The Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) feted the victorious U-16 squad and rewarded them with Rs 20,000 each for the historical achievement in the ACC U-16 Premier held in Malaysia from August 14 to 20, 2014.
Minister for Youth and Sports Purusottam Poudel and National Sports Council (NSC) member-secretary Yuvaraj Lama jointly handed over the reward and certificates to all the team members amidst a felicitation ceremony in Kathmandu on Friday.
Speaking at the function, Poudel also announced an additional reward of Rs 50,000 each to the U-16 squad as decided by the ministry’s meeting.
However, the decision needs approval from the cabinet.
“The ministry has forwarded the decision to the council of ministers for approval. As soon as the decision is sanctioned, the ministry will reward their triumph,” Poudel said.
“The government has allocated a budget that gives priority to cricket as per its success in the international arena. Other disciplines should also improve their performances and this will put pressure on the government.”
Meanwhile, NSC’s Lama said the Nepali team proved itself to be victorious under any circumstance and despite prevailing obstacles and uncertainty.
“Though the team had a short training session due to the rainy season, it was ready for the tournament as it had played about six matches here, including against Kathmandu Cricket Academy’s U-19 which boasted of experienced players,” Basanta Shahi, the coach of the jubilant team, says.
“We focused on getting the team mentally strong and our boys gave their best performance.”
“One of the best things about this team was the captaincy as usually most teams of this age group lack a good captain,” Shahi says. “Sumit Maharjan performed his responsibilities perfectly as he kept the team together and executed the game plan and strategy in the field.”
Shahi also shares that Nepal was lucky to have versatile players in the team despite the selector having a more limited pool after the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) cut down the list of available players after conducting their ‘bone age’ tests.
“Twenty-seven players were given the green light by ACC out of the CAN’s submission of 59 players. We would have had real problems if we had been left with a bowler-heavy or a batsman-heavy side after the ACC review.”
In the most crucial match against host Malaysia, Nepal focused on its bowling strengths. Shahi says “We sent in four spinners -- Anil Kharel, Ashish Pokharel, Pawan Sarraf and Jitendra Singh Thakuri, and just one medium-pacer [Rijan Dhakal].”
Nepal defeated Malaysia by 32 runs to end undefeated and clinch the title of the tournament. Host Malaysia was restricted to 129 runs in 36.2 overs chasing a 162-run target.
Nepal U-16 captain Sumit says, “Overall the performance of the team was good. The boys played well.”
Pranit Thapa who scored an unbeaten 70 runs off 60 bowls against Bahrain says, “I felt proud when I became the highest scorer among Nepali batsmen and I was the only to score a half-century.”
Pranit was also third-placed in run aggregate for the tournament and his 78-run partnership with Sumit was crucial in Nepal’s 49-run win against Singapore. Pranit joined Sumit at the crease with Nepal down four wickets and Nepal’s score only 13.
According to Pranit, he will now focus on the U-19 tournament. “As soon as I return to Nepalgunj, I will join the U-19 selections.”
Jitendra who took the most number of wickets in the tournament says, “I played according to the coach’s direction. I tried my best to bowl at the right places.”
Jitendra topped the ACC top wicket-takers chart with 15 wickets with an economy rate of just 2.04 runs given away per over bowled, followed by Nepal’s youngest, 13-year-old left-arm spinner Anil Kharel who claimed 13 wickets.
When this squad flew to Malayisa, the under-16 Asian title was the only one missing from Nepal’s trophy case.
Nepal had won all other ACC age group titles for non-test playing Asian nations. Nepal had won the U-15 title twice, the U-17 once and the U-19 four times.
In the two U-16-level ACC tournaments played before this, Nepal was runner-up both times.
In 2010 when the championship was called ACC U-16 Elite, Nepal lost to Singapore by 68 runs in the final. Then in the ACC U-16 Elite 2012 played in Kuala Lumpur and lost to Malaysia by 1 wicket.
Now that the boys have come home as the best cricketers in Asia under the age of 16, aside from those in cricketing power-houses of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Nepal will set its sight on bigger triumphs to come.