Untapped talentSir, do you know Sandeep Lamichhane?” a journalist asked Nepali football striker Bimal Gharti Magar who is under contract to Mohun Bagan, one of the oldest football clubs in India, at a press conference in Kolkata last month.
Sir, do you know Sandeep Lamichhane?” a journalist asked Nepali football striker Bimal Gharti Magar who is under contract to Mohun Bagan, one of the oldest football clubs in India, at a press conference in Kolkata last month. The reporter’s curiosity is evidence of the rising popularity of 17-year-old leg spinner Sandeep Lamichhane in India. Sandeep became the first player from Nepal to feature in the Indian Premier League after the Delhi Daredevils (DD) bought him at IPL Auction 2018 on January 27. The DD paid Rs2 million for Sandeep, not a great sum, but his entry has opened the way for other Nepali players into the glamorous world of the IPL.
Sandeep’s IPL journey raises a question about the state of cricket in Nepal. War-torn Afghanistan started participating in international cricket in the early 2000s while Nepal played its first international tournament in 1996. Afghanistan has played One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and T-20 World Cup matches and was granted Test status in 2017. Meanwhile, Nepal is still struggling to get ODI status.
Coming back to the IPL, Afghan players are already making their presence felt. All-rounder Mohammad Nabi and spinner Rashid Khan were picked up by Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) at IPL Auction 2017. Another Afghan, 16-year-old spinner Mujeeb Zabran, has been bought by Kings XI Punjab. Afghans are making an impact on Indian soil. During the years 2003 to 2005, Nepal used to beat Afghanistan easily. Since then, Afghanistan has left Nepal far behind.
So, where did Nepal go wrong? The main reason behind its poor performance is the negligence of the Cricket Association of Nepal (Can). The association has been turned into a political battleground by people with the wrong motives. Cricket was made an opportunity for officials and their families to go on foreign tours with handsome daily allowances. The association has been mired in controversy for the past decade, and has been under a ban from the International Cricket Council (ICC) for the past 21 months. Even though the ICC has allowed Nepal to play in international tournaments, it has cut funding which has hurt the sport’s development. The government has not been able to resolve the controversy surrounding Can, and the big parties have been using it as a recruiting centre for their cadres.
So how did a player like Sandeep come into the limelight despite this dismal situation? Sandeep is a product of the Chitwan Cricket Academy. Former players have been working hard to produce cricketers even though Can has done little. Nepal’s former head coach and Sri Lankan test player Pubudu Dassanayake has contributed much to Nepali cricket. He quit after being humiliated by Can officials, and left for the US where he heads the national team.
Pubudu was the first coach who picked Sandeep when he toured Nepal to search for potential players. Sandeep, the product of former national player Raju Khadka (the first Nepali batsman to score a century), won Pubudu’s heart by his spin. Immediately, he was called to Kathmandu to practice. Sandeep was selected for age groups and later he started to play at the senior level too. Sandeep’s five wickets in a match including a hat trick at the ICC U-19 World Cup in 2016 against Ireland brought him into the limelight.
Sandeep was spotted by former Australian captain Michael Clarke to play in the Sydney grade cricket in order to gain some valuable experience. He has been compared by many experts with the former Australian spinner Shane Warne. The DD head coach, former Australian captain Ricky Ponting, bought him at the auction.
In 2012, another Nepali cricketer Shakti Gauchan had made the IPL journey, but not as a regular player. With Pubudu’s help, Shakti was selected for training with the Rajasthan Royals. Nepal played the ICC World T-20 Cup in Bangladesh in 2014. This is the only big achievement of Nepali cricket till now. Sandeep’s journey is another high point.
Sandeep’s IPL journey can serve as a wake-up call for the Nepali cricketing fraternity. This can be the right time to sort out the mess at Can and move forward. Nepali politicians also have to think seriously about Nepali cricket. The prime minister and politicians should not limit their role to praising and congratulating the players for their achievements. They need to take into consideration their other needs, the main one being the creation of opportunities.
Sandeep shouldn’t be the first and last player to play for the IPL from Nepal. As former head coach Pubudu said, there are many talented players like Sandeep in Nepal. The government and Can must take the initiative to produce talented players like Sandeep who can make the country proud. However, as Pubudu said, the country’s prime cricketing body, Can, must be brought on the right track for this to happen.
- Panday is an assistant senior sub-editor at Kantipur and author of the book Bishwa T-20 Cricketka Sarthiharu