When Rashid Khan became the first Afghanistan player to appear in IPL, playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad in their season opener in 2017, it was a massive moment of acknowledgement of his talent. Here was a 18-year old leg-spinner from an associate nation marking his presence in the most lucrative league on the cricketing globe. In many ways, his arrival at IPL was a moment of acknowledgement of the talent in Afghanistan.
A year later in 2018, the same fairytale was repeated. This time, it was a moment of recognition for Sandeep Lamichhane, who was picked by Delhi Daredevils at his base price of INR 20 lakh. He was pretty similar to Rashid. Much like him, he was a teenager and belonged to an Associate nation - Nepal. Like Rashid, he was well and truly representing the whole country in the league.
Opening the bowling on his debut for Delhi Daredevils (now Capitals), on this day in 2018, Lamichhane picked one for 25 in his four overs. Delhi lost the game against Bangalore but it was a pretty successful debut for Nepal in the Indian Premier League. Interestingly, the match is also marked as Lamichhane’s T20 debut as the earlier cricket he played in the format was not sanctioned under professional T20 cricket, the Hong Kong T20 Blitz for example.
2018 was a year of great significance for Lamichhane. He started the year without any T20 contracts. By the end of it, he was signed by franchises in India, West Indies, Australia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Canada. He also made his international T20 debut - picked for the ICC World XI against West Indies at Lord’s.
Nicknamed “Sandy” by his team-mates, Lamichhane has had a serendipitous journey from the time he was spotted as a 14-year old by the then Nepal coach, Pubudu Dassanayake. It was, in fact, at left-arm spinner Basant Regmi’s wedding that proved to be the defining moment for Lamichhane.
En route to the wedding, Dassanayake had a layover in Chitwan, a small district in Nepal where Lamichhane has been residing with his family since the age of 11 when his family came back to Nepal after a few years in Haryana.
Aware of the cricketing potential of the village, Dassanayake was at his observant best while having a look at the youngsters lined up against him by the local coaches. Impressed by Lamichhane’s action and fluency, Dassanayake’s prescient eyes saw a future Nepal cricketer in the leggie.
At 14, he wanted to draft Lamichhane straight into the national team with an eye on the ACC Cup. However, Lamichhane did not have a passport to tour with the side overseas. Moreover, the selectors refused to pick a player from outside the system for regional tournaments.
Dassanayake stayed in touch with him. Lamichhane knew his time would come knowing he had the support of the coach. And it did when the MCC side toured Nepal in November 2015. With the formality of a passport not required for a home game, the leg-spinner made his unofficial debut for Nepal at the age of 15.
Wherever Lamichhane played, he left a good impression. In the series against MCC, he impressed Scott McKechnie, a former second XI county player in England who was making strides to play internationally for Hong Kong. He was dismissed twice by the leg-spinner and further told him that he would love to play with him in the near future.
Lamichhane was invited by McKechnie to feature in the Hong Kong T20 Blitz. Looking for opportunities, he did not waste any time before saying yes. In another happy accident, he met the former Australian skipper, Michael Clarke as one of his team-mates for Kowloon Cantons and as usual, made a mark instantly. As a result, Lamichhane was invited by Clarke to play grade cricket with his club, Western Suburbs. Did a positive report from Clarke help Lamichhane nail down an IPL contract with the Delhi franchise coached by Ricky Ponting? We can keep guessing.
By this time, the teenage leg-spinner had his passport problems out of the picture. Representing Nepal U19 in the 2016 U19 World Cup in Bangladesh, months before impressing in the Hong Kong T20 Blitz, he was Nepal’s highest wicket-taker in the tournament (second highest overall) with 14 scalps in six matches which also included a hat-trick against Ireland.
With such strong feedback from around the globe, it was impossible for the selectors to keep him away. Lamichhane soon became a consistent part of Nepal’s ascendancy to the ODI status. Taking 17 wickets in six matches, he was the highest wicket-taker of the ICC World Cricket League Division Two in 2018, months after getting picked by Delhi in IPL. The tournament enabled Nepal to contest in the ICC World Cup Qualifier in 2018 in Zimbabwe post a stunning one-wicket win over Canada. A part of the 51-run last wicket partnership that took Nepal home, Lamichhane showed a mature head on his young shoulders with a handy contribution of 5 runs from 18 deliveries.
In the World Cup Qualifiers, Lamichhane was again Nepal’s most productive bowler snaffling 13 wickets in six games. Nepal did not make it to the World Cup but had the chance to attain the ODI status when they matched toe-to-toe with Papua New Guinea in a playoff game in Harare. Lamichhane ran through the opposition’s middle-order taking 4 for 29. The spell helped Nepal win the game by six wickets and cherish the pride of calling themselves an ODI nation for the first time in their playing history.
As a kid, Lamichhane took up leg-spin as a means to outfox his siblings and friends in street cricket. Little he would have known that it will take him this far. Little those streets of Nepal would have known that his friends’ struggle against leg-spin would inspire Lamichhane to take Nepal cricket to such heights.
Nepal cricket has had resolute cricketers like Paras Khadka, Shakti Gauchan, Mehboob Alam, Gyanendra Malla before but Lamichhane has the potential to be their first ever superstar. At 19, he has already featured in 77 T20s around the world. But the youngster has bigger ambitions yet to be checked in his wishlist.
Lamichhane has not shied away from mentioning Test cricket as his dream and by continuing to follow the footprints laid by Rashid Khan, he would like to achieve his ultimate goal of donning the whites for Nepal one day.