PALLEKELE: When Monty Desai joined Cricket Association of Nepal in February as the head coach, the national team was second from bottom of the World Cup Super League points table. The challenge lying ahead was humongous - win 11 out of a possible 12 matches to secure a berth at the 50-over World Cup Qualifier scheduled in June in Zimbabwe.
Much to the surprise of everyone they did the unthinkable scripting a compelling success story. They might not have succeeded in qualifying for the World Cup scheduled in India in October-November during the qualifier. But they did make history when they qualified for their maiden Asia Cup after winning the inaugural ACC Men's Premier Cup 2023 in May this year.
Having made their debut at the continental showpiece event against Pakistan the other night in Multan, Nepal are gearing up to play India at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium in Sri Lanka on Monday.
It's not easy for an associate nation to keep fueling its cricketing dream. It becomes more difficult when the country is mad for the sport and yearning for recognition through it like Nepal. Coach Desai admits the challenge but says it also motivates them to work hard and come true to people's expectations.
"Fan following is huge in Nepal. They expect you to get desired results but they don't understand the challenges which lie ahead. They also feel cricket can help them in getting recognition. They lack basic infrastructure. Whatever the team has achieved so far it is because of self-motivation, desire and hunger," Desai explains to this daily.
So what are motivating factors which helped these Nepal boys scale new heights? "It's a vision. What we are creating here is our own world, 'Our Happy Dressing Room,' which belongs to each and every person of the nation. We have created a world where we work on building on our strengths and attitudes with flexibility to different challenges. In our world, we experience joy as a team when we get the desired results, and we equally feel the pain when we are unable to meet our own expectations with all the planning and hard work that goes in...The environment that we have created together will allow us to grow in wisdom, maturity, and develop strength of character!"
Desai, a mechanical engineer from Mumbai, had worked with the Nepal U-19 team in 2017 and believes this past stint helped in smooth transition. "There are many players in the current squad who were there in the U-19 team. So in a way, I can correlate to that U-19 stint. As I have worked with them, they are well aware of my working style. A few of them stayed in touch with me even after I left. So this all made it a smooth transition."
The coach, who has previously worked with teams like Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates, West Indies and Canada apart from Rajasthan franchise of the Indian Premier League, says it's not easy working within budget constraints but they worked as a team to overcome these barriers and achieve their targets. "The infrastructure limitations and domestic structure may require to be relooked into for creating a clear pathway. At present, from my personal experience for our development programs, there are budget constraints, and as an associate cricket nation, we have to manage within these budget constraints!"
Nepal cricket got embroiled in a big controversy when one of its stars, Sandeep Lamichhane was accused of rape by a minor. The right-arm legbreak googly bowler even stayed behind the bars on the charges. He has now made his comeback to the team. The coach says it was a collective decision to bring him back.
"There is no doubt that he is a champion cricketer. He has contributed to the team's cause with the ball for years and of late, he has done that with the bat as well. You have to understand things from his perspective. Here everyone believes in law and Sandeep is no different. He also says let the truth come out as he wants this to get over as soon as possible. All I can tell you about is what I can see in front of me. There are days when he wants to stay alone, we let him do that. There are days when he needs our company and support and we give him. We cannot have answers to every question," says Desai.
Desai also says he personally strongly believes in collective leadership and teamwork and this in turn helps in creating a field of dialogue and to find solutions.
"I have employed a culture in our working environment as well. Commonly, it is known as the “Happy Dressing Room” culture, but in this case, “happy” is a state of being rather than a temporary condition. In this dressing room culture, all members of the team & working management are given an equal platform regardless of rank, tenure, status, etc. to express themselves freely but respectfully and to honour each other’s desire to do the same. Some of the dressing room conversations can get heavy and occasionally even heated, but by maintaining a commitment to mutual respect and leaving our egos at the door, the 'Happy Dressing Room' becomes a safe space for productive and healthy dialogue. So we are trying to operate from an "ecosystem" rather than an ego system," the coach signs off.