Six clubs sign players from Canada, Bhutan, Singapore, St Vincent, Sri Lanka, UK and Zimbabwe
By Sudeep Sonawane
Kathmandu, September 22, 2021
The fourth edition of the Everest Premier League starting Saturday (September 25) at the Tribhuvan University International Cricket Ground in Kathmandu, Nepal features 25 international players from 11 countries in six competing clubs.
The tournament, organised by EPL Pvt. Ltd. under the aegis of Cricket Association of Nepal, will see six teams compete in the single round robin T20 format with play-offs. The tournament closes with the final match on October 9.
Defending champions Lalitpur Patriots led by captain Gyanendra Malla will look to reproduce their previous form and retain the trophy. Five other teams—Bhairahawa Gladiators, Biratnagar Warriors, Chitwan Tigers, Kathmandu Kings XI and Pokhara Rhinos—will challenge Patriots’ trek to the summit.
EPL tournament rules allow each team to sign five foreign players who have represented their countries in Tests, ODIs and T20 official tournaments under the International Cricket Council (ICC) banner. Each team can field only three in the playing XI.
This year’s EPL features 25 foreign players from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Canada, England, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Zimbabwe.
Indian players do not figure in the Himalayan nation’s biggest T20 franchise cricket league. The Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) does not allow its contracted players to take part in T20 cricket leagues conducted by other ICC members. BCCI defends its decision saying, “This is to protect IPL’s brand value.”
Former India players Suresh Raina and Irfan Pathan have supported the call to allow current players to take part in foreign T20 leagues.
Out-of-favour players with no chance of wearing India jersey again should get an opportunity to play elsewhere in the world, opine former cricketers. In a Live Instagram discussion in May 2020, Pathan said, “The Board should allow players not in the reckoning to compete in foreign T20 Leagues.”
Some, like Delhi’s Unmukat Chand, who had no prospects of playing for India, beat BCCI’s rule by retiring from first-class cricket, and moved to the United States to compete in the T20 League there.
EPL franchise owners could have signed recently retired former India players to add value to their league. In fact, one of the clubs, Chitwan Tigers, did hunt for players from India.
“Our club was keen to include in the squad three or four players from India which has a huge talent pool. We were in talks with talent scouts in Delhi and Mumbai,” says Chitwan Tigers club owner Kishor Bhattarai. “Unfortunately, we could not sign players from India because of travel controls and pandemic protocols in India, vaccine certification and the players’ availability.”
A slow, but steady rise in the number of quality events in Nepal has drawn attention of cricket officials, coaches, talent scouts and fans in India.
Mumbai Cricket Association’s veteran cricket administrator, club owner and talent scout Prakash Kelkar says, “The growth of cricket, especially Twenty20 tournaments, in Nepal excites me. There are many talented cricketers in Nepal like Sandeep Lamichhane who has played for Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League recently. I contacted some players when I was told to shortlist some players from Mumbai for this edition of EPL. However, there were many difficulties and availability of players because of Ganpati festival in India.”
This year, EPL organisers have doubled the winners’ purse to Nepali Rs 5 million compared to the last edition played in 2018. The runners-up will receive
Nepali Rs 1.5 million.
The organisers cancelled 2019 and 2020 editions after postponing it a couple of times because of the shutdown following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in the Himalayan country.
Meanwhile, Chitwan Tigers’ preparations for EPL has gained traction under coach
Puru Singh, a former Ranji Trophy player from Delhi. Singh’s first-class career was not long, but the 40-year-old is an experienced and ICC certified Level II coach with a good track record. Chitwan Tigers appointed him as team manager and assistant coach ahead of this edition of EPL.
Motivating cricketers is key to success, says Singh. “The science behind cricket inspires me to evolve myself and pass on this knowledge to the future generation. We can mentally stimulate every young cricketer to be the best,” he says.
The progress of players made during training sessions impresses Singh and Tigers’ coaching staff. Lack of match practice stifles the growth of Nepali cricketers because of limited domestic tournaments.
“We have devised some methods that help players get the feel of match situations. Players will gradually get mentally and physically fit for their first match,” says Singh.
Currently, the squad of 16 Chitwan Tigers players, including boys from the talent hunt programme, is training with the coaching team in a secure bio-bubble.