Cricket's growth in Nepal over the last decade can be best charted by their captain Paras Khadka. Khadka burst into fame in 2006, when he took a little-known Nepal U19 to Plate Championship final.
He did the same in 2008 and a year later was leading the national team. Already a celebrity in Nepal, this 26-year-old now carries the hopes of more than 20 million people, who are gradually shifting their allegiance from football to cricket.
For a man of such a stature, Khadka's mature approach during the pre-tournament press conference yesterday reinsured that Nepal's cricket is in good hands.
“We are here to present Nepal cricket in front of the whole world. It's a great opportunity for us. It's not just been three to four month period where we qualified and came here, for all of us it's been 10 to 12 years of continuous hard work,” said Khadka.
“We have an amazing fan following back home almost everywhere we go. It's almost like another Test playing country…the number of cricket fans that we have,” he added.
Many were surprised when Nepal qualified for the mega event ahead of the likes of Scotland and other favourites. It's an aspect that Khadka hopes will revolutionise cricket back home.
“Hopefully this will be a breakthrough for the country itself. We need a structure back home. Once we qualified, the government, the sports council, everybody is pretty keen as to how we can develop cricket further,” said Khadka.
Also at the dais yesterday was a confident Irish group, fresh from their T20 win against the West Indies at Kingston. Paul Stirling expects Ireland to make it through to the Super 10s.
“We are looking to beat Zimbabwe and win all the matches after that and look forward to the next stage. We were in the West Indies and beat their national team before coming here. We are pretty happy for that,” said Stirling.
Stirling reckons that hard hitter Kevin O'Brien would be the key player for their side.
“We look up to big Kevin. He is a big hitter and played the super innings against England. He is our match winner and he can do it with the ball as well. Our skipper William Porterfield too played very well in Dubai.”
UAE captain, Khurram Khan hopes that 'similar' conditions in Bangladesh will prove to be an advantage for the cricketers from the Gulf and help them post a surprise win against favourites Zimbabwe.
“Looking at the condition in Bangladesh the wickets are quite similar to the ones in UAE. So definitely you cannot write off anyone here,” said Khan.
That UAE have had to work extremely hard to qualify is perhaps best described by the fact that all cricketers in the team maintain a career apart from cricket in order to make a living.
“Qualifying for the World Cup is a huge achievement for a team which is not professional. But the times are changing and there are lots of young ones coming into the game hoping to make it a career,” said Khan.