Things looked bleak at best.
They were playing musical chairs with their head coach; their ODI status was hanging by a thread and their national captain was behind bars.
In came Monty Desai, who with his vast experience of working with national teams like Afghanistan and West Indies, paved the way for Nepal to reach unprecedented heights.
They have now retained their ODI status for the next cycle and they will also play in the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe after a string of impressive wins in the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2, where they finished third behind Scotland and Oman. The cherry on top is that they will play the Asia Cup in September, where they have been grouped with India and Pakistan.
Desai came in to replace Manoj Prabhakar, who vacated the post in December 2022, after taking charge only four months earlier. Nepal had the services of top coaches like Dav Whatmore and Sri Lanka’s Pubudu Dassanayake before that, who in their own way helped Nepal to reach great heights.
But what Desai has achieved in a span of three months is easily the golden period in Nepal Cricket.
The baton passed on from Sandeep Lamichhane to a young Rohit Paudel, who continues to lead from the front, living up to his potential as the next big thing in Nepal cricket.
Fans have had the opportunity to witness something special. They leave no stone unturned when it comes to supporting their team in huge numbers and have stood by them through thick and thin. The image of the fans standing with umbrellas over their heads during the Asia Cricket Council (ACC) final in Kathmandu is indeed a sight to behold. While those hanging on to dear life on top trees nearby do not count in the official statistics, their support is surely well appreciated.
Nepal needed to win nine of their last 12 matches in the CWC ODI League 2 to retain their ODI status. They in fact did one better by qualifying for the World Cup Qualifier. So, what exactly did Desai, a qualified mechanical engineer, and an ECB level 3 coach address?
The first of them was a smooth transition from Lamichhane to Paudel. Lamichhane took over under controversial circumstances with Gyanendra Malla sacked as captain after he went straight to the press to comment on his dissatisfaction over the contract grading system.
While Desai has had experience as a batting coach of national teams like Afghanistan, and West Indies and also a stint with Rajasthan Royals and the Andhra team, taking charge of a team as a whole was not familiar territory.
There were murmurs over Lamichhane’s attitude not going down well with many in the team, but the key was that the team welcomed him back with open hands, after he was already down in the dumps following his jail stint. The leg-spinner played a pivotal role with the ball as he finished as the second highest wicket-taker in the CWC League 2 with 72 scalps at 15.86 to propel Nepal to the World Cup Qualifiers.
The Rhinos then turned into a batting force to reckon with. They made their home a fortress. They were able to chase down targets in excess of 275 against quality teams like Namibia and Scotland, and at the same time, their batters also put up enough on the board to complement the bowlers.
The fact that Desai had previously worked in the system in the country would have certainly helped. While the likes of Whatmore and Dassanayake left after disharmony in the dressing room, Desai stuck around and channelled the team in such a way that the team produced swift results.
“The coach himself is a good batter and had worked as a batting consultant with Nepal’s age group teams in the past. He knew the Nepali team very well. He is a major factor in Nepal’s change in batting approach,” former Nepal cricketer Sanjam Regmi told the Kathmandu Post.
His ‘One-Ball Battles’ - a theory that each and every ball is a separate battle of its own – has helped the West Indies a great deal since he took over as their batting coach in 2019. His strategy helped West Indies win a Test series in Bangladesh – successfully chasing 395 and the likes of Nkrumah Bonner and skipper Kraigg Brathwaite too came to the party with plenty of runs against Sri Lanka at home to salvage a draw.
Nepal winning a 10-team ACC Premier Cup seems to be an inevitable result, given what they have achieved in the last few months. Since the Mumbai-born Desai took over, they have had the better of UAE four out of five times, including beating them in the final of the tournament. Do not discount them from ruffling a few feathers in the six-team Asia Cup and also the World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe.