From ‘naughty child’ to a decade of national representation – Nepal’s Karuna Bhandari

Nepal women central contracts

While women’s cricket around the world is strongly marching forward and receiving well-deserved recognition, the Nepal women’s cricket team is waiting for that final touch to strongly mark its presence in the world. The inaugural edition of the ACC Women’s tournament in 2007 was Nepal’s maiden international tournament. Here, they were denied the title by a formidable Bangladesh side. Since then, it has been a series of close losses, in particular to perennial rivals, Thailand, that has cost Nepal a place in the Global Qualifiers.

Born on the 24th of November, 1988, Karuna Bhandari, made her debut in the ACC Women’s T20 Championship 2011. In that event, she picked up five wickets against Thailand that included a hat-trick, making her mark in the process. Having now represented the country for almost a decade, this ace spinner has best T20WI figures of 3 for 9, against China. She has picked up 13 wickets in her 13 T20Is and is a senior member of the current side.

Karuna Bhandari in action for Nepal (photo: supplied)

Emerging Cricket sat down with Karuna in this exclusive interview to learn more about her journey, the status of women’s cricket in Nepal, and some rapid-fire questions at the end.

How did you keep yourself busy during the lockdown?
Well, initially the lockdown felt pretty hectic. But as I got used to it, things got better day by day. I kept myself busy with workouts and meditation. As a sportsperson, it’s always the first thing I need to keep myself busy with. Apart from that, I did not know how to cook earlier, so learned some cooking skills as well.

Take us through your childhood and initial cricketing days. At what age did you start playing cricket?
I guess I was eight or nine when I started to play cricket. My brother was a great fan of cricket and he watched it on TV all the time. You can just imagine, he used to watch Test matches the entire day holding the TV remote in his hands, and I didn’t have any choice other than to watch cricket alongside him. They [my brother and his friends] also used to play cricket and I slowly became fascinated by this sport. And, I still remember that last over of the ICC Cricket World Cup Final in 1999 which developed my interest in this sport unimaginably.

I was a very naughty child in my childhood, a ‘tomboy’ to be specific. Most of the time, I used to be on the ground rather than at home, playing cricket with boys, and the funny part was none of them actually knew that I was a girl (laughs). I have played lots of matches with the boys back then, where I used to be the only spinner. Later, they came to know that I was actually a girl, but then they kept me in their team, and that made me even more comfortable. That’s how my childhood looked like.

Did you play any other sport growing up?
After knowing cricket, it became the only sport I loved playing passionately. But apart from cricket, I also used to play other sports well. I have the first runner-up trophy in a school level badminton competition, the second runner-up in table tennis, which I actually played against the boys in school (laughs). If someone asked me about my second favourite game, I would say table tennis.

Was your family supportive of you playing cricket?
I am very grateful to my family that they have been so supportive of me so far. My dad, mum, and especially my sisters have always motivated me in every step. I don’t know if you believe it but they never stopped me playing cricket, no matter if was a girl. So, I am very proud of my family.

How was cricket back then in Nepal when you started playing it? Has it evolved over the years in terms of perception and professionalism?
Honestly speaking, I didn’t know that we had a national cricket team back then, also possibly because I didn’t have a habit of going through the news. I sometimes used to go through the sports news on TV but still had no idea that the cricket team existed. As I grew up, I started hearing about Paras (Khadka) dai and Binod (Das) dai. Binod dai was the captain of the Nepal men’s cricket team back then. And when the Nepal women’s cricket team had their debut international series in 2007, I started seeking more and more information about it.

It took me four years from then until my debut in the national team in 2011. Things were different at that time. We were called to the national training camps just before the international tournaments, and there were fewer matches to play. And we also had no idea about professionalism in sports. But things have changed slightly now, for women cricketers as well. Thirteen years since the Nepal women’s cricket team played their debut tournament, women cricketers are now under the central contracts of the Association. Some women cricketers are also under [government] departmental teams. Most importantly, it was the WCL (Women’s Championship League T20, a franchise-based T20 tournament for Women in Nepal) in 2019 that made a difference to professionalism in women’s cricket. After this tournament, most cricketers have taken things seriously, competition has grown amongst the players, and more girls are taking part in the sport. Women cricketers are hopeful that such franchise based tournaments will make a difference in their living standards as well.

How difficult is it for women cricketers to sustain playing cricket in Nepal?
Yes, a very important question indeed. It is difficult for women cricketers to sustain themselves just by playing cricket in Nepal. Many cricketers have also switched their career options, leaving cricket in the past. Things get even more difficult after the women cricketers getting less support from the family. However, few things have changed now with central contracts and more. Rather than nothing, some positive signs are exist now. I am quite hopeful that things will change eventually.

What is needed to improve the state of women’s cricket in Nepal? Where do you see Nepalese women’s cricket in the future?
I think that we need to work more in our domestic circuit to improve women’s cricket in Nepal. If we at least get more tournaments to play, things could definitely change with more exposure. Franchise leagues also could play a big role in attracting more women cricketers. I really want the Nepal women’s cricket team to be a cricketing force to reckon with, someday.

Favorite dismissals as a bowler? Bowled, caught behind, or at slips?

Natthakan Chantham or Chanida Sutthiruang – a tougher batsman to bowl to?
Natthakan Chantham, I admire the way she is.

If you would change one cricket match result from your cricket career, what would that be?
The match against UAE in the 2017 ICC Women’s World Twenty20 Qualifying Series, Asia Region. Had we won that match we would have reached the Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifiers. This match still haunts me.

One thing that Ellyse Perry has that you wish you had?
Her batting.

Any match from history you would like to watch live being at the stadium?
ICC Cricket World Cup Final, 1999. Pakistan vs Australia at the Lords.

Cricketing idol while growing up?
AB De Villiers, I really admire him.

What is your message to the young and budding women cricketers in Nepal?
Just believe in yourself, keep working hard, you will really make a difference.

You can follow Karuna at Karuna Bhandari

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