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Delhi should have picked Lamichhane much earlier

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Sandeep_Lamichhane_Nepal_Cricket_IPL_Delhi_DaredevilsThe moment all Nepalese cricket fans were waiting for finally arrived last week as 17-year-old leg-spin sensation Sandeep Lamichhane made his much-anticipated debut in the Indian Premier League. Not only did he become the first Nepalese to play in the IPL, but also one of the youngest players in the league’s ten-year history. In a purchase that made headlines, Lamichhane was bought by the Delhi Daredevils for his base price of Rs. 20 lakhs at the auction in January.

Lamichhane first came into the limelight at the 2016 Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh, where he was instrumental in his team’s quarterfinal finish with 14 wickets, the second highest in the tournament, at 17.07. Later that year, he was invited by former Australian captain Michael Clarke to play grade cricket in Sydney. Lamichhane had left an impression on Clarke during the 2016 Hong Kong T20 Blitz, where both of them were part of the Kowloon Cantons franchise.

Lamichhane’s stock continued to rise in the months following his IPL deal. He was at the forefront of Nepal’s successful campaign at the ICC World Cricket League Division Two in Namibia in February, capturing 17 wickets – the joint highest – including a best of 5/20 against Kenya, which was a new record for the best List A figures by a Nepalese bowler. Not too long after, he was picked up by the St. Kitts and Nevis Patriots for the 2018 Caribbean Premier League.

 

While Nepal has seen quite a few cricketing heroes – most notably captain and star all-rounder Paras Khadka – it would not be wrong to say that Lamichhane is the first poster boy of Nepalese cricket on a truly global scale. His entry into the IPL is significant for cricket in Nepal, considering that the national team secured ODI status for the first time only in March. It is not surprising that Nepal’s journey towards ODI status has coincided with Lamichhane’s rapid rise.

 

After watching eleven games from the sidelines, Lamichhane made his IPL bow in the Daredevils’ home fixture against the Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Feroz Shah Kotla on May 12. The Daredevils, already as good as out of contention before the game commenced, set Virat Kohli’s men a formidable target of 182. As the chase began, skipper Shreyas Iyer handed the ball to Lamichhane, the teenager on debut, to bowl the first over. Would he be up to the task?

Displaying a level of maturity that belied his age, Lamichhane kept the left-handed opening pair of Parthiv Patel and Moeen in check by conceding just two runs in his first over. At the other end, Trent Boult removed Moeen, which brought Kohli out to the middle. Lamichhane’s second over began with a dot to Kohli, followed by a single. The third ball was tossed up, but created a bit too much of room outside the off-stump. Patel smashed it flat down the ground for four.

Would the rookie now unravel? With a colossus named A.B. de Villiers expected anytime soon, would his selection backfire on the hosts? If at all anyone had such doubts about Lamichhane, he extinguished them in the next few minutes. Undeterred by Patel’s whack, he produced a beauty with his following delivery. This time, there was no room given whatsoever. Pitched on middle stump, the ball proved too quick for Patel, and struck him plumb before he could sweep it away.

The Kotla erupted with joy, and so did Nepal. However, the visitors had just begun loading their ammunition, for de Villiers was next in. Lamichhane was now up against two of the best limited-overs batsmen ever. Surely, it was a matter of time before nerves would surface? As it turned out, they never did. The first ball de Villiers received was a googly, which drifted and hurtled into his front pad. The Protean ace only just managed to get away because the impact was outside off.

Lamichhane had shown enough that he was not one to get overawed. As the game progressed, he made the Daredevils realise what they had been missing. Though he conceded 18 runs in his last two overs, compared to seven in his first two, he was the standout bowler on a day when both Kohli (70 off 40 balls) and de Villiers (72* off 37) burnt the opposition. The Royal Challengers sped to a five-wicket win at nearly ten an over. But Lamichhane came out of the fire unscathed.

Lamichhane’s final figures read 4-0-25-1. More tellingly, he was the only bowler who kept either of the Royal Challengers’ buccaneers quiet. Against Kohli, he gave away just nine runs from eight balls. Against de Villiers, he was equally impressive, allowing ten from eight. On IPL debut, a teenaged leg-spinner from an Associate nation had won the respect of the titans, and had distinctly overshadowed his fellow bowlers, who were much more experienced in such settings.

 

Moreover, Lamichhane saw to it that his commendable debut was not a flash in the pan. He proved his worth in the Daredevils’ last two games as well, taking 1/21 against the Chennai Super Kings and 3/36 against the Mumbai Indians, both in winning causes. However, it was too little, too late for the ousted franchise, and one cannot help but feel that in making Lamichhane wait till the 12th game to showcase his wares, the team’s think-tank indeed missed a trick or two.

 

The success of Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman has proved that age and nationality are overrated factors when it comes to team selection. At times, Sunrisers Hyderabad, the current table toppers, have not shied from fielding three overseas players – Rashid, Shakib Al Hasan and Mohammad Nabi – from outside the traditional top eight nations. In doing so, they have set an example for other franchises to follow and think off the beaten path.

Despite mediocre returns with the bat, it appears that the Daredevils continued to give a long rope to Glenn Maxwell (169 runs in twelve innings) and Colin Munro (63 runs in five innings), primarily on basis of reputation. Similarly, Liam Plunkett (four wickets in seven games at 56.25) turned in an ordinary performance, yet was persisted with. Had the foresight to pick Lamichhane at the outset been shown, the Daredevils’ fortunes could well have been different.

 

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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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