De Villiers ready to take on mountainous challenge by signing for Nepal showpiece

AB de Villiers has signed for the Nepalese T20 league

Tony Bishop

After its postponement in 2020 due to the curse of Covid 19, the Everest Premier League (EPL), Nepal's T20 franchise showpiece, is looking to attract top talent for this year's six team tournament and it has started well by capturing the signature of AB de Villiers.

The competition's managing director, Aamir Akhtar, was ecstatic, saying: "We are trying our best to bring top international cricketers to put Nepal in the frame of global cricket. We had tried to bring AB de Villiers for the previous season as well but he wasn't available.

"This edition he has agreed to be here. If nothing comes in between, he will be playing at the TU [the ground in Kathmandu] for sure," he told Cricketing Nepal.

It is highly likely that there will be other big names dropping in for the competition, which will run from September 26 to October 9.

Chris Gayle was signed last year to play for Pakhra Rhinos before the postponement. It is not known at this stage whether the West Indies left-hander will be available for this edition.

The likes of Ireland's Kevin O'Brien and Paul Stirling, and the South African-born Roelof van der Merwe and Richard Levi are among the overseas players who added some considerable weight, sometimes literally, to the 2018-19 tournament.

While there may be plenty of white-ball franchise leagues around the world, raising the profile of the Everest will be of huge value to Nepal, who have been an associate member of the ICC since 1996 and were awarded Twenty20 International (T20I) status by the ICC in June 2014 before losing it briefly.

In March 2018, they further gained ODI status for the first time (and regained Twenty20 International status), after winning the first play-off match in the 2018 cricket World Cup qualifier.

Unlike some other smaller cricketing nations, whose teams are largely made up of expatriates, Nepal's national team comprises Nepalese players who have often come through the ranks of age-group cricket.

Sandeep Lamichhane is leading the way, gaining global recognition not just for himself, but also his country, starring in the IPL and the Big Bash and soon to be seen in Worcester Rapids' colours in the T20 Blast.

More like him will help Nepal to build on their 34 T20 Internationals and 10 ODIs to date.

AB de Villiers, with the box-office strokeplay that has seen him average over 40 in 169 IPL matches for Delhi and Royal Challengers Bangalore, as well as noteworthy performances in the Blast for Middlesex, the CPL, PSL and the BBL, would not just be a stellar acquisition, but also a magnet that can attract the crème of the global franchise circuit.

Which team he ends up playing for has yet to be decided and Lalitpur Patriots owner Kishor Maharjan said: "I think every franchise will run behind a player like him. We know other teams are trying to get him like us. We are hoping to rope him in."

Bhairahawa Gladiators, Chitwan Tigers, Biratnagar Warriors and Kathmandu Kings XI are the four other teams.

The EPL is the best-attended sports event in Nepal, also gathering unparalleled viewership on national TV. A global audience as well, tuned in to the likes of de Villiers in a scenic environment, will bring the revenue that should filter down to aid the development of more Sandeeps to propel the nation up the cricketing ladder.

Jingle by Men With Ven