Even by the high standards of the cricket fan base in Nepal, Bhanu Sigdel is as dedicated as they come. Running the Nepal Cricket Supporters Society (NCSS), Bhanu has led many campaigns for the improvement of the game in the country. On top of this, Bhanu also dedicates his time running Cricket Himalaya, delivering content for millions of Nepal fans around the world.
Bhanu sat down with Daniel Beswick to discuss his roles, and explains the importance of Nepal’s fans in a time of limited administration to grow cricket in the country.
Daniel Beswick: Thanks for chatting to Emerging Cricket, Bhanu. Tell us how you first found yourself interested in cricket as a kid?
Bhanu Sigdel: I was born on March 1982 and grew up in Bardia, a village located near the border of India. Now by profession I’m a Lecturer of Economics at Tribhuvan University. I also did a Masters of Philosophy in economics from the same university.
When I was a kid there were no means of communication, except for radio where I used to listen to radio cricket commentary. I used to play local cricket, though it wasn’t a familiar sport to many there. Suddenly we found a national player in our village, Durga Sen, who already played in the national side around 2001. After that I started to follow Nepali cricket, but we had limited sources to know about Nepali cricket, so I started to collect information from Gorakhapatra (A very old Nepali newspaper). Slowly social media has come to exist, so now it’s easy to follow and know about cricket.
DB: Just how vital now is social media for Nepal cricket and its fans?
BS: One of the biggest assets of Nepal’s national team has been its fan following, and wall-to-wall coverage on social media. Major Facebook groups with hundreds of thousands of followers, and many more followers elsewhere dedicated to cricket, Nepali cricket fans are always there to cheer their team on. Cricket fans keep awake all night to follow live text commentary from the other side of the world. Cricket has become the second most popular sport in Nepal, and is swiftly catching up with football, and the reason behind is social media.
The fans may not be as obsessed as fans in other countries, but when the team comes home it is a festive parade all over the capital. Cricket has brought a sense of national pride, and again social media is a reason for this.
DB: As an admin of a supporters group (and one of over 300,000 members), how would you describe the Nepali cricket fanbase?
BS: Nepali Cricket Supporters Society (NCSS) is not only a Facebook group, it’s the only officially registered cricket fan organization of Nepal. I’m the Founder/President of NCSS and Founder/Admin of NCSS Facebook Group.
It was the 8th of May 2016 when the Nepal cricket fan group formally institutionalized themselves as a non-profit organisation, named the Nepali Cricket Supporters Society, gaining recognition from both the Youth and Sports Ministry and the Nepal Sports Council (NSC).
Since then, NCSS has been participating and organizing various programs to establish and protect cricket culture, and to raise our voice against any sort of corruption in Nepal’s cricket’s governing body.
NCSS has 21 founder members, 9 members in working committee, around 80 lifetime members, 400+ associate members, 15 district co-ordinators and more than 350000 social media members in its official Facebook group by today.
The Spirit of NCSS is to not leave any stone unturned for the development of cricket in Nepal. What else does a cricket country need from the fans? In the absence of proper cricket governing body, NCSS has done a job similar to that of a guardian of cricket. In their short history, NCSS has become a wonderful bunch of people carrying out amazing initiatives for the development of Nepali cricket.
DB: What are your responsibilities in running the fan group?
BS: Nepal does not have a proper cricket governing body, and in the absence of Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) the Nepal Sports Council is guiding the cricket structure of Nepal right now. Now there is one body in the country, which is protecting these fans’ interest, fighting all odds.
My role is to run the group, keep in touch with stakeholders, coordinate with national sports council, the supreme sports body of the country. I’m always in the leading position for NCSS. Campaigns like raising voices to keep the ground clean and green, follow up the progress of building cricket stadiums, peace gathering for cricket issues, and providing funds to some of the school level tournaments to motivate young kids to develop the cricket culture. Things like that.
DB: How are you raising money to provide these funds?
BS: NCSS is a completely volunteer organization. We don’t have an income source, nor do we get fund from authority.
Basically we do two things to raise funds:
1. We have a provision to collect Rs 300 (around $2.80) for official membership (as an NCSS official membership charge).
2. We run issue-based fundraising campaigns within the organIzation, and many of us always contribute to these causes.
DB: On top of the supporters group, you run Cricket Himalaya. Explain Cricket Himalaya to someone who may not have heard about it.
BS: Crickethimalaya.com is the hardcore cricketing website run by Suravi Media Pvt. Ltd. for the promotion and amplification of authentic news of Nepali cricket. Cricket Himalaya has been actively participating in all the cricket events across the nation. It has covered almost all news since its establishment in 2017. Cricket has been our top priority as our objective is to follow almost all the activities related to cricket.
Cricket Himalaya is a team of cricket enthusiasts who run a cricket news website exclusively focused on the Nepali cricket. Our website encompasses cricket news, articles, a gallery of photos, interviews, fantasy and live scores with match scorecards. We provide regular updates about Nepali Cricket along domestic tournaments to our cricket fans around the globe.
Our mission is to pass the Nepalese cricketing information to the fans in their hands through an app for both Android and iOS users. No fans inside/outside the country will be deprived of the knowledge. Our mission is to be the leading cricketing digital media house serving our crazy cricket loving fans with information and promoting our young talented cricketers through digital media.
DB: While it looks like fans are taking more responsibility in Nepali cricket, what’s the relationship between the fans and the elite players?
BS: We believe our immense support will definitely take Nepali cricket to the next level. We are backing our players very well and they also want to achieve something at least for us. There are many internal issues in Nepali cricket which we don’t want to mix with it but the immense support from fans is a reason why Nepal achieved ODI status.
As a fan organization we (a few of us) are closely connected with our players. Personally we know each other, we always encourage them, and they appreciate our support. We’ve had a few meet and greet programmes with senior players already and it helps to meet and know players for general fans.
DB: How did you see Nepal’s T20 World Cup qualifying campaign, after losing to Singapore and Qatar? What team changes need to be made to go to the next level?
BS: Nepal were granted full ODI status after the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe in March 2018. They drew their maiden series in the Netherlands, one win away from claiming a first series victory in the UAE.
Looking at the Asia qualifier I don’t believe our campaign for the T20 World Cup (qualification) is over by losing to Singapore and Qatar.
I think it is a fact that we have always had talented cricketers, but the exposure hasn’t been enough. We have a very young squad and hopefully it is a team that is only going to build.
It is a pathway and we are looking towards the next two to three years. Obviously, right now the team didn’t perform as expected, but we are trying to build up and have a pool of 25 to 30 fantastic cricketers who can come in and represent the country at any given time. There are exciting times ahead, definitely.
Removal of the CAN’s suspension is in the process, though we need to start multi-day cricket ASAP. There are already enough T20 cricket leagues happening but they need to be under one calendar. Nepal A is necessary at the moment for backup. Lots of talents is there, though we lack a protection of those (players). I hope in the near future the cricket association will manage the odds and we will definitely be back.
DB: How do you assess the current political situation of cricket in Nepal? What needs to be done to fix things for the country?
BS: Despite the youth team’s dominance at every level in international competitions, the national side has failed to replicate the success. This is mainly due to the lack of an adequate pool of senior players due to which an increased reliance is placed on younger players. This is a failure of cricket authority seen at this point.
However despite this passion the senior team has not been able to replicate the success of junior teams or the passion of the nation. The team has a record of choking at all stages of the game.
Owing to unnecessary political pressures in the national cricket governing body, the ICC suspended the Cricket Association of Nepal’s membership in April 2016.
1. The Administration
Talk to a Nepali and this will be the reason given. The administration is known to be corrupt, working on favoritism.
CAN is not a professional body with all members on honorary roles without being responsible to anyone.
What is really required is a professional set up with a paid CEO who is responsible for the performance. This would also mean that the CEO will have to work towards bringing sponsorships, central contracts and transition of junior players to senior level.
2. Retaining the Junior Talent
For the junior players certain talent can be identified and can be given central contracts or scholarships. This will remove uncertainties and help Nepal retain the brilliant talent and not compromise. Also the juniors would need some infrastructure to help them train and improve further to come on the international level.
3. Local Infrastructure
Many cricket grounds are here, and constructions/reconstructions continue in Bhairahawa, Dang, Kohalpur, Biratnagar and Kathmandu but none of them are international standard.
Imagine a player wanting to practice having to go all the way to Tribhuvan University Cricket ground but not finding the facilities it looks like it should have?
4. Institutional Support
I found the strength of Test nations has been through government institutions supporting sports.
Armed Police Force, Nepal Police Club and Tribhuwan Army Club have teams and even has offered central contracts for their players, but similar efforts could be taken and ensured that the regional tournament can be institution based.
5. Playing more tournaments
The Nepal team has been known to choke because of a lack of playing exposure. They usually play well when they are either at an ACC tournament or an ICC tournament.
Having closed camps a month and a half before the tournament and a one week domestic tournament will not help at all.
6. Look west to India
During the early stages of Bangladesh cricket, their board approached BCCI and had Bangladesh team play in domestic tournaments for two years.This helps the team to gain match exposure.
Similarly it is not BCCI but CAN which has to approach BCCI and help Nepal be a part of Ranji Trophy. With 26 teams in Ranji, BCCI will never mind making it 27. A local Nepali ground can also be used to host some of the games. This is a key thing. Interacting with various players in India will definitely give some handy tips to Nepali players. Also India is the cheapest option Nepal has and will give the best exposure.
DB: Finally, for the casual fans of Nepali cricket, what can they do to move the sport forward in the country?
BS: Fan have limitations, but they can do effectively three things:
1. Support Domestic setup
Support National, provincial and rural cricket. Bring the performance of local players into social media, help local organisers as a volunteer, help to find hidden talent, if a talent needs help, support as much as they can.
2. Find out if there is any unusual/suspicious
Keep close eyes on the national fund which allocates for cricket, find out if there is any corruption and expose it in social media. The watchdog role is ours.
3. Connection with stakeholders
Keep close relations with stakeholders. Fans can be mediators, so it’s easy as a volunteer to support them.
NCSS is continuously doing all three things.
DB: Thank you for your time, Bhanu. Jai Nepal!
BS: Thanks Dan!