Saturday Features

Bowling the world over

  • By being drafted into the IPL, Sandeep Lamichhane has not only made history but opened doors for other cricketers aspiring to create life changing opportunities for themselves
- Adarsha Dhakal
Sandeep was first spotted at a cricket academy in Chitwan by former national coach Pubudu Dassayanake before being thrust into the limelight during the 2016 ICC U-19 World Cup

Feb 3, 2018-Just a week ago, Nepal cricket fans were distant viewers of the Indian Premier League (IPL)—a Twenty20 franchise cricket tournament that has revolutionised the game.

As a non-Test playing nation whose players are struggling to secure a spot in March’s ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifiers, the IPL—which attracts the very best talents from around the world—has remained an intangible dream for Nepali cricketers.

But that all changed this week.

Nepal’s 17-year-old leg spin prodigy Sandeep Lamichhane will now be a part of one of the most expensive sporting leagues in the world as the first-ever Nepali cricketer to join the game’s elite in the IPL. On Sunday, at the annual IPL auction, Sandeep was snapped up by the Delhi Daredevils for the base price of INR 2 million (Rs 3.2 million). He will be now rubbing shoulders with big name teammates like Gautam Gambhir, Glenn Maxwell, Jason Roy, Trent Boult, Kagisho Rabada, Chris Morris and Colin Munro and will be coached by Australian cricketing legend Ricky Ponting as the Daredevils make a bid to bag their first IPL trophy.

“For any cricketer, IPL can be compared with world renowned football leagues like the English Premier League or the Spanish La Liga. And as a Nepali cricketer who represents the national team, plays U-19 tournaments and is just 17 years old, Sandeep has also raised the hope that the huge pool of talent in the country can be tapped,” said U-19 coach, Binod Das, “Sandeep has opened the doors for other cricketers, who will now also aspire to create life changing opportunities for themselves.”

Sandeep’s entry into the IPL, however, is not an overnight success story. Although his journey into the highest echelons of Nepali cricket itself only began two years ago, the progress he has made during this period speaks volumes of the talent he possesses. Sandeep was first spotted at a cricket academy in Chitwan by former national coach Pubudu Dassayanake before being thrust into the limelight during the 2016 ICC U-19 World Cup.

Dassanayake, now the coach of the US national team, is still singing praises of the leg spinner. “His easy and natural action was the eye catcher for me. Later, when I watched him at the nets, his control over both leg spin and the googly was amazing. When I got back to the car (after finishing the trial), I told Subash Shahi (DPL organiser) and Raman (national team technical analyst Raman Shiwakoti) that this boy will become Nepal’s best bowler in two year’s time,” Dassanayake told the Post from Antigua, where his current side is competing in a Super 50 tournament.

Sandeep’s repertoire of leg spin deliveries consists of multiple variations, including the googly, flipper and topspin. He can even bowl six different variations in a single over which he displayed during the U-19 World Cup in Dhaka, Bangladesh. During the tournament, in a fifth-place playoff match, Sandeep made the full use of a turning pitch at the Fatullah Staduim that left Pakistan’s Saif Badar positively bamboozled. Earlier in the tournament, Sandeep had already set heads turning when he scalped a hat-trick during his five-wicket haul against Ireland, becoming only the fifth bowler to do so in the U-19 World Cup. Then, a video of a single ball from that famous over surfaced in the international media, with the BBC even dubbing him the “Nepali Shane Warne”.

Three months later, Sandeep partnered with Australia’s 2016 World Cup winning captain Michael Clarke for the Hong Kong Twenty20 Blitz. Impressed by his bowling skills, Clarke would go on to mentor Sandeep and become instrumental in recruiting him to play Grade Cricket in Australia for the Western Suburbs.

Clarke is also believed to have played a role in Daredevils buying Sandeep as his compatriot Ricky Ponting, now a coach with Daredevils, was helping the bidders during the auction. But keeping the Clarke-Ponting connection aside, it cannot be discounted that Sandeep indeed is a talent who deserves to find himself at the biggest cricketing stage.

It was recently revealed that Sandeep has been tracked by scouts since the U-19 World Cup and Hong Kong Twenty20 Blitz. The Daredevils wanted Sandeep and didn’t want this prodigy from Nepal being snapped up by any other franchise in the IPL.

“He (Sandeep) was first tracked during the Hong Kong Sixes tournament in Kowloon and he was impressive during the U-19 World Cup in Bangladesh in 2016. We never revealed our interest as we wanted to get him discreetly, not because he is from Nepal but because he is a talented cricketer,” Daredevils CEO Hemant Dua told the Indian Express in a recent interview.

The U-19 World Cup was a tournament where Sandeep out showed leg spin duo, current world no 2 Twenty20 bowler Rashid Khan of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Shadab Khan. Binod Das attributes Sandeep’s own will and desire as the keys that have gotten him to the IPL.

“The biggest factor that worked in Sandeep’s favour is his self-belief. Credit has to go to him first and then the rest,” said Das, under whom Sandeep has played multiple age-group tournaments.

Nepal, particularly Sandeep, will now have to move on from this momentary joy because the country’s brightest prodigy faces a tough ask of getting the better of other settled names in order to find a place in the playing XI for the Daredevils. Veteran Amit Mishra, bought for INR 4 crores, and Rahul Tewatia are the other two leg spinners in the Delhi squad.

Shahbaz Nadeem, a slow left-arm orthodox bowler, could be the third priority for the team, considering the amount the Daredevils have splashed on him. The IPL regulations allow only four foreign players to be fielded in the playing squad and for Sandeep to be called up, he either needs to spin some magic to impress the team’s think tank or cash in when some of the big names are not performing.

Sandeep is among the few cricketers to be sold for base price at the auction, but that he has made it to an IPL franchise itself could be one of the defining moments for Nepal. His entry into the IPL is a big respite for Nepali cricket that is going through ample off-the-field issues, and could potentially be the herald of a new era that puts the country in the game’s global mainstream. That Sandeep is eventually destined for the bright lights is certain; now, Nepali cricket fans will be watching with abated breath, whether, or not that time is already here.

Published: 03-02-2018 08:13

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