Rohit Paudel – From Teen Prodigy to Toast of a Nation

Photo Credit – Cricket Association of Nepal

On a sunny morning in Colombo, in 2016, a 14-year-old Rohit Paudel walked out to bat in the Under-19 Asian Cricket Council game against India Under-19, with his side in trouble at 86 for 6. Rohit, who was making his Under-19 debut for Nepal, then proceeded to play an innings that had its share of bravado and good game awareness. There was one over in particular, where he took his game to an elevated plane by scoring 24 runs in five balls. Kamlesh Nagarkoti, who was bowling at a fair clip, was lofted and pulled, and there was also a cheeky scoop thrown in between all those shots.

The strokes on view certainly didn’t belong to the quiver of a No.8 batter. His knock also gave enough indicators that the precociously talented Paudel was made for bigger things. It also isn’t surprising that he picked that innings as one of the fondest memories in his cricketing career so far. “My debut Under-19 game against India, when I scored 68 not out,” he told RevSportz. 

Six years on from that knock, Rohit hasn’t just become the fulcrum of Nepal’s batting unit, but also showcased leadership qualities: steering Nepal to 50-over World Cup qualifiers and Asia Cup. All those vivid photographs of fans and players celebrating the victory against the UAE in the CWC League 2 game, followed by the ACC Premier Cup triumph, speak  about how the hopes and dreams of a nation turned into reality. And all those dreams materialised under the leadership of a 20-year-old, who became the captain only in November 2022. 

Rohit puts Nepal’s twin achievements down to the collective effort of the players. He also humbly adds that Nepal were aided to an extent by the rub of the green in the crucial CWC League 2 game against the UAE. “It was great to have these boys in your team, because one or the other was performing in every game, someone was taking the responsibility and winning the game for Nepal,” he said. “Kushal Malla, Rajbanshi, Aarif Sheikh, Kushal Bhurtel, Gulshan Jha, Dependra Airee, everyone has stepped in, it was very special to see. 

“I feel we were a bit lucky as well (UAE game), when rain and bad light came, right when we were ahead of DLS. But the hard work that everyone has put in, got us that luck. After we qualified, we had a small party, celebrated and enjoyed the night.”

The seed for Rohit to dream of playing in the big colosseums were sown when he ended up watching Nepal play in a World Cup. Around that time, he had started playing cricket with his brother, Raju Paudel.  Although his neighbours weren’t exactly enamoured by his skills.

“I used to play with my elder brother, he would take me for tennis-ball games. “I have broken glasses (glass panes), and neighbours used to say, ‘go to the ground and play’. When I was a kid growing up in Buddhabasti village, I (also) saw Nepal play in the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh in 2014. I got the motivation to represent Nepal. Then, I came to Kathmandu and started practicing in the Baluwatar academy, and (subsequently) I got selected in the Under-19 level and senior level.”

At just 16 years and 146 days old, in an ODI against the UAE in Dubai, Rohit entered the international arena with a bang, becoming the youngest male cricketer to compile an international fifty.  Incidentally, the 29-year record that he broke stood in the name of the legendary Sachin Tendulkar. But a sportperson’s journey is akin to playing the Snake and Ladders board game, where a downward slide is always around the corner.

After some initial success, Rohit soon found himself out of the side, and that was followed by another setback. But a senior cricketer, who also happened to be captain of Nepal at the time, had kept a keen eye on Rohit’s bountiful skills. At his insistence, Rohit was picked again in mid-2021.

“That was one of the toughest periods of my life. I got dropped from the team also, then I got Covid-19 (in November 2020). At that time, I started training hard, I was trying my best to come back into the team, that was my motivation. The captain at that time was Gyanendra Malla. He saw me practicing indoors, he brought me back into the team, he gave me the chance to play against PNG [Papua New Guinea]. In both the games, I played really well. in one, I scored 47 (41), and in another 84 (86) or something.”

Just a year later, Rohit took over the responsibility of leading the side from Sandeep Lamichhane. In February this year, Monty Desai was named as Nepal’s head coach. Rohit points to how Desai’s arrival resulted in a change in mindset among the players. Desai, who had worked with some of the players in Nepal’s age-group teams, instilled enough self-belief among the players to dream big. “The day he came in, he changed everything, the mindset of the players, motivating us that we can achieve anything,” he noted. “Those critical, small moments, how to win it. Sir used to say, ‘be focused and relaxed.'”

Rohit has also led the side from the front with bat in hand. One of those vital knocks that illustrated this was his 95 against Scotland in a CWC League 2 game in Kirtipur. Wickets kept falling at the other end, but Rohit ended up remembering a valuable piece of advice that his coach had given. Eventually, Nepal won that see-saw game by two wickets. “It was an important match, the wicket was tricky, it was turning, and my focus was to stay till the end and win the game,” he said. “Just wanted to focus on one-ball battles, as Monty sir says.”

There are enough future goals to be achieved for Rohit and company. But Rohit, Desai and the rest of the set-up’s ambitions aren’t just restricted to short-term goals. Instead, they have visualised realizing a bigger dream. “A few things he (Desai) has taught us is to dream about becoming the No.1 Associate nation, to find our identity.”

For the time being, the immediate goal would be to put on a good show in the World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe, followed by the Asia Cup, where they are set to lock horns against the Asian giants – India and Pakistan. Another Rohit would be expected to lead the Indian side in that Asia Cup. So, Paudel would have the opportunity to toss the coin with one of his favourite cricketers. And also dream of exhibiting his batting and leadership skills in front of one of his heroes.


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