And the award goes to… the crowd!
Nepal finished as the second best team in ACC T20 Cup, amid a gripping fever that saw almost everyone on Nepali cyberspace (social media and alike) talking about the game. The runners-up medal came for Nepal, despite some outstanding and memorable performances during the tournament.
There were several moments for Nepali cricket fans to savour, be it Paras Khadka’s ‘leading from the front’ swagger on the field, or Sharad Veswakar’s ‘coming-of-age’ attacking batsmanship, or Prithu Baskota’s ‘match-turning’ bowling against UAE (semi-final). But, if I were told to remember one scene from the entire tourney, it would be the moment that Nepal lost the Cup.
As Afghanistan – undoubtedly the best team playing in the championship – beat the home side, one sight was worth remembering: The crowd, which must have been close to 20 thousand, all on their feet, cheering for the champions. Mind you, it was not the home team that won at the Kirtipur Cricket Ground, it was the visitors.
Now that is a rare sight in Nepal, especially cricket.
One would do well to remember February 2010, when Nepal was playing in ICC World Division League Division 5 against USA. Just when Nepal looked like losing the game, the crowd erupted (read: pelted stones at USA players) that led to game being delayed for an hour. Due to hour-long disturbance, the target was revised. Despite the loss, the revised target helped Nepal, as it ended up edging out Singapore to enter Division 4, on the basis of net run rate. Singapore formally protested and Nepal Cricket had to suffer conditional ban, of increasing the height of stadium walls to host another tournament.
In December 2011, Nepal was playing UAE and a similar incident happened. Again, the crowd misbehaved (read: with stones again). Result: Nepal did not host any ACC event in 2012.
This time around, there was a genuine fear of repeat of such crowd performance. The reason: With Nepal’s win in Division 4 and ACC Cup Elite 2012, the expectation from the team had gone up. This is one strange thing about sports and cricket is not an exception. Team’s performance has a direct correlation with fan’s expectations. As your team’s performance goes up, so does your expectations. Perhaps that explains why entire India (and cricket fans out of India too) have expected Sachin Tendulkar to score a ton every time he goes in to bat, for past two decades.
There is an old adage in sports: You never win silver, you lose gold. The line tells you the importance of winning in sports, more so for the fans. That’s why you expect nothing less than a win from your team.
So why did Nepali crowd clapped for Afghanistan? Was it an aberration, or a defeatist mentality that has set in, in entire country? Yours truly thinks, it was neither. It was a sign that Nepali cricket fans are maturing. I say this despite feeling (with strong conviction) that most people who turned out at the stadium to watch Nepal were not cricket fans. Most had gone there, just to see the players, donning Nepali jersey, playing for their country. What sport it was, did not really matter. Yet, the cheer for the winners, which incidentally was not Nepal, shows that we are growing up as cricket watchers. We knew that Afghanistan was a better team than us, and that they deserved to win. Yet we also knew that Nepali players fought hard, and did not capitulate, as in past. The body language of the players too suggested that they carried the pride, and were not present on the field as also-rans.
Another reason for improved crowd behavior was the re-introduction of tickets for the spectators. We would do well to remember that tickets are not a new concept in Nepal Cricket. During ACC Trophy in 1998, spectators had to buy a ticket to watch the match. There is something about paying that makes you feel responsible. It seemed nobody wanted to hear ‘Did you pay 100 rupees to just to come and throw stones in the stadium?’
Team Nepal made their fans proud, with their performance on the field. And the fans, with their ‘no-untoward-incident’ have made themselves proud. For this tournament, they definitely deserve the award for the ‘best crowd Nepal has seen’.
PS: This write-up appeared in yours truly’s weekly column in The Kathmandu Post – OFFSIDE – on 6th April, 2013