How an 18-year-old cricketer is winning hearts at home—and is leaving the game’s titans speechless abroad

Just over a year ago, Nepal’s aspirations of featuring in the international cricket leagues were confined to the imagination. The country now watches as its young prodigy is lauded by legends at the game’s global stage.
Adarsha Dhakal
Published at : December 7, 2018
Updated at : June 25, 2019 13:21

Sandeep Lamichhane was hit for seven sixes out of the 12 deliveries he got to bowl while playing for the Kerala Knights in a T10 League Super League match against the Northern Warriors at Sharjah on November 29. For a cricketer hailed as a leg spin prodigy before his meteoric rise led him to an Indian Premier League (IPL) debut with the Delhi Daredevils in May this year, these stats are devastating. But that’s not the story here.

The real story was developing on the other side of the grounds—in the commentary box —where world-renowned former players and cricket pundits were awestruck by Nepali sports’ new poster boy, who is now among the few cricketers to play internationally. The T10 League was Lamichhane’s fifth cash-spinning franchise tournament, but concurrently, the 18-year old had performed so well that he was on on the radar of team owners and management worldwide.

“I am fascinated by his temperament. Here is a young guy who has got things under control,” said former Pakistani cricketer and popular commentator Ramiz Raja during the Knights’ last Super League match against the Bengal Tigers as Lamichhane came in to bowl the second over.

Just over a year ago, Nepal’s aspirations of featuring in the world’s money-spinning cricket leagues were confined to the imagination. The country now watches as its young prodigy is lauded by legends at the game’s global stage, thanks to his performance and the manner in which he has projected himself—as a mature player, capable of handling all the pressure stacked against him.

“There is plenty of potential and guile in this kid. He is superb under pressure. He has this ability to bowl with the new ball and he is only 18. There is a serious threat to the opponent when he is on,” Raja continued to tell his compatriot and fast bowling legend Waqar Younis during the only over Lamichhane got from his captain Eoin Morgan—the England national team skipper—after he was clubbed for 20 runs.

T10—a 10-over a side game—is cricket’s shortest version and it was where Lamichhane made his debut. In contrast to the preconceived notion that he might wilt under pressure while bowling the two overs he got, Lamichhane surprised everyone. He began the tournament by returning the figures of 3-17 against the Pakhtoons and bowled a tight line to take an economical 1-14 against the Sindhis.

Lamichhane’s dream T10 debut continued with another 2-23 against the Rajputs in the third league match until the nightmare began in the Super League matches. Lamichhane was up against a few brutal smashers in Twenty20 cricket and considering the format of the game, maintaining the same rhythm was always going to be tough for him.

“He’s got plenty of variation, and he knows what he’s doing. He had tough run (against the Warriors) but he can always make a comeback. He is brave to bowl with a new ball,” Younis said as the Knights were taking on the Tigers.

Irrespective of how he fared in the latter half of the T10 League, Lamichhane has now become cricket’s global star as he will now head to Australia to realise his dream of playing in the Big Bash League, which begins from December 19. With two pending lucrative stints in the Bangladesh Premier League and the Pakistani Super League, the Big Bash League will be one more feather in globe-trotting Lamichhane’s cap.

Lamichhane now shares a dressing room with world-renowned players, an opportunity that will only enable him to gain more learning opportunities. “It feels really great when I line up with the best players in the world. They have always backed me and I am privileged to learn a lot from them,” Lamichhane told the Post.

Former New Zealand skipper Daniel Vettori predicts that the Nepali teen’s career can go higher. “The T10 League must have been a great learning experience for him. The guy is so young and playing a lot of cricket. This kind of performance and tournament in different conditions will help to raise his standard. He can go even farther from here,” the Kiwi spinner said.

A sensational journey to the top

Lamichhane was just 15 when he took the cricket world by storm after becoming the fifth player in the ICC U-19 World Cup history to take a hat-trick—a feat he performed in a five-wicket haul against Ireland during the 2016 age group showpiece event in Bangladesh. He ended up as the tournament’s second highest wicket-taker with 14 scalps.

The Bangladesh World Cup put him on the game’s global map with multiple electronic and print media telling his story and drawing comparisons with Australian spin wizard Shane Warne. Lamichhane’s career took a turn when he crossed paths with the Australian World Cup winning captain Michael Clarke during the 2016 Hong Kong Twenty20 Blitz where both played for the Kowloon Cantons.

Impressed by his bowling skills in the few matches the duo played together, Clarke invited Lamichhane to train at his academy and play Australian Grade Cricket for the Western Suburbs the same year. Lamichhane was equally giving a consistent performance for the national team, gradually becoming ‘unplayable,’ particularly because of his variation, for many players from the top non-Test playing nations.

The hype surrounding Lamichhane had already indicated that he was destined for the big leagues and on January 18, destiny came calling—he was snapped up by the Delhi Daredevils for the Indian Premier League (IPL). Clarke is believed to have been behind the Daredevils’ pick as his compatriot Ricky Ponting was coaching the team.

However, the talent and bowling variations Lamichhane possesses would make it clear that he was well worth the INR 20 lakhs the Daredevils spent on him, taking five wickets in the last three matches for the franchise with an economy of 6.833—a decent job from a spinner bowling with a new ball--which is when a bowler comes on inside the first 10 overs.

Lamichhane’s dismissal of a few world-class batsmen and his economy in a brief IPL debut would ensure at least another IPL stint, soon to be followed by multiple leagues elsewhere.

Soon after the IPL, Lamichhane featured in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL), playing for St Kitts & Nevis Patriots where he played under Twenty20 cricket’s ‘Universe Boss’ Chris Gayle. The CPL debut turned out even better for Lamichhane after he picked up seven wickets from five matches, with an economy of 6.23.

In a span of seven months, Lamichhane has already featured in five global leagues where he has been a major weapon for almost all the teams he’s played for, barring his first IPL season. With adventures in Australia, Bangladesh and Pakistan, the teen sensation discovered on the plains of Nepal had now become a global star.

Centre of the team

On the backs of his power-packed performance at the U-19 World Cup, Lamichhane first made his debut on the world stage, on April 16, 2016, at an ICC World Cricket League Championship (WCLC) match against Namibia at the Tribhuvan University Stadium. In just over two years since then, Lamichhane now occupies the heart of every match that the Nepali national team plays in.

“I never shoulder myself with the burden of overthinking,” Lamichhane said when asked how he manages to perform so consistently in every format and on every stage. “I just want to keep my game simple and play naturally. If I play with a positive mindset and just think of doing my job, wickets come with ease.”

After debuting in the senior leagues on April 16, Lamichhane ended up taking 12 wickets throughout the WCLC—a premier 50-over three-year programme under the International Cricket Council for the top eight non-Test playing nations. The leg-spinning sensation has since amassed 50 wickets in 24 List A games for the national team. His 5-20 against Kenya is so far the best bowling figures for any Nepali bowler in the country’s List A history.

His performance was pivotal in Nepal’s elevation to One Day International status after he walked away with the player-of-the-series award at the ICC World Cricket League Division 2 event in Namibia, picking up 17 wickets. Nepal’s second place finish in Division 2 earned the team a spot at the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifiers in March in Zimbabwe, where Lamichhane took 13 wickets—the most for a Nepali bowler in the event.

After his return from the T10 League at the United Arab Emirates, Lamichhane will now switch focus for a brief appearance in the Everest Premier League–Nepal’s one of the three city-based Twenty20 events beginning on December 8. But Lamichhane is really preparing for his appearance in the Australian Big Bash League.

“The Big Bash is a big opportunity for me. When I played in Australia last time, I was backed by a number of Nepali supporters,” he said. “I just want to send a clear message at that stage that I am from Nepal and that I am proud to be representing my country.”

[Top illustration by Abin Shrestha; Photos by Board of Control for Cricket in India, and Peter Della Pena]

Adarsha Dhakal

Adarsha Dhakal is a sports reporter for The Kathmandu Post. He has been reporting on sports for more than a decade, focusing on cricket, basketball and sports features. He has been with the Post for over five years and has worked for various other national publications.