlier this month when he blatted an eight-ball 22 to take his country into the final. His talents have been in demand from clubs from outside Nepal, and it isn't hard to see why.
Nepalese cricket has an enormous fan base. Cricket is watched religiously, with youth games attracting audiences of thousands at the grounds, and thousands more on TV. Club and school cricket also flourishes, although money is sometimes slightly too tight to make the kinds of leaps that the talent in the country is capable of making.
The biggest threat for Nepal is lack of opportunity. They would love to make appearances as the 28th team in the Ranji, Hazare and Mushtaq Ali Trophies in India, but as yet have been snubbed. This would give them the kind of opportunities that have so benefited Namibia, but it does not appear to be happening. As a result, the Nepalese players are denied the opportunity to play against Test cricketers from India or abroad.
Next week, I will return to the ODI nations with a look at the Netherlands. Until then, goodbye.