Cover Story

NPL: LET THE BATTLE BEGIN

Words: Saurav Nepal

Photos: Shashank Pradhan

Cricket Equipment Courtesy: Sports Center, Thapathali, 4224725

Make up Artist: Amrit Marahatta

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The triumph in their maiden World T20 appearance did much to raise the bar of Nepalese cricket. Once considered as outfielders among the associate nations, the rise of Nepali cricket team at the international stage has taken everyone by storm. Nepal’s journey through the international stage has installed a sense of pride and humility among everyone in this tiny Himalayan nation. However, the lack of infrastructures and first-class competitions hinder the growth of cricket in this cricket-savvy nation. Until now, Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) organizes only two national level cricket tournaments in a calendar year – National T20 and the 50-over National Cricket Championship. But, soon, this cricket-loving nation will have its own taste of professional league tournament in the form of Ncell NPL.

Zohra Sports Management (ZSM) and Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) have signed an exclusive three-year agreement with telecom giant Ncell for the inception of a new professional cricketing league in Nepal termed as Ncell NPL. Ncell NPL or Ncell Nepal Premier League is one of its kind tournaments in Nepal which is scheduled to begin from May 11th and run until June 14th. The games will be played over three formats that include T20, 50 overs and two-day formats in a round robin league style. The two-day format will be similar to Test format.  The event will kick off with a twodaytournament in Dhangadhi, followed by the 50-over league in Biratnagar and Rajbiraj before concluding with the T20 tournament in Kathmandu. The power-packed event will begin right after the national team returns back from Malaysia after participating in the ACC Premier League.

The games will be played by six franchise teams who will be competing head to head for the ultimate prize.The six franchise teams are all owned by corporate houses. The teams are Tej (owned by Panchakanya Group and captained by Sharad Veshwakar), Colors X Factors (owned by Teletalk Pvt. Ltd. and captained by Gyanendra Malla), Vishal Group Warriors (owned by Vishal Group and captained by Parash Khadka), Kantipur Gurkhas (owned by Kantipur Publications and captained by Basanta Regmi), Jagdamba Giants (owned by Shanker Group and captained by Shakti Gauchan) and Sagarmatha Legends (owned by Ghorahi Cement and captained by Binod Bhandari).

Each team will have a 16-member squad including current national, Under-19, regional and two overseas cricketers as well as domestic coaches. The teams will also have a provision to buy two foreign players as per the interest or requirement of the team

The winner and runner-up of the T20 and 50-over tournament will be awarded with a prize money of Rs 200,000 and Rs 100,000 respectively, while the top two teams of the twoday event will get Rs 150,000 and Rs 75,000 respectively. Similarly, for the first time ever, there is a provision of match fees for the players. Match fees per match for the captain has been fixed at Rs 5,000 while players in the senior national team will get Rs 2,500 and the U-19 and regional players will get Rs 1,000 each per match. Similarly, the players will also have a provision of earning from endorsements.

The national team’s camaraderie will be taking the back seat as they battle it out at the Ncell NPL. Teams have their sight set on winning the first NPL, and we rounded up the Captains of the 6 teams to hear what they have to say. In the meantime, TNM caught up with Mr Aamir Akhtar, Managing Director, Zohra Sports Management, for a quick tête-à-tête regarding the upcoming Ncell NPL. Below are the excerpts:

TNM: How was the idea of NPL conceived?

AA: It was something I had in my mind for a long time. Until now, we have only two national level cricket tournaments – National T20 and the 50-over National Cricket Championship. Both these tournaments last no longer than 10 days. I personally feel that Nepalese domestic cricket should be made more systematic and structured. With Nepalese cricket doing so well in the international stage, there couldn’t have been a better moment to kickstart this tournament and fill this void in the domestic cricket.

TNM: What kind of media coverage will the event get? Are the games being broadcasted live on national channels?

AA: As for now, only the T20’s played in Kathmandu will be broadcasted live on TV. Apart from this, we don’t have any live arrangements for the matches. But, I am optimistic that the media will give decent coverage to this event because it is a first of its kind in Nepal. However, we will have plenty of social media engagements, print advertisements and TVC’s targeted towards the promotion of this event.

TNM: You said that it will help to fill a void in the structure of domestic cricket. How do you think this tournament will help in the development of domestic cricket?

AA: Of course, it will play an important role in the development of domestic cricket. The regional players will have a chance to grasp that much needed exposure. The well-balanced team setup can provide a good platform for the players to hone their skills. It will be a big opportunity, especially for the regional cricketers to prove themselves on the national stage. Similarly, it will also help to identify the new pool of talents. Besides, the regional cities in which the tournament is taking place will help to establish a strong foundation for cricket.

TNM: Do you think we’ve adequate infrastructure and resources to handle this event? If you could change anything in Nepalese cricket then what would that be?

AA: Yes, we do lack infrastructures and resources. We don’t have a single cricket stadium, let alone regional stadiums. But, decentralization of cricket is necessary. The other motive behind organizing this tournament outside Kathmandu is to pressurize the concerned stakeholders towards the development of regional infrastructures. I hope the match attendance and crowd engagements will send a positive message to the government for the overall development of cricket in Nepal.

TNM: A lot of cricket audiences are working class people and students. Do you think it will be a crowd puller considering the timing of the event?

AA: Yes, I am quite aware of that fact but in the past we’ve seen more than 20,000 people coming and watching Nepal play at the international stage. I don’t see this as a challenge but rather as an opportunity because there is a huge fan following of Nepali cricket especially in the Terai belts. I am confident there will be a decent audience.

TNM: Will NPL be susceptible to scandals such as match fixing, controversies and like on?

AA: Not at all. We have an anticorruption unit in the joint committee to make sure that the games will be played as par with ICC’s code of conduct.

TNM: You’ve had to go through a lot of hurdles to get NPL rolling. Tell us little about that.

AA: Yes, Ncell NPL has come through a lot of stories and adventures. The dream was there a few years ago but I was waiting for the right time to get things started. Fortunately Nepal National Cricket team started doing extremely well and once we entered the T20 World cup, it served as the most opportune moment to kick things off.

Making use of a few links, I approached several companies with the idea and everyone showed immediate interest. However, things don’t always run smoothly, especially here in Nepal. Everyone wants a piece of the cake. A tussle ensued and it kept on happening for 3 weeks after finally getting settled.

TNM: Finally, any message for the fans and readers of TNM?

AA: Well, after few hiccups mainly on the organizing front, things are finally put in place. This event is taking place at the right time for Nepalese cricket lovers. So, I urge everyone to support this iconic event. Not only will this help to entertain the audiences but it will also help to revolutionize the domestic cricket.

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