When it’s meant to be
For pretty much my entire life, cricket has helped pacify me.
As a kid growing up in the bustling city of Kathmandu, I was exposed to a number of individual and team sports from very early on, most, err all, of which I participated in. I played every sport we had at the school I went to – football during the rainy season followed by basketball, table tennis and track, and as the days got shorter and colder, we ushered in winter by rolling out the mats and cricket took over the playground.
I went to South Point Boarding High School where I was enrolled as an infant in the nursery class and where I stayed until the end of my schooling years. South Point wasn’t a big school by any means. But it made sincere efforts to engage its student body in all activities extra-curricular. Located in New Baneshwor, the school was a mere eight-minute walk, or a five-minute sprint, from my house. So from a very young age, whenever I was free, BOOM! I’d rush to the school, meet up with my friends and seniors and partake in any game available at that moment. Aside from peers who were equally enthusiastic about every sport as me, the teachers were very supportive of our desires too. Because I was very good in studies, spending time kicking around a ball or swinging a bat was never an issue at home either.
Sports was my meditation, my source of joy and happiness. The thrill of scoring a goal, making the right assist for a basket, hitting the right serve on the ping pong table and knocking the leather ball hard and far were moments I lived for, what gave me ultimate satisfaction. Yet, sports always remained on the backburner because making a career in sports was never a real possibility in a country like Nepal where sports was considered a pastime or a hobby.
Similar to most of my generational peers, my aspiration in life was to do well in school, earn a higher degree and perhaps become an engineer or a doctor or a banker – any profession which yielded a good source of living and helped build a secure future in this part of the world. Never in my wildest imagination had I ever, ever, dreamt of playing for Nepal; I hadn’t even thought about playing for a regional- or state- team then.
I played club-level cricket, that too on Saturdays, where match-winners would win the match ball and the losing team would pay for the cold drinks. That was the pinnacle of what I wanted to achieve in sports: win a ball for my team and a few soft drinks that gave respite after a hard-fought victory under the sun. I had some club-level experience, played in very few six-a- side cricket tourneys and a few other school-level tournaments – that summed up my cricketing portfolio.
Between grades six and ten, me and my classmates would go to school hours before it started, play until the assembly bell rang, and then anxiously wait for the day’s classes to end upon which we would sprint home, gulp down the snacks and immediately return to the playground. This was the daily routine.
And that daily routine was to soon become a routine for my lifetime, only I didn’t know it then.
I was in the tenth grade studying for what’s hailed in Nepal as the “Iron Gate,” – the most important exam of one’s school life, the S.L.C. (School Leaving Certificate) – and I fully intended to achieve the highest grades possible. From primary school all the way through high school, I always placed in the top ten in my class, so there was more pressure and urgency to achieve better results. Like any other typical morning, I was at home browsing through the sports page of a daily newspaper and reading up on the latest upsets and victories in the sporting world when my eyes happened upon an advertisement of an inter-school cricket tournament that was to start soon. I immediately tore out the page, brought it to school and showed it to our English teacher cum coach and a huge cricket enthusiast, Mr. Suraj Rai, and urged him to co-ordinate with our vice-principal and enter our school team into the tournament. Few phone calls were made to the organizers who informed us that all team slots had been filled and they weren’t accepting any more applications. We were dejected but this would have been our last tournament before we left school, so hoping against hope for a favorable outcome, we asked Mr. Rai to keep bugging the organizers. After a few days of constant persuasion, they agreed to let us register.
For a group of cricket loving teenagers who hailed from a small school and grew up together learning how to hold a cricket bat and how to consistently bowl in a proper line and length, we were very excited at the prospect of competing in a tournament before all of us bid adieu to our school and headed our separate ways. Most of the team consisted of my classmates, with a few juniors that made the final 14.
What added to the delight and the excitement was that the tournament was being held at T.U. cricket ground, the only international level ground in Nepal. For all of us, it was no less significant than playing at MCG, LORDS OR ANY OTHER INERNATIONAL cricket grounds that we had only seen on the television screen.
The joy of playing in the most beautiful ground in the country and the realization of this being the last time we represented our school together motivated us and we played hard and we played very good cricket which propelled us to victory through the first stage. After making it through the three first-round matches, we defeated a very strong team in the semi-finals, which meant we were all set to lock horns with Galaxy Public School, the tournament favorite. That team was being led by Kanishka Chaugai (former U-19 captain of Nepal) who, as a 15-year-old, had just returned after representing Nepal in the U-19 World Cup held in New Zealand in 2002. This was when team Nepal had created ripples in international cricketing community by beating the likes of Pakistan and Bangladesh for the first time.
In the final, we batted first and were bowled out for a small total of 117 runs. Everyone at the ground thought the tournament was Galaxy’s to lose and were certain it would be an easy chase for them. However, determined as we were, we weren’t going to let them win without their very best effort; if they wanted a victory, they would have to earn it. Being the captain of the team meant I had to lead from the front and we decided, before taking the field, that we would give our everything and play our hearts out, no matter the result.
Our unbridled spirit, relentless perseverance and unyielding determination eventually led us to a victory as we ended up winning the match, and the tournament, by a margin of about 16 odd runs. Kani was trapped L.B.W. of my bowling, which resulted in a batting collapse and made us the champions of the 1st K.B. Khatri Memorial Inter-School Cricket Tournament. I was adjudged Player of the Series for my all-round contribution.
The school tournament was also a selection tournament for the Kathmandu regional U-I5 team and after the victory, we wondered if any of us would make it to the regional team. Later, we learned that I, along with my friend Anup Gajurel, had been selected to represent Kathmandu at the regional level and eventually, I ended up being selected in the Nepal U-15 national team as the vice-captain.
Everything else from that moment on, is history.
Sitting here in Amsterdam, Netherlands, waiting to play against the Dutch in a few days and thinking about how the dream-like journey of representing Nepal started makes me wonder about complicated, yet simple, life is, and how the smallest of decisions and choices we make end up deciding our fate.
What if my grandfather hadn’t brought the newspapers home that morning? What if I had not seen that advertisement in the paper? What if we had not persuaded the organizers to let our team become the last registered team?
Any one of those factors could have meant that I would be someone else right now, somewhere else living a completely different life. But I sincerely believe, as I always tell myself, may be cricket was destined for me. This is how it was meant to be, and by God's grace, this has been nothing less that a dream that you never want to wake up from.