Escaping Sydney’s predictable inclement weather, Nepal national Anil Adhikari hides in a walkway underneath the Opera House. Looking out to the Harbour Bridge, begging the clouds to pass for the perfect photo opportunity, he waits for new business partners to show.
Half an hour passes, and a now-agitated Adhikari decides to order coffee from a nearby cafe. Just as he sits down to sip his cappuccino, his phone rings. They’re here.
The sun bursts through the clouds, and Adhikari, now beaming, poses with Ramesh Poudel, who runs the GNR Rocks Club in the city’s west. Adhikari’s trip to into the city is almost a microcosm of his time in Australia: not necessarily going as planned, but seemingly working out.
A former national team cricketer, Adhikari now sits as Cricket Association of Nepal’s (CAN) Treasurer of the Bagmati province, one of seven provinces in the country. Making the voyage Down Under in February, he planned to visit relatives and to gain further recognised coaching accreditation, with the potential to build bridges between his team, the Sauraha Sands of the Chitwan Premier League, and Nepali cricket clubs around Australia.
Then, the pandemic hit, and Adhikari’s April 14 return ticket may as well have been thrown in the bin.
Anil is one of thousands of Nepalis without a way home during the COVID-19 outbreak, a situation so bleak that Human Rights Watch even went as far as accusing the Nepali government of abandoning its citizens. At the Indian border in March, around 500 people pleaded to be let back in, sleeping on the streets. Three men even resorted to swimming across the Mahakali River, only to be arrested. Nepal Airlines carried out flights to send repatriated citizens and permanent residents back to Australia, but did not take stranded Nepali travellers back home, instead returning empty.
Anil himself in April began a hunger strike in Melbourne, demanding answers from the Nepali embassy in Canberra. Running out of funds for himself and his loved ones back home, Adhikari felt “mocked” in his efforts, though has been fortunate to have beds and couches to sleep on through members of his extended family and other contacts.
“Due to government policy, they are not taking the people who are stranded here back home here yet. The whole world is in trouble and in lockdown so I’m accepting it, as the bad days can be the memories of a lifetime,” Adhikari says.
While rescue flights have been pencilled within the next fortnight, Adhikari has used his extra month and a half in Australia as an opportunity to promote Nepali cricket. Over 120,000 Nepalis now call Australia home, and dozens of cricket clubs formed by Nepali expatriates have popped up across major cities.
The GNR Rocks is just one club tying up a cross-promotion partnership with the Sauraha Sands. Pending future travel, Nepalis looking to continue their cricket development will be able to play for GNR, billeted with local families.
“Australia is one of the top cricket nations, so we can gain a lot of exposure for our cricketers back home, if we are able to send players here. They can come here and play some cricket around the grounds of Australia. They’ll get more exposure, and they’ll improve their batting and cricket sense,” Adhikari stated.
Nepali internationals honing their craft in Australia is nothing new, with leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichhane first exposed to Australian cricket through the Sydney grade system at Western Suburbs in 2016. Since then, Sandeep has picked up contracts around the world’s best franchise T20 leagues, including the Melbourne Stars, whom he has been with for two seasons. In previous years though, players have fallen through the cracks of a broken Nepali system. Former U19 international Sunam Gautam exhausted all possibilities before moving to Australia for financial stability, now balancing a career with high-level grade cricket in Adelaide. Raj Kumar, the highly-touted young leg-spinner before Sandeep, moved to Japan for job opportunities and Kanishka Chaugain, once regarded as the future of Nepali batting, started afresh in the United States.
Between the reforming of the national governing body, national and state franchise leagues, and exchanges to clubs in different countries, Adhikari’s wish is to keep the best talent within the Nepali system, with multiple income streams for players to ensure a safe career in cricket.
“I’m hoping that players can gain a lot of experience and improvement, if they can come and play grade cricket or club cricket (in Australia). It will motivate them to be in the Nepal national side and eventually help further.”
CAN’s suspension up until late last year has seen entrepreneurs and administrators try to fill the void, with donations from millions of cricket fans almost keeping cricket in the country afloat. Despite this, Nepal’s fragmented cricket infrastructure over the last five years has meant that, even with everyone’s good intentions, individuals like Adhikari and others see no unified, holistic plan.
“We have a lack of infrastructure and at this time in Nepal and we were constructing a cricket ground in Chitwan (Gautam Buddha International Stadium), but this project was also halted, so we have had adverse effects, but still we are hopeful. That’s what cricket has taught us, to be hopeful every time. This bad time will pass.”
The Chitwan district, one of 77 in Nepal, contains over 600,000 people and includes Bharatpur, the fourth-largest city in the country. Despite Chitwan’s size, MyRepublica’s Rajan Shah believes that too much has been done too quickly, in an over-correction of the country’s stagnation.
“Chitwan is a happening place for different things but it’s at a too immature stage to talk about the CPL (Chitwan Premier League).
“Any community development would have been better if it was a format which could help the Nepal national team. We already have many T20 leagues, (and) investment should have been made in other formats in provincial levels. The pandemic has not helped either.”
Official numbers show Nepal’s COVID-19 cases have risen to over 2,000 in recent days, though health professionals fear that the true number may be much higher, as proper testing measures were not accessible in the early days of the outbreak. The Oli government has announced an extension of the lockdown until June 14, mobilising the nation’s Army to the worst-hit areas to enforce measures.
“We know that due to this COVID crisis, all the cricketers in Nepal have not been able to practice for three months in the lockdown situation, and only a few stars like Sandeep Lamichhane and some other national cricketers are getting a salary,” Adhikari continues.
“They (other players) are hit hard by this lockdown and COVID-19, so we hope to be back again on the field.”
In the midst of all this trouble, Adhikari wants to return home to see his wife and seven-year-old son. With no confirmation of an exact date of re-entry though, he continues to look on the bright side of his journey.
“(The trip) didn’t happen according to the plan, but I hope these experiences will make me stronger, more passionate and more dedicated for the development of Nepali cricket. I will always be there, wherever I go, however long I stay. I will do everything that I can do.”
By Daniel Beswick (@DGBeswick1)
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