- Anush Aryal
Roy Luke Dias’ identity as the Sri Lankan batsman to have carried more panache than anybody else was starting to wane away by the mid 2000s. Few more years later, his prowess with the bat was already a distant memory.
Identities get changed; Dias’ identity was no exception. He was now venerated as the ‘Godfather of Nepali Cricket’; he had ‘taught’ Nepal to play cricket.
What happened during the transition from the flamboyant Lankan batsman to the ‘Godfather of Nepali Cricket’ is in itself a long epic of blood, sweat, tear, pain and glory, but the transition, more importantly, had occurred.
In the summer of 2011, Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) opted not to retain Roy Dias as the head coach of the team, thus his contract was not renewed.
This decision introduced polarized views. Some feared this would lead to the apocalypse of Nepal cricket and some nodded it would bring a much needed change and fresh approach.
Later, CAN brought in little known former Sri Lankan, now Canadian, number one wicket-keeper Pubudu Dassanayake, fresh after guiding Canada into and in the 2011 Cricket World Cup to fill in the boots of Dias.
Few saw positives in bringing a coach who toiled and succeeded with a fellow associate nation. For few others, humble, underachieving, rotund Pubudu was no match to the legend, man management and persona of Roy Dias. Opinions seldom get coherent.
Pubudu’s baptism of fire was to cope with the media, the ever expanding fan base and expectations. The pond of politics within the CAN was getting dirtier with passing of each second. Pubudu had a task in hand.
With confidence and poise of the coach who had taken a similar associate nation into the world cup, Pubudu told to the press and Nepal’s cricketing fraternity, “My aim is to take Nepal into the world cup.” He, as the master of himself had what it takes commitment, capacity and experience.
Roy Dias as a charioteer made the chariot of Nepali cricket walk a bit; Pubudu had now promised he’d make it trot.
Off went Dias, the character artist, Nepali fan now sensed the entry of the hero.
The Pubudu era was about to kick-off.
During the first half of his stint as Nepal head coach, Pubudu touched and turned things into gold. He could do no wrong. Nepali cricket was an Alice whom he was taking to the wonderland.
Nepal jumped off multiple divisions in the one day cricket and put in performances of some high quality. For the first time, the team was crowned the champions of ACC Trophy Elite. The team was soaked with praise both here in Nepal and abroad. Experts worldwide acclaimed the play and fans grew more and more optimistic.
The caterpillars of Dias era were metamorphosed into butterfly in Pubudu era; the prodigies in Gyanendra Malla and Paras Khadka were leading the ways. Pubudu and Basant Regmi would make a good pair on physique; they too made a good partnership to win Nepal matches.
Pubudu was leading the young, yet experienced team to immortality and invincibility with some very fine Herculean tales to be bequeathed.
Apparently, it was only in Pubudu era Nepal graced T20 cricket, cricket’s youngest edition. For the first time, Nepal qualified into the ICC World T20 2012 Qualifiers and was the surprise package in the tournament finishing seventh. Two years later, the team not only finished third but also qualified for the World T20 in Bangladesh. So far, it stands as the zenith of sports accomplishments in Nepal.
If Roy Dias had taught Nepal to play, Pubudu had taught Nepal to win.
For the unprecedented success and assiduous endeavors, each entity of the team was the national hero for unifying the nation hit by the political instability and plagued with issues of racial identity. Pubudu got his shares of praise as being called ‘Dronacharya’ by the fans and some media.
Speaking in a Jose Mourinho-like way, ‘There was the God and next to God-Pubudu’. Yes, he was such revered by the fans and media regardless of the occasional run-ins with the CAN.
Now Pubudu bragged, “World T20 is the bonus, we’ll play the real world cup in Australia.” There was the buzz all round, Nepali fans believed in their ‘Dronacharya’ and his ‘Arjuns’.
As everything in the universe, the extended honeymoon period of Pubudu era was bound to end one day and it did in alientic conditions in New Zealand. The team was not only humbled in New Zealand, it was crushed and embarrassed. Honestly, Nepal was exposed in New Zealand.
The team was now severely criticized and over-dependency on Paras Khadka was costing it big time when the skipper was laid out injured. Regardless of the immediate reasons of debacle and team not actually being the world cup material, Pubudu now had failed to deliver his promise.
Pubudu swallowed the pride, accepted the defeat and promised improvements. The improvement was seen immediately in the World T20 with the team winning two of the three matches including the one very famous against Afghanistan. Nepal had really arrived in the world stage! This was a big moment; even those who had no connection with cricket were labeling the tournament to be the watershed of big things to come.
Though the team had gone through various crests and troughs, off the field it was the same old story with CAN which was stubborn in its choice not to evolve. The internal political scenario became up roses, the blame game was into the climax. There was a triple threat cold war between CAN, National Sports Council and the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Cricket was secondary, clash of egos was primary.
Pubudu and skipper Paras Khadka took it upon their shoulders to take cricket forward with little help from those who were assumed to provide assistance.
As expected they formed a special bond and their influence was growing. Team selection, strategy, mentoring the youngsters and so on; everything in Nepal cricket went through them. They were now the Gaffer. CAN was next to non- existent except for some controversies. Easy to assume, CAN officials took as umbrage and they were waiting for one chance.
Shortly after the World T20, CAN decided to mess things up, this is what they are generally so good at. They decided not to renew Pubudu’s contract. CAN you believe it? The best ever coach in the history was now on the verge of being thrown under the bus.
The decision sparked some immediate reactions from the cricketing community in Nepal. It went as far as Paras Khadka publicly declaring he’d retire if Pubudu is not reinstated to his duties. Things went from bad to ugly.
Finally, after a much needed intervention by Ministry of Youth and Sports, the whole turmoil settled up but not for once and all. There were still some beefs, none backed up from belittling other whenever possible.
Back to cricket now, Nepal had been relegated Division 3 in World Cricket League and was forced to travel to Uganda to win the Division 3 tournament to qualify for the Divison 2 and keep the hopes alive for I-Cup and ODI status. They did what they were supposed to do by winning the tournament.
The team had also participated in the ACC Premier League, improved version of the ACC Trophy Elite. There was nothing new apart from losing to Oman and as usual Afghanistan lambasted Nepal in one day cricket. This fueled some gossips.
Then came the big test, the key to the future, the Division 2 tournament in Namibia whose result was pretty much expected but everything on field was different; we were beating the teams we were not supposed to beat and losing to the ones we shouldn’t have in the fans’ worst of the nightmares.
Cricket was changing in this level of game. After ICC changed some of the rules, Nepal was promoted into the Division One in the world cricket league despite finishing the tournament fourth. It seemed only CAN was the thing in mercurial universe not willing to change.
Pubudu’s job was saved but CAN was still flirting with short term contracts.
In the mean time, Nepal was hit with a vehement earthquake which brought absolute devastation. An uncertainty was glooming all over. Tribhuwan University Cricket Ground, the only cricket ground in the country was also affected. In no time the ICC World T20 Qualifier was arriving and the cricket community seemed worried. To everyone’s surprise, CAN came with an unlikely assistance cashing it on more of a sympathetic help from the BCCI started the preparation ‘millions of years before’. CAN sent the team to India and later in Europe for preparation of the WT20Q and the WCL first round of fixture against Scotland. Regardless of what Subash Khakurel later complained, the team had its best ever preparation with handful of matches in India and Europe. It was evident from Pubudu’s statement about winning the WT20Q.
World T20 to placate the pains of the trembles of the quake was the notion all round.
But what could be the bigger anti-climax than Nepal’s mediocre performance in the WT20Q which left even the best erudite short of adjective? After win in the first match against the United States, teams came and handed Nepal thumping defeats one after other with the real issue being the margin.
Pubudu’s claim of winning the tournament felt flat and sounded like a joke: a bad joke. For the second time, Pubudu’s confidence on the team was proved histrionic. For the second time, the ever humble Pubudu bragged and could not deliver. May be he was not made to gloat and boast.
In the WCL first round of matches, Nepal conceded both the ties to Scotland despite putting a spirited fight in first match.
The team management struggled to get anything right, Pubudu was unable to inspire team. He had long lost his magic touch. Nepal lost half the match even before a ball was bowled by losing the toss; remaining job was done by the overly defensive approach and some test match batting within the first half of innings. Without contribution from Paras Khadka and Gyanendra Malla, Nepal’s innings looked like a waif; like an orphan loitering ahead amazed by the grandiosity of some big towers.
Pubudu was called more a shrewd tactician who’d come with some stupendous stratagem rather than a coach who helps player honing the skills. But, Nepal lacked clear frame of mind in the defeats and the strategies were questioned. People shouted, “Where was the plan B?”
Criticisms spurred in, the gossips of Pubudu being a mere harvester harvesting the crops grown by Roy Dias were getting strident. It was harsh because after one failure people started giving vitriolic remarks and effaced his successes. The officials in CAN had their ONE CHANCE to settle their grudges with him and show who really the boss was.
Since the great European debacle, CAN became torpid for except some ugly politics and Nepali Cricket was in the state of doldrums until this ten days or so.
A national daily claimed to have a full proof evidence of the CAN meeting and deciding on favor of sacking Paras Khadka as the skipper. BOOM! CAN later rebuked this with a statement but the news had already traveled to all continents, Paras too had the access to the internet and papers in his home. He was absolutely dejected.
Would there be smoke without flames?
Not much water had flown under the Karnali Bridge, the other bombshell was dropped; Pubudu Dassanayake resigned as the head coach of Nepal. Oh seriously?
Pubudu who was bashed for being far too predictable was not predictable at all announcing his resignation. This was taken as betrayal by a few who pointed at arriving World Cricket League second round of matches. Pubudu should have decided earlier was the point. Criticism for being predictable, criticism for being unpredictable: take that!
The reason for resignation was cited as family, people respected his privacy. Satirists almost congratulated CAN for their burden being carried away by the wind.
The stint of iconic coach in the history of the game in Nepal was now only the part of history. Seven months after he was quoted as saying that he’d like to born as a Nepali if he were to born again, he was gone.
No surprise, Pubudu’s stint was not all about winning things and getting revered. He had fair amount of critics as well. He might also have made some decision which he’d like to change if he can go back to that time.
Pubudu was frequently slammed for Nepal’s lack of improvements while pitched up against some serious rivals and his handling of prodigy Aarif Sheikh didn’t really go well in the critics’ book. Sticking with players like Sagar Pun, Subash Khakurel and Binod Bhandari even when they needed a car if they were to drive even at half volleys.
But wasn’t it Pubudu who made Nepal win tournaments after tournaments? Wasn’t it Pubudu who spotted the talent in Sompal Kami and directly named into the senior squad making him the star he is today? Wasn’t it Pubudu who rejuvenated fading Sarad Vesawkar and made him the linchpin of the team?
It is said the dark spot in white shirt is easily seen, some criticisms against Pubudu yielded according to this very analogy.
Four years at the helm on Nepali cricket, made to look fourteen by the beleaguering environment upon which he worked, Pubudu must have been mentally tired and fatigued.
The swinging mood of the CAN and the contracts they offered now and then was somewhat offending the coach. He had had enough. Four demanding years in Nepal, he gave it all, he burned himself out. His character, love and passion for the game and dream to see Nepali cricket flourish were the only things that were left now. He needed a break, he deserved the one.
He had his triumphs and despair. More than the results on the field, he had made millions of friends in Nepal. His humility and the smile was there to be seen.
He injected life into Nepal cricket. Together they achieved some unprecedented feats. Harvester? Ok, but please show a better harvester than this Sri Lankan tank.
Pubudu had made some enemies too but he eventually even helped them by getting off their way. The coach who had taught Nepal to win was not going to be a sore loser in the moral regards here.
Pubudu felt the need of new head and approach. As experts had suggested a change was a much needed requisite for the team to unlock the door of bigger magnitude. He was not to be the blockade on the way, instead he paved it.
It must have been the most difficult decision he has ever taken in his life, probably the one he’d ever take. It is not easy for coaches to leave Nepal once they work here; at least the fans are still making sure of it. Don’t believe me, ask Roy Dias and Graham Roberts.
Pubudu’s endeavor and stint with the team is now a history. Its high time we have to celebrate it now. Even the critics should come forward and appreciate the magnanimity of the journey he embarked together with the team regardless what transpired in some tiny swervings.
CAN should now come ahead and make sure Pubudu’s departure would be as apocalyptic as Dias’ departure proved out to be. But before this, we all have to join our hands and thank this smiling, rotunded former Sri Lankan wicket keeper; wave a farewell to the most influential figure in the history of Nepal Cricket. The time has come we have to acknowledge his contributions and move on.
Dear Pubudu, it was an honor supporting the team you took under you wings, joining you in this long and adventurous journey and enjoying the exhilarating moments. You will be missed. Thank You and Good Bye.