A cricket journey of several decades and multiple world records later, Nepal are set to debut at the Asia Cup, in 2023.

St Saviour, Jersey is not exactly the most popular international cricket venue. The incidents of that day in 2008 had, thus, eluded most in the cricket fraternity. It did not, after all, have ODI status.

Yet, the Guinness Book of World Records took notice: “The earliest bowler to take all 10 wickets in an ICC international cricket match with limited overs was Mehboob Alam (Nepal) for Nepal against Mozambique in Jersey, UK, on 25 May 2008. The match was contested as part of the 2008 ICC World Cricket League Division V competition. The accomplishment has only happened professionally in two other instances, both in Test cricket with unlimited overs: once each by Jim Laker (UK) and Anil Kumble (India).”

In this mismatch, Nepal had posted 238-7 in 50 overs and bowled out Mozambique for 19. Bowling unchanged, Mahaboob Alam – that is how he is spelt on the databases – finished with 7.5-1-12-10.

Remarkably, it was not Mahaboob’s first absurd spell. Two years ago, he had run through Myanmar with 6.1-3-3-7 (Binod Das got 6-2-4-3 at the other end) as Nepal shot out Myanmar for 10 in an ACC Trophy match in Kuala Lumpur. The chase had taken two balls (no typo there).

Mahaboob was an exceptional bowler, but none of his matches got international status. For an ICC-approved international record, Nepal had to wait until 2019/20. In all international cricket, there are 645 instances of a bowler not conceding a run in an innings. Of them, Anjali Chand’s figures against Maldives in Pokhara (2.1-2-0-6) remain the best.

Chand’s spell came five years after Nepal Men had played in the T20 World Cup Qualifier in 2014. In their first match, captain Paras Khadka – until that point the biggest name in Nepal cricket – made 41, then struck with the first ball in the history of their country.

Over the years, Khadka would score the first hundreds for Nepal in both ODIs and T20Is, and was instrumental in some of Nepal’s most famous matches for the rest of the decade. In the cricket-mad nation, he would have to resort to masks in public places – long before the pandemic – to prevent being mobbed.

In the World Cup match, Gyanendra Malla (48), Basant Regmi (3-14), Shakti Gauchan (3-9) – the other stalwarts – all rose to the occasion as Nepal made 149-8, then bowled out Hong Kong for 69.

They lost to Bangladesh, but took down Afghanistan. This time Subash Khakurel made 56 and Jitendra Mukhiya claimed 3-18. Nepal missed out on a Super 10 berth, not on points but on net run rate. They stood with a chance had they not let Afghanistan recover from 50-5 to 132-8.

The qualification mattered to the Rhinos – the animal features on the Cricket Association of Nepal logo – for the team of amateur cricketers had to return home without the US$ 40,000 they would have won.

A bigger setback awaited Nepal in 2015 when an earthquake ravaged the nation. Cricket took a backseat – and yet it did not, as the venerable Khadka relived: “It was a tough time. Life is bigger than anything else. Cricket was actually a healer. The game allowed us to forget the bad times.”

Cricket slowly found its footing back in the country. Part of their rise was a teenager, whose discovery was all but a fortunate accident. En route to Regmi’s wedding, Nepal coach Pubudu Dassanayake had halted in Chitwan. Word got around, and local coaches arranged for him to watch local talent.

There, Dassanayake spotted a 14-year-old leg-spinner in the nets. He knew what he had seen, but he could not get him to play at the 2015 WCL Division Two – for Sandeep Lamichhane did not have a passport.

The subsequent stories are documented well. At the Hong Kong Blitz, he impressed Kowloon Cantons teammate Michael Clarke so much that the recently Australian captain invited him to play grade cricket in Sydney.

In another era, Lamichhane would have had to be content with playing the odd international match and find a day job for himself. But he was born in the right era, for the Delhi Daredevils (now Capitals) offered him an IPL contract of INR 2 million.

Appreciation came from prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba: “Not just me, but the entire nation is proud of you.”

The toast of the nation back then, Lamichhane was arrested for raping a minor in 2022. The CAN continues to accommodate him in their XI.

Nepal attained ODI status in 2018, then took down the Netherlands in their second match in the format – by a solitary run.

It was befitting, for earlier that year, they had run been part of a string of very close matches in the WCL Division Two, which earned them the moniker of Cardiac Kids: there is now a fan website of that name.

In 2023, they did well at the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe, winning against both the USA and the UAE. They are yet to beat an ICC Full Member side (Afghanistan was still an Associate in 2014), but their time will come.

How it all began

“Attempts have been made at various times by their tutors to get the young men to play at cricket and other games, but such amusements are thought degrading. Even to walk is beneath their dignity,” Daniel Wright had written in History of Nepal in 1877.

Nepal’s attitude towards the sport changed over time. The Cricket Association of Nepal was founded in 1946 during the Rana Dynasty. The revolution of 1951 brought the Ranas down – but not cricket. In 1961, the CAN came under the National Sports Council of the Ministry of Sports.

Cricket took its time to “trickle down to the people” from the aristocracy. Nepal joined the ICC in 1988, but it was not until the 21st century that they found footing at a global level.

In 2002, they stunned Pakistan and Bangladesh at the Under-19 World Cup. They felled South Africa in 2004, then 2006. In the latter, they took down New Zealand too, whom they would beat again a decade down the line.

The development in age-group level showed when Nepal won the ICC WCL Division 5 in 2010. In the same year, the women’s team defended their ACC Under-19 Women’s Championship title.

Just over a decade, a major earthquake, and a global pandemic later, Nepal are set to take on the heavyweights of their neighbourhood.