Sandeep Lamichhane. (BCCI/IPL Photo)
MUMBAI: Amongst the associate cricket-playing countries, Sandeep Lamichhane continues to be the biggest leg-spinner, and perhaps the biggest player too. The 20-year-old leg-spinner from Nepal has played for all the top franchises in the best T20 leagues of the world, including for the Delhi Daredevils (as the Delhi Capitals were called back then) in the IPL.
Currently, the leggie has taken eight wickets in three matches at an economy rate of 8.02 to bowl Nepal to the final of a T20 Tri-Series that the Himalyan nation is playing at home. He is the highest wicket taker in the tournament so far, and the hosts would again bank on him to beat The Netherlands in the final on Saturday.
“It’s great to be the leading wicket taker in this tournament so far, but it’s still a big day for us ahead tomorrow.We’re prepared for the final. We’re definitely going to try to keep taking wickets tomorrow,” Lamichhane, speaking from Kirtipur in Nepal where the Tri-Series is being held, told TOI in an exclusive interview on Friday, the eve of the summit clash.
Like most young spinners, Lamichhane, who has played for Hobart Hurricanes and Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League in Australia, idolises Australian leg-spin legend Shane Warne. “I’ve met him plenty of times so far, in the IPL and in the Big Bash,” said Lamichhane. Warne’s advice to the tweaker has been simple. “It’s been a short and sweet talk. He told me to just keep taking wickets, as that’s what a leg spinner’s job is and just be brave as a bowler,” he revealed.
In 2018, Lamichhane made history when he was bought for Rs 20 lakhs by the Delhi Daredevils, becoming the first cricketer from Nepal to be sold in the IPL auction. At that time, India’s Prime minister Narendra Modi had even commented that his signing had strengthened the relationship between India and Nepal. He took five wickets in three matches in his debut season. However, after his three year-contract was done with last year, he wasn’t retained by the now rechristened Delhi Capitals, and thereafter, failed to find a place in any team.
Lamichhane has taken the setback in his stride. “There’s nothing personal. I mean, I don’t think they needed any spinner, because the team (Delhi Capitals) was full of spinners and this year, they went for a batsman. It’s ok. It happens,” he philosophised.
The young man would rather dwell on what he gained from the IPL. “It was fantastic to get a chance to play for the Delhi team in the IPL. It’s something which I’m going to remember for a long time. Playing under (coach) Ricky Ponting) and (captain) Shreyas Iyer, it was amazing. I participated in three IPL seasons. I couldn’t get a game last season, but the processes and things that I learnt there were amazing,” said the Nepal spinner.
Does he hope to play in the IPL again? “Yes, if somebody picks me up, then I definitely would want to play in the IPL again,” he said.
While playing cricket in a bio-bubble, due to covid, is a new experience for Nepal’s cricketers, Lamichhane has got used to the experience after having gone through it while playing in the various T20 leagues around the world. “For me, staying in a bubble has become a habit now. For almost one year now, I’ve been playing in a bio-bubble-from the Caribbean Premier League (CPL), to the IPL, BBL, Pakistan Super League (PSL), and now this T20- Tri-Series. In this tournament, everywhere we go, we have to stay in a bubble. Maybe it’s a new normal for me, but it’s a very new experience for all other Nepal players from Nepal to stay in a bio-bubble,” said Lamichhane.
In a big shot in the arm for Nepal cricket, Nepal managed to rope in Dav Whatmore, who had coached Sri Lanka to their maiden ODI World Cup win in 1996, as their national team’s coach in December last year. “It’s a pleasure to have someone like him in Nepal. Since he joined us, he has had a big impact on our team. I’m looking forward to some more amazing time with him as our coach,” said Lamichhane.
The young turk revealed that cricket was gaining ground at a quick pace in Nepal. “Cricket in Nepal is very popular these days. The way people are actually looking up to this sport and the kind of support and love we’re getting from them is overwhelming. People have started to recognize us on the streets, which has been a fantastic thing to see,” said Lamichhane.
Is the public following this Tri-Series? “In the first two games that we played, the fans were allowed in the stadium. However, after that, covid cases were increasing in Nepal, and so, we had to stop doing that. Our fans, though, were supporting us from outside the stadium and were watching us on TV,” he explained.
How has the support been from the International Cricket Council (ICC) for Nepal? “See we are getting there slowly. We’ve got plenty of help from the ICC so far. Tournaments like this T20I Tri-Series will help us grow,” he said. Perhaps, the cash-rich BCCI can be of huge help to Nepal cricket. “I would love to see some help for us from the BCCI from any other cricketing nation, because we have been up to ourselves so far. If we could manage to tour some countries, and even play their A teams, it would be a start. At least we can get access to the kind of facilities which we don’t have in Nepal. We would be very grateful if someone could help us out on those things,” said Lamichhane.
With Nepal not having qualified for the T20 World Cup which will be held in India later this year, Lamichhane would hope that his country managed to make the cut for the T20 World Cup which will be held next year. Does he think Nepal can make it to the ODI World Cup in 2023, which will be played in India? “We still have plenty of games to play to qualify for the ODI World Cup. There is the World Cup League (for the associate nations), where every team is going to play 36 games. Nepal has played only four games so far, which means that we still have 32 games to go. Hopefully, we will manage to go through to the next round,” said Lamichhane.
So, as a leg spinner, what does Lamichhane love the most? “See, being a leg-spinner, I definitely love to bowl a big leg-break, but if I have to dismiss a batsman, I would definitely prefer that my ‘wrong one’ goes between the bat and pad to the stumps of a right-hander,” he said.
(Action from Tri Nations Cup Finals will be live on EUROSPORT and EUROSPORT HD from 13:00 Hrs (01:00 pm IST) onwards on Saturday, 24th April, 2021. The same will be live streamed on discovery+ app).