For millions of Nepali cricket fans, the most important question went unanswered, as usual, in 2006. When will Nepal play the Cricket World Cup or else at least the One-Day International? It is the honor that people believe the tiny Himalayan nation could achieve someday.
Hopes were high in the ACC Trophy in Malaysia but Nepal failed to enter the final thus losing the possible qualification to higher division of the World Cricket League and the possibility of playing in the Asia Cup. It was once again United Arab Emirates (UAE) that ended the Nepali applecart with an easy 9-wicket victory in the semifinal.
Statistically, year 2006 was no different than the earlier years. At age-group, Nepal was invincible, but at the senior level, failure in the crunch matches.
In ACC Trophy, Nepal began with a six-wicket victory over Kuwait followed by three big wins Ã¢â‚¬â€œ by 261 runs against Bhutan, by 87 runs against Hong Kong and the famous 9-ball victory over new comers Myanmar who were bowled out for 10 runs. At quarterfinal, Bahrain proved no good losing by 25 runs setting up the most anticipated semifinal clash with UAE. Nepal lost that and the shock was not subsidized when they lost to Afghanistan by 64-run in the third-place playoff.
Ditto was the story in the two-innings game. Nepal was given a chance by ICC Development Committee Ã¢â‚¬â€œ thanks to the 15,000 odd spectators who turned out to see the final of the U-19 ACC Trophy in Kathmandu last year Ã¢â‚¬â€œ to compete against Namibia at their home for the last spot of the ICC InterContinental Cup. Nepal drew the four-day match losing out the qualification.
Then Nepal became the first country to qualify for the final with two wins and a draw in the ACC Premier League. Nepal defeated Hong Kong by 165 runs and Singapore by 205 runs at home, drew with Malaysia and lost to UAE by 97 runs at their home.
For the juniors, it was all successful year. The U-19 team won the plate championship of the Youth World Cup in Sri Lanka in February. The ninth-place finish in the tournament came with victories over two Test nations Ã¢â‚¬â€œ South Africa and New Zealand.
The Youth World Cup began with two defeats for Nepal Ã¢â‚¬â€œ by 77 runs against England and by narrow 2 runs against Zimbabwe. Nepal then went on to beat Ireland and Uganda by identical 60 runs to set the plate semifinal clash against South Africa Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the team ready to avenge Nepal for their one-wicket loss in Bangladesh two years ago.
But they had to suffer a 2-run defeat as they were restricted to 212/5 in 50 overs. Then in final, Nepal beat New Zealand by a wicket chasing 205 runs in a nail-biting finish. The victory was one of the most wonderful achievement of the Nepali cricket team. Kaniskha Chaugai, who led the team with example, left for USA for further study after the event and that was a loss for Nepali cricket as he was the proven opener for the senior team too.
Nepal also won the U-15 ACC Trophy Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the first event to be played in two-day format. With the rookies cricketers who were not even playing the 50 overs matches went on the lift the trophy out pointing Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore in the league, Bahrain in the semifinal and UAE in the final.
Domestic events in Nepal too went on without any facelift with national captain Binod Das-led Region No 2 Birgunj winning the National League for the first time. Another feel-good event for the cricketers was the biggest sports award organized by Nepal Sports Journalists Forum in which Kaniskha Chaugai, Binod Das and coach Roy Dias won the player of the year, rising player of the year and coach of the year award respectively.
It was the sad year for Jai Kumar Nath Shah, the president for Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) for more than three decades, bid farewell to the cricket without much fanfare. Criticism of is inability and corruption in development work forced government to sack his team appointing Binaya Raj Pandey as his successor. Pandey, who served Shah as general secretary long, is a proven cricket administration and his immediate announcement after taking the presidency was to overhaul the entire domestic cricket structure. Although fans are looking forward to it, it is yet to be seen. But if that happens, it wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be long before the question of the fans is answered.