It is a pleasantly cool June evening as Sompal Kami dries himself off next to the pool at a five-star hotel in New Delhi’s business district of Nehru Place. Just about a month remains for the ICC T20 qualifiers in Ireland and Scotland — to determine six qualifers for the T20 World Cup in 2016 . Kami, as part of the Nepal cricket team, has just submitted his visa application forms and in a couple of days, will head to Dharamsala for a 20-day training camp. As such the 19-year-old pacer’s mind should be on cricket.
Yet, freshly imprinted in his mind and impossible to forget are the scenes of panic, chaos and destruction witnessed in Kathmandu only a few weeks back. On April 25, Kami was resting in his fifth floor apartment in the Nepalese capital, a day before selection trials were to be held to pick a 22-man squad ,when a devastating earthquake first struck the city.
“When the earth shook I panicked at first but I also had to rescue two pregnant women who were in the third floor of the building. We were able to rescue them,” says Kami of the quake measured at 7.8 on the Richter scale and one that eventually killed nearly 9000 people.
Kami and his neighbours were some of the lucky ones. But repeated aftershocks led to fears the building they had just escaped from was dangerous and much of the neighbourhood slept out in a nearby park. “We couldn’t go back to our houses initially We tried our best to cheer people up but the aftershocks led to people panicking again,” recalls Kami.
At that point, as with most of his countrymen, the T20 World Cup qualifiers was far from the minds of Kami and the rest of the Nepal cricket team.
“Our immediate thoughts were about our families and ensuring we all were safe,” says Gyanendra Malla, the vice captain of the team. “None of us cricketers were hurt in the quake. The quake was in the afternoon when many of us were training,” says Malla, whose sister was injured during the quake.
Malla, however, mentions a U-19 cricket teammate, Subhash Pradhan, who suffered serious injuries after he had to be pulled out of the rubble of his collapsed home.
In the aftermath of the disaster, the players tried to do their bit to help out. While captain Paras Khadka was in Australia at the time of the quake, he raised funds for his country.
“Paras bhai raised donations, and we also bought food and water to help the people who were living in tents because their homes had collapsed,” says Kami.
As life slowly limped back to normalcy, players too started attempting to start training again in a bid to qualify for their second straight World T20. “The World Cup has been what we had been preparing for for the last two years. We couldn’t let that dream slip,” says Khadka.
Fate though seemed to be conspiring against them. A day before an informal camp was to be called for players based around Kathmandu on May 12, an aftershock measured at 7.3 on the Richter scale struck the country. Practice was difficult as the country’s premier cricket facility, the Tribhuvan University ground was damaged in the quake. The players couldn’t even apply for their visa for the T20 qualifiers as the visa building was severely damaged as well.
Sleeping in the open for several days, had taken a toll on pacer Kami .”The same area had to be used as a water gathering point and so it was quite damp as well,Because we were sleeping in the open, my body would get stiff and painful in the morning,” he says.
When things appeared particularly hard, the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) got a helping hand from the BCCI which offered the team the use of the Dharamsala cricket ground. “The team had been planning to train in India prior to the tournament but mostly through our own contacts. But after the earthquake, the BCCI helped us out and we have to thank them for getting us this facility,” says Deepak Koirala, the president of the CAN.
But while they are grateful for the facilities provided, the team still struggles to overcome the psychological trauma of the past month. “Because of the repeated aftershocks, it was very difficult to feel that you are safe. It is still a bit hard for some of the players. When they went to their hotel room, they began to feel that it was shaking because of the height they were in. At other times even your heartbeat makes you feel that you are caught in an earthquake,” says Kami.
But captain Khadka says the team needed to get away from the country and get started with its preparations in earnest. “The longer time you spend away from the destruction, the easier it is to move on with your life. You can’t stop living your life because of a tragedy. In Nepal too, people are learning to move on with their life. Cricket may be just a part of life but over the last three years it has become a very significant part of Nepal. Some of our fans are as passionate as the fans in India. Cricket is just one of those things that helps you realise that life will go on,” he says.