BY MAHESH ACHARYA: Nepali cricket has gained in stature with the national team emerging as the runners-up in the recently concluded ACC trophy in Singapore.

It is a remarkable achievement for a country like Nepal where, though the cricket association was formed way back in 1946, serious cricket started only some six years ago.

Hard labour and determination of the players to perform better after being runners-up in the plate championship in the Under-19 World Cup earlier this year, Raju Khadka’s captaincy, Shakti Prasad Gauchan’s tremendous batting, Mehboob Alam’s splendid bowling and, above all, the team spirit were mainly responsible for the achievement. Nepal has thus succeeded in qualifying for the Asia Cup, which will feature cricketing heavy weights like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Different political parties, associations and clubs organised felicitation programmes to honour the cricketers. While their motive is indeed commendable, the fact remains that at these functions none of the organisers spoke a word about improving the living conditions of the players and rewarding them.

The programmes, it seemed, were organised by various political parties, clubs and associations primarily to further their own narrow interests. In fact, politicians misused these functions to mobilise support for their respective parties with an eye on the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

What was going in the minds of the young heroes at these functions? For them, it was just big talk and fanciful promises which, they believe, will never be fulfilled. Some players expressed their disappointment privately but did not dare give vent to their feelings openly; after all, they have to be selected for tournaments in future!

Even prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and general secretary of Communist Party of Nepal (UML) Madhav Kumar Nepal were obviously motivated by a sense of patriotism when they asked the boys to go ahead and win the Asia Cup, but their exhortation sounded somewhat hollow. Are they even aware that Nepal is going to play with three World Champions, many wondered.

Somebody has to make them realise that games cannot be won by speeches alone. They have to understand that players need all forms of support and assurance of a care-free life after they have given the best years of their lives for the sport and the country.

The players had little reason to celebrate, though member secretary of the National Sports Council Binod Shankar Palikhe announced a “surprise package” for the players. After all, the surprise package announced after the SAF games in 1999 have yet to be implemented in full after three years. No wonder, if the announcement of another package aroused any enthusiasm among the players or sports lovers.

According to Palikhe himself, the process is lengthy. A committee, which is yet to be formed, will be given the responsibility to adjudge the level of the tournament. The committee, after studying the detailed report, will determine the amount to be given and this will be approved at a meeting of the NSC. It will, in turn, forward the file concerned to the education and sports ministry. The ministry will then consult the finance ministry and after getting the green signal from the finance ministry, the amount will formally be announced. One can safely assume that the promised package will remain in the pine-line for a couple of years.

The players have now returned home after a gruelling schedule. Although everyone lauds their achievement, many sports lovers feel that Cricket Association of Nepal has been far from fair or sincere in rewarding them for their sterling performance.

The national team members have been given just Rs 10,000 each, compared with Rs 15,000 the U-19 team got after being runner-up in the plate championship.

The players had come to Kathmandu empty- handed three months earlier and are returning to their homes the same way. If there is anything that keeps up their morale, it is their satisfaction that they succeeded in making their country proud in the world arena.

(Acharya is a sports reporter in The Himalayan Times.)