18th April 2016: A jam-packed TU Ground was getting nervous as the visiting side Namibia was scoring runs at will. 20-odd thousands present in the ground were slowly getting into the silent mode. The scorecard read 95 for 0. Enter a short and thin 16-year fellow, who looked more like a kid preparing for his School Level Certificate examinations than a national team player. He was not a pitch invader for sure as he had played the match that happened two days ago.
There were murmurs around the cricketing circle that this kid can do something and that’s exactly what happened. He bowled a flighted delivery inviting well set opposition captain Stephen Baard for a sweep. Baard accepted the invitation only to find that the ball had more in it than he thought and was easily caught by the wicket-keeper off a top edge. A kid just turned into the man.
9th February 2016: Nepal U19 vs Pakistan U19, a World Cup match that was being live telecasted around the globe, a so-called minnow against a top side, it was the day the world took a note of this kid. He had already taken a hat-trick against Ireland in the tournament but the world needed a spice to believe him, a magical something to raise their eyebrows. The kid did it; he bowled an absolute ripper of a delivery, a leg-spinning cobra that turned from outside the leg stump to way wide of off stump. Even the ICC twitter handle couldn’t handle the excitement as it promptly tweeted comparing the ball to the legendary “Ball of the Century” by Shane Warne.
Sandeep Lamichhane, almost certainly the first ever 21st century born cricketer to play for a national team anywhere in the world, has suddenly turned from a normal class 9 student to a household name in just matter of months. A life story filled with hard work and timely luck, a story that saw a boy from Syangja on the verge of playing in Sydney alongside Michael Clarke having just turned 17.
Childhood :- Born on 2nd August 2000 to a middle-class family in Aaruchaur – Taalpokhari, Syangja, Sandeep came to know about cricket during his stay in India. His father Chandra Narayan Lamichhane, an Indian Railways employee, had taken his son for studies in India, where he read up to the fourth grade. He kept on playing cricket back in his hometown. Owing to the great promises shown by him in whatever cricket he played in Syangja, his family shifted to Chitwan where he started taking cricket more seriously. He used to cover a 25 km journey from his home to play cricket. After doing so for around one and a half year, his stocks were rising among the Chitwan Cricket Academy faithful(s).
Then came a turning point.
National Cricket Team coach Pubudu Dassanayake was on his short trip to visit the Chitwan Academy facilities. This was a more of a routine visit and little did the Nepal coach know that his short visit would actually be a big one. CampaChaur, Narayngarh was abuzz with enthusiasm as a long queue of young cricketers was getting to see the national coach.
In amongst the crowd, there was this boy who literally had no expectations more than seeing the coach, let alone talking to him or do what he did next. As Sandeep was called to show his skills, he bowled a nice mixture of leg breaks, googlies and top spinners in his spell, Dassanayke suddenly got excited and asked the young spinner to do that a few more time. He continued in the same rhythm, he was really doing it. The coach had seen enough and he then and there made the decision to call Sandeep for the close camp of the U19 team.
Had it not been for that short visit by the coach, getting into the national camp was impossible for Sandeep. Cricket administration was in a turmoil (like always) and no domestic selection tournaments were held. Regional cricket associations were asked to handpick 2 players each for the camp. Sushil Kandel and Dipesh Shrestha, regular features in the U19 cricket in the area, were the obvious choices as no one was crazy enough to handpick a little-known or not known at all 15-year-old kid.
As luck would have it, Sandeep got injured in the Camp and yet he was directly selected for the Super League, a tournament played to select the final squad for the U19 World Cup Global Qualifier. Playing under Sharad Vesawkar, he picked up 4 wickets including that of Shakti Gauchan. However, these performances were not deemed good enough by the selectors to handover him a place in the full squad as he was selected among the alternative list, those who would be considered if any of the members of the regular squad gets injured.
Nepal made it to the World Cup after remaining unbeaten in the Global Qualifiers and Sandeep was selected for the national camp held as preparation for the global event to be held in Bangladesh. The selectors were faced with a huge dilemma as to whether continue with the winning formula and not make any significant changes in the squad or to pick an exciting player in almost a “wildcard” entry.
They made the brave call to opt for the second and picked Sandeep over a very successful member and Man of the Match of the Final of Global Qualifiers campaign. Social media in Nepal suddenly found a hot topic to debate on as there were concerns raised by some. Though what eventually mattered was that a seemingly unknown 16-year-old leg-spinner was on a flight to Bangladesh. Rest, as the cliche goes, is history.
Lamichhane emerged as the masterstroke in the World Cup as he picked up 14 wickets in the tournament, second only to Namibia’s F Coetzee in the highest wicket-takers chart for the tournament. His eye-catching performances included a hat-trick and a five-wicket haul against Ireland as well as an excellent spell against Pakistan which featured “that” famous ball of his. Nepal finished a historic 8th place and a jewel was found, a star was born or anything you’d like to call it.
From a boy to a man
His stocks have continued to rise ever since. From being a “bold” selection to the junior side to an obvious pick for the senior one, it all happened in a span of two months for him. He did not let down the expectations put upon him as he played a key role in ensuring Nepal win both their matches against Namibia in his debut series.
Sandeep continued his good performances for the national side as he helped Nepal earn a famous victory at the iconic Lord’s Cricket Ground. Captain Paras Khadka rates him very highly and makes a careful use of him which was evident in Nepal’s victory over Netherlands last month where he was smartly used as an option when buying a wicket was the need of the hour.
Off the field, he has been making headlines for all the right reasons. Recently, Sanima Bank Ltd. entered into a sponsorship agreement with him by virtue of which he will receive 20,000 NPR per month for 2 years. He was also shortlisted for the prestigious People’s Choice Award in Pulsar Nepal Sports Journalist Forum Sports Award.
After his outstanding performances in debut series for senior team, he was called up to represent Kowloon Cantoons alongside Michael Clarke in the inaugural season of the Hong Kong T20 Blitz. The tournament was heavily affected by rain and Sandeep could only bowl 3 overs but that was enough for his captain Clarke to see an immense potential in him. The camaraderie began and it has grown to the extent that can be easily seen if we have a look at their twitter handles.
Just a couple of days back, he was invited by Michael Clarke, his captain in the Hong Kong T20 Blitz, to train alongside him at his cricket academy in Sydney. Sandeep is also scheduled to play under Clarke for the local Western Suburbs as he will spend an entire season in Australia.
Things have really come thick and fast for the spinner. For someone who is yet to even complete his secondary level of regular schooling, he has been to Lord’s, Amsterdam and now is on the verge of flying to Sydney. It is almost hard to believe he has just turned 17 – not because of the rather infamous “age situation” in Nepali cricket but because an actual 17-year-old is not supposed to be that brilliant.