Nepalese cricketers turn tragedy into triumph . . . While PNG stars play for a country devastated by an earthquake

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Robson Sharuko

Harare – When the Nepalese cricketers touched down at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu on Monday, they were greeted by a sea of their cheering countrymen and women who had been waiting at the airport for hours, draped in national colours, to give them a heroes’ welcome from their ICC Cricket Qualifier 2018 adventure in Zimbabwe.   

The party atmosphere had been triggered by the Nepalese cricketers’ historic feat in qualifying for full One Day International (ODI) status, for the next four years, during their campaign in Zimbabwe, which represents a landmark achievement for the country.

The team might have lost three of their four group matches but victories over Hong Kong and another six-wicket success story over Papua New Guinea in a play-off meant the Nepalese cricketers transformed their nation into a full ODI country for the next four years.

They might have lost to the Netherlands in their final game before flying back home but that counted for nothing, as the Nepalese had completed their grand mission, which is even more remarkable given that their domestic cricket controlling body remains suspended by the International Cricket Council.

“To the well-wishers of Nepal Cricket, it’s the result of years of hard work, years of patience, hard work of many legends and here we are now,” cricketer Sandeep Lamichhane said on Twitter.

“A big proud day for all the people of Nepal, what a beautiful journey so far. Together it’s possible. Nepal - an ODI Nation!”

Ironically, the same airport, which was now the scene of these grand celebrations, had been the site of tragedy a few days earlier when a Bangladeshi airline, US-Bangla, crashed and burst into flames killing 49 of the 71 people on board.

There were 36 Bangladeshi nationals and 33 Nepali nationals and each country lost over 20 citizens in the crash on March 13, which was the worst aviation disaster involving a Bangladeshi airline and the third worst to occur at the same Kathmandu airport.

Flight BS211 from Bangladesh veered off the runway while landing, and crashed into a football field, after a 75-minute flight from the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka with the airline blaming air traffic control while the airport officials said the plane approached from the wrong direction.

Nepalese Prime Minister, KP Sharma Oli, promised an immediate investigation, as the country reeled from one of its worst plane disasters in recent years

The 78-seater Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 was being piloted by a Bangladesh pilot, who was on his fifth flight of the day, all of them short-haul trips, and who had over 5,000 hours of flying experience, having served in the Bangladeshi airforce, and who had landed at the same airport more than 11 times before.

“After a normal take-off from Dhaka, the plane had begun to behave strangely, as it approached Kathmandu,” one of the survivors, Nepalese travel agent Basanta Bohora, told journalists from his hospital bed.

“All of a sudden the plane shook violently and there was a loud bang afterwards. I was seated near the window and was able to break out of the window.

“I have no recollection after I got out of the plane, someone took me to Sinamangal hospital, and from there my friends brought me to Norvic [hospital]. I have injuries to my head and legs, but I am fortunate that I survived.”

It was just the latest in a number of aviation disasters in the country in recent years, with 24 people killed in a WWF helicopter crash in the eastern part of the mountainous country in September 2006; 15 people killed in a plane crash in the northern part of the country in September 2012 and 18 people killed in the western part of the country in another plane crash two years later.

Two years ago, in February, 23 people were killed when a small passenger plane crashed in mountainous western Nepal.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) was the country the Nepalese beat in Zimbabwe to secure their ODI ticket for the next four years.

The Pacific Ocean islanders were rank outsiders, just like the Nepalese, in the quest for a place at the ICC Cricket World Cup next year but they played with spirit and appeared to be trying hard to charm a nation that was hit by a devastating earthquake while they were on this tour of duty. The 7.5 magnitude powerful earthquake struck the provinces of Hela and Southern Highlands of the country and killed more than 145 people while displacing an estimated 35,000.

About 270,000 people, including 125,000 children, require urgent humanitarian assistance, according to UNICEF.

“From the reports received at the command centres [in Tari and Mendi], 45 people have died so far in the Southern Highlands province and in Hela 80 people are confirmed dead,” a PNG police spokesman said.

“It is expected that the figure might increase once all people have been accounted for.”

Darian Clark, the humanitarian duty officer of the Australian High Commission in Papua New Guinea, whose government in Canberra provided a plane and A$200,000 in relief funds, said it was the biggest quake in 100 years.

“This was the biggest earthquake in a 100 years and it spread 150 kilometres across the fault line,” he told the British Guardian newspaper.

“A number of urban settlements, as well as villages, have been affected. Many in the form of landslides and landslips, which means that roads have been cut off, water contaminated, power knocked out and other widespread effects for the local people.

“This is the first round of humanitarian relief supplies to be provided to the affected area and we understand there is a desperate need for the items we’re taking up. So I think the priority of what we are doing cannot be understated.”

Amid all this turmoil back home, the cricketers have been doing their best in Zimbabwe to try and provide a cheer to their devastated communities and the outpouring of joy at the airport in Kathmandu, just days after it had been turned into a cathedral for weeping as people cried for their dead relatives, told a powerful story.

The ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe have not only been about getting the two tickets to the World Cup in England and Wales next year and, for some nations, as shown by the Nepalese, it goes beyond that success line.

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