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Last Updated: Monday, 19 June 2006, 11:20 GMT 12:20 UK
Climbing mountains
By Paresh Soni

Think of Nepal and the first thing likely to come into your mind is a 29,000ft natural wonder.

By association, the next image will be Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, one half of the most famous mountaineering team in history.

Aamir Akhtar
I have seen boys playing near base camps in the Himalayas - cricket is spreading all over Nepal

Aamir Akhtar

More recently, the country has made headlines for the wrong reasons - the royal massacre in June 2001 and continuing civil disorder.

And Bollywood fans will know all about one of the country's most famous exports, actress Manisha Koirala.

But if Aamir Akhtar has his way, cricket could be the next big thing in Nepal and supplant football as the most popular sport in the country.

The 25-year-old is trying to become the first man from his country to earn a chance in English county cricket.

Captain of Luton University, where he is studying business administration and marketing, Akhtar is trying to impress Surrey in trials for their Second XI.

"Things have gone well and Surrey have shown some interest. If I keep performing and reach the standard required I might get a contract," the all-rounder told BBC Sport.

"I've done well in a couple of matches and been training with them at The Oval."

Akhtar helped the Nepal Under-19 team qualify for the Under-19 World Cup in 2000 - the first time the country had reached a world championship in any sport at any level.

The current U-19 team stunned South Africa in the group stages before beating New Zealand to win the plate championship final in the 2006 World Cup.

Then almost half the side went from Sri Lanka to Namibia to play for the seniors against the hosts in a qualifier for the ICC Intercontinental Cup.

Basanta Regmi scored 66 and took 3-41 in the U-19 World Cup plate final
Basanta Regmi scored 66 and took 3-41 in the U-19 plate final

They failed in their bid but Akhtar says it is down to a lack of experience at that level because most senior players abandon cricket for financial reasons.

"Junior cricket in Nepal is booming but because of the lack of infrastructure, players in their late 20s - who are mostly uneducated and unemployed - leave the game because they can't find sponsorship," the left-arm paceman and middle-order batsman explained.

"We only have one stadium dedicated to cricket with a proper turf pitch, in Kathmandu. Everywhere else you have to play on matting and in stadia shared with other sports.

"Our players are not exposed to other types of conditions - they only go abroad when they have to play in a tournament."

You would think the country's geography would make it virtually impossible to play the sport to any degree of competence - but such is the interest, many Nepalese make light of this.

Akhtar believes an opportunity exists to tap into this potential but knows economic realities will hinder that.

"I have seen boys playing near base camps in the Himalayas. Traditionally it was played in the region near the border with India, which is where I am from, but it is spreading all over the country.

One day we will get one-day international status - but don't expect anything instant

Aamir Akhtar

"We have a National Academy due to be completed within two years and when we hosted the Asian Cricket Council U-19 Championship in Kathmandu in February, 25-30,000 people were turning up to watch matches against Malaysia, Singapore and the UAE.

"Just imagine what would happen if we were playing India or Pakistan? We should also be looking to host triangular series between the India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka A teams and then eventually have senior teams over for one-day internationals.

"We need to commercialise cricket more. If we can't bring investors in we should get our companies to employ players to give them job security so they dedicate themselves to playing for their country."

If strides can be made, Akhtar believes Nepal's playing conditions - "a mixture of the subcontinent and England" - are the ideal breeding ground for county and international standard players.

"With the mountains and altitude, the ball swings and seams even in the summer. If Nepalese players came here they would do well," he added.

"At the moment that looks unlikely for the next 10-15 years. We are not at that level yet but I have no doubt the potential is there for them to play here eventually.

"They are among the best natural athletes in South Asia and one day we will get one-day international status - but don't expect anything instant."

SEE ALSO
Nepal's mountain to climb
04 Aug 04 |  Cricket


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