Cricket Association of Nepal got a new body through an extraordinary general assembly and International Cricket Council lifted the membership suspension, albeit conditionally, after almost four years. At a time when the cricketing fraternity was just trying to calculate the would-be outcomes, national team skipper Paras Khadka — the undoubted leader of Nepali cricket for the last 10 years — released a bombshell, resignation from the post, creating a different wave. Mahesh Acharya, Sports Chief of The Himalayan Times, talked with CAN Secretary Ashok Nath Pyakurel and Khadka regarding the recent developments and future plans. Excerpts:
Players’ security and transparency are keys: Khadka
Why did you quit the post of national team skipper?
We now have a new body in CAN and the ICC has also lifted the suspension. I believe everybody needs to make a fresh start for overall development of cricket. Actually, I was waiting for restoration of CAN membership. I was a little tired of performing multiple roles — skipper, player, mentor, selector. Now that everything is in place, I decided to move forward and let the new team decide.
You have proved that you are a good leader and player on many occasions. Don’t you think the resignation came abruptly at a time when you had been leading the team successfully?
I don’t think so as I did not take this decision overnight. I wanted to quit earlier, but had to stay back as I had to manage so many things for the team. After reinstatement of CAN membership, I thought this was the right time to leave. I had never planned my exit. I have always done what I wanted on my own and this decision is just a part of my life. The decision to quit captaincy was also not very difficult for me. Cricket was not my wildest dream. It happened just like that and after spending some time, I started enjoying it. I feel lucky that I got the chance to represent and lead the country and make the nation proud in the international arena. Actually, all happened because of team work. I got full support from my coaches, players and management team.
If not as captain, will fans get a chance to see Paras Khadka in the field again?
I have not quit the game as I have not lost that desire yet. I have always played from my heart, my soul and everything. For now, I will take a break, but I can’t tell how long it will be. I am sure that in some way or the other I will remain in cricket. I never took it as a burden. What I am today is just because of cricket and I would love to contribute to the sport.
As far as playing for the national team is concerned, it’s not in my hands. I am not a player who wants to remain in the team at any cost. If I don’t perform, I have to go. I can make it to the team if I push myself even if I don’t feel like playing. But again, what is the point of getting into the team under such circumstances? I don’t want to create illusion now and don’t want people to feel awkward about me.
At one stage, it was Paras Khadka everywhere. That was not because of me, it was team effort. Success came from the team, but everybody focused on me. I was in the team on the basis of my performance in the past, but focusing on an individual is wrong. There are so many players out there who have done so many good things. It was Paras-mania, but I didn’t take it for granted. I am sure I will get responsibility some way or the other. I will be always there on the field and off the field to help people.
When I get the urge to play from inside, I will come back to domestic cricket. There are premier leagues and the PM Cup. I will play in these tournaments. But international cricket requires a different type of commitment. Returning to the national team depends on whether I get the same feeling and commitment again. But I am always open to giving ideas and suggestions when required.
What are your future plans?
Currently, I am involved in two tournaments — Women’s Champions League and Pokhara Premier League — and my ultimate goal is to be part of the management. It would be great if I get the opportunity to pass on the knowledge I gained from cricket for so many years. It’s too early for me talk about becoming part of the management as I have to learn the basics first.
Another thing I want to do is organise lots of cricket events across the country. But that’s not easy. We need a lot of people with interest in cricket. The market is also not that big. I have a team to organise tournaments and we have been doing PPL and WCL. With this team, I want to go across the country. Who knows where Sandeep Lamichhane would have been today had Pubudu Dassanayake not stopped over in Chitwan that night on his way to Dhangadi? You can find talent anywhere, but players are not getting the right platform. I want to provide that platform, create lots of tournaments with the right investors and give it back to players.
We have to collaborate with CAN as it is the governing body. All private-run tournaments, including Dhangadi Premier League, Everest Premier League and Pokhara Premier League, also should come under the umbrella. I don’t think the new body would do any harm to these tournaments as they have helped cricket survive in the last six or seven years. It was Rs 25 allowance when I started playing cricket and today a player is earning Rs 250,000 in the auction of one tournament. It shows that we have grown.
Another dream is to provide secure life for cricketers. I would love to see national team players coming to training in their private cars without fear of the future. With proper management and commercialisation of the sport, in addition to cricketing activities all over the country, we can inspire one million kids into the sport. It will ultimately help Nepali cricket grow.
How have you taken the new board?
We have to respect them. They have come to the board with full panel, which I believe is an opportunity to work towards the betterment of cricket. They have a clean cardboard and it’s up to them what to write on it. The new statute has got certain mandatory provisions and they need to bring qualified individuals. In the past, the board members ran after everything, from manager’s post to buying bats and balls to finding sponsors and signing the deals. These should not be repeated. There are lots of good people who want to help Nepali cricket, but they won’t come easy. As an ODI nation, there are lots of resources and funds from ICC, unlike in the past. I think the new board does not need to take much tension about infrastructure. We might not have sophisticated stadiums, but we have enough grounds across the nation to run activities. It’s all about managing things properly.
What are your suggestions to the newly-elected CAN?
First and foremost, the players should be kept on top of the list. It’s been very long that we have been hearing about the secured life of cricketers. Cricketers started dreaming about facilities after the team climbed the ladder in the ICC World Cricket League. The nation has gained One Day International status, but the situation remains unchanged. Now that we have resources and a separate fund for players from the ICC, the new body must put cricketers in the first priority.
Secondly, CAN should bring all the stakeholders to a common platform and make long-term plan. The next goal for CAN must be to gain Test status within next six, 10 or 14 years. We have realistic chance of becoming a Test nation by 2030. But for that, we need to start today with concrete plans and programmes. We need involvement of all stakeholders in maximum activities with focus on two-day and three-day cricket. Commercialisation of cricket is another important aspect. Nepal cricket is saleable and we have to make it commercial in terms of branding.
Thirdly, CAN should maintain transparency at every level — from the selection of players to the activities of those involved in cricket and budget. We lack expertise in so many fields, so we need to hire experts and consultants to establish and run the system. International relations building is equally important. We need to have good relations with Indian cricket board, the ultimate cricket board of the world. Half of the problems will be solved if we can get support from BCCI. But again it all boils down to management. A lot of things depend on what kind of individuals get the responsibility of management.
Right decisions for right direction: Pyakurel
How do you plan to revive cricket?
The biggest challenge is to take cricket back on track smoothly. We all are happy that ICC lifted the suspension, but we should not forget that nothing has happened in the last few years. Getting back to the track is not easy. The new committee does not have a magic wand to fix everything overnight. At the moment, we do not even have a proper office to run daily activities. Besides, we will have to manage staff as well. Things will happen in due course. It will take time but the most important question might be whether we are heading in right direction.
How do you take the conditional reinstatement of CAN?
The ICC decision to readmit CAN as Associate member came conditionally. We have taken it as an achievement, but we do not have the wait-and-see option. We are also not so aware of the conditions, but the ICC has said it will make a transition plan in coordination with us, and most probably with a timeline. Much will depend on the transition plan. We will not be in a position to function independently until we fulfil the criteria set by the ICC in that plan. We hope to be fully reinstated soon, but I believe it will take at least six to eight months. The ICC has also mentioned controlled funding and coordination with a local liaison for the transition period. The ICC has informed us about appointment of former cricketer Raunak Malla for the purpose and it has said it will also continue to look after teams as it used to during the suspension period. So, for now, we will follow the ICC’s instructions, but at the same time maintain our decorum. We are very clear that we will not allow anyone to dictate to us or work in a parallel way.
Post-elections, what are your priorities for development of cricket?
Our main focus will be on domestic cricket. We have reached a level in international cricket, but there is no domestic set-up at all. For now, we will revive the national tournaments so that districts and provinces get business. We will focus on tournaments involving local clubs where players get to play for a longer period. We have players everywhere, but they are not getting the platform. We will work towards creating the right platform. Weekend tournament in the districts is an option that can attract working cricketers as well. I am thinking of forming a special committee to look after domestic cricket, so that it gets proper attention.
The administrative aspect is another important agenda. The new statute has changed the whole set-up and we need to prepare directives to ensure smooth functioning of province and district committees. We need to work on manpower development and infrastructure as well. Maintaining the ODI status and working towards becoming a Test-nation are in our list of priorities. Test status is a bit farther but we need long-term vision and start the ground work. The world is running after short versions with Twenty20 and T10 concepts, but we need to have longer-version cricket regardless of profit or loss. Two-day and three-day cricket are our agendas.
What are your plans to end the shortcomings of the previous committee that ultimately led to suspension?
In the past, we could not reach consensus. On certain issues, some officials had different opinions and we were not able to work as a team. There might be different voices or ideas in this committee as well, we should respect them. We fought for our existence for almost six years and our friends from all over the country have faith in us. Learning from past mistakes and all those bitter experiences, we hope to reach consensus to serve the larger interest this time around. The board members are policy makers and there will be a secretariat to implement the plans and programmes. I believe officials will realise their roles and there will be no problem. It took us six years to get the suspension lifted, albeit provisionally, and I think it will take substantial time to get everything on the right track.
There are concerns about privately-run premier league. What’s your take on it?
I am surprised that everyone is concerned about premier league tournaments run by the private sector. They fear that the new board will scrap everything. We will definitely sit with them and work out some norms before allowing them to organise tournaments. There is no point panicking as we are here to welcome all who want to contribute to cricket. Having said that, I do not want to rule out a similar premier league run by CAN like in other countries.
How are relations with National Sports Council?
NSC is the governing sports body in the country and we will definitely coordinate with it. But we urge the NSC to clarify certain issues, including the functioning of certain associations and their limitations. The government, NSC and CAN all have learnt a lesson in the last six years and we don’t want it to happen again. We will always welcome inputs from the NSC if they do not cross our statute.
Do you have any special plans to attract the corporate sector to cricket?
The corporate sector has got into cricket in a powerful manner and the private sector has made a lot of contribution. Currently, a large part is associated with franchise cricket and CAN also needs their support, mostly in branding and promotion. We are thinking of creating a separate team to coordinate with the private sector as the trend of having finance and technical committees alone won’t suffice in the modern era.
Where do you see Nepal’s cricket in four years?
It’s easy to answer this question as expectations are really high. People have started thinking the new CAN committee will fix everything overnight. Delivering is not that easy. I think we will succeed if we bring cricket back on track, create environment where the CAN office can run independently, finish all administrative works for smooth functioning of province and district bodies and prepare the national team as a force that can upset big teams and give the world the message that Nepal can be the next Test nation.
Is this possible in four years time?
Yes, why not? Our main focus is to develop cricket. We might not get the results tomorrow, but for me the most important thing is whether we are walking in that direction. If we make a positive start and keep things on the right track, others will come and complete the project. I am least concerned about taking credit.
A version of this article appears in print on October 21, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.