THE NEPAL RHINO’S VISIT TO WINCHESTER
The Hogs were delighted to welcome the Nepal Rhinos, the national side, to Winchester for a pair of warm-up games prior to their day at Lord’s where they would play their first ever ICC One Day International fixtures against the MCC and the Netherlands.
Winchester has a long history of celebrating and welcoming the Nepalese and this weekend was no exception. Having arrived in Winchester late on the Thursday evening, the team were up early and training at Warnford for the day on Friday. Paras Kadaka, their mercurial skipper and a national hero at home mustered his troops as they started to get used to the English conditions.
On Friday evening, the team were the guests of Rod Bransgrove and the County for a T20 match at the Ageas Bowl, where Hampshire took on Middlesex – a far cry from Kathmandu. When they play in Katmandu, as we were to discover, there are tens of thousands of spectators and there are simply no spare seas, such is the enthusiasm and passion for the game.
The following day, Saturday 21st July, we had been scheduled to play our traditional fixture against the Band of Brothers but they kindly gave way and were invited to select some of their members to play in a combined team with the Hogs against the Rhinos. It was a beautiful day and a decent crowd gathered to watch.
Alex Halliday skippered the Hogs and lost the toss. The Nepalese batted and the Hogs soon had their tails up and, at 50 for 3 with John Portal taking 2 wickets and Miles Covers having Gyandendra Malla caught behind by Harry Fisher for only 5, the game looked evenly balanced. Paras had other ideas and constructed a stunning 161 which included 7 sixes. He gave only a single chance when on about 40 but he was dropped on the boundary – if only.
The tail wagged with Rohit Paudel making 44 but the Hogs’ triumph was that they bowled the Nepalese out in the last over, admittedly for 362. Miles Covers and John Portal both ended with 3 wickets and Ollie Cox bowled well with little luck.
And so we were introduced to the sensation that is Sandeep, a young man with enormous talent, a gold streak in his hair and millions of adoring fans. The Nepalese Shane Warne, he has the confidence and skill to take him wherever he wants to go and is now playing in the Big Bash, IPL and PPL, as well as his own domestic cricket.
Karan KC, the hero of Valentine’s Day earlier in the year when the Rhinos beat Canada in a sensational finish and gained ICC status, opened from the top and soon had Halliday out caught behind. Sandeep was quick to the wicket, the ball spinning in the air and spitting off the pitch. Harry Fisher remained steadfast at one end despite the numerous appeals for LBW, which were quite rightly turned down. Sandeep was distraught with every rejection, the great showman that he is.
Miles Covers survived, but a mid-order collapse against the strength and accuracy of the Nepalese meant the the Hogs were all out a long way short of a winning score. Sandeep finished with 2 wickets, but it was Lalit Narayan, lithe and quick, who took 5 wickets to rip the middle order to shreds.
The match had been arranged following an approach a year or so before by Prashant Kumar, who is a great ambassador for Nepal and for Nepalese cricket. Behind the scenes, there was much uncertainty about visas and whether the team would be allowed in for the week before their big day at Lord’s. Happily, these were overcome.
The team stayed at Winchester University and I had the pleasure of being their factotum – their driver, shopper and laundryman. Thanks must go to so many people, including Richard White at Prince’s Mead School, for allowing the team to use training facilities, and the management of the Porterhouse restaurant, which treated the whole team to a delicious supper so great was their excitement on their team’s arrival, and Rod Bransgrove, of course, among many others.
I mentioned the enthusiasm for the sport. On the Hogs’ big day, George Browne and his girlfriend made a live video cast of the game using just an iPhone and Facebook Live and, at one point, they had 57,000 people watching a very unsteady view of the game with, in return, constant chat and enquiry about who the Hog players were.
For the game at St Cross on the Monday, an evening T20 which started in the late evening Kathmandu time, there were over 150,000 people watching the live stream. George is now a national hero in Nepal as well.
It was a great privilege to spend time with these players, their coaches and support staff. Nepalese cricket is in its international infancy but they have some brilliant players and wonderful fans. They are welcome any time.