Mostly we have seen batsman captain teams. It is not that bowlers haven’t done this job, they do have. In fact, we have seen a lot of bowlers who were successful as a captain. But generally batsmen are preferred as captains because as a bowler you don’t want the pressure of captaincy affect your bowling. When Sandeep Lamichhane was appointed the captain, there were already split opinions among fans and experts on whether it was a good decision.
You want your senior most player with experience of playing in Hong Kong and Australia to lead the side, but at the same time you also don’t want captaincy affect his bowling. His tenure as captain in Sri Lanka went rather quietly and unnoticed. This was his litmus test, the world cup qualifiers with a lot of expectations and everybody watching. Defeating Afghanistan and qualifying for the world cup was always going to be Achilles heel but looking at Nepal’s buildup ahead of the tournament, we thought there was always going to be an outside chance.
When you read the scorecards, Sandeep Lamichhane is topping the bowling charts and breaking records. You would think he has done his job well and he is leading from the front. No doubt Sandeep Lamichhane is Nepal’s number one bowler. He can bowl in the first powerplay, he can bowl in the middle overs and he can bowl in the death. It is a captain’s dream to have a bowler like him in the team. But with only 10 overs of his sleeves, it depends upon the captain on how you use him. Sandeep being a captain himself had that luxury on how he was going to bowl his 10 overs. I am also not looking into how Sandeep has rotated other bowlers. My sole focus was on how captaincy was playing on Sandeep Lamichhane. Let’s look at his bowling in each of these six games before drawing any conclusions.
1st match vs Singapore: He came into bowl in the 7th over when the score was 10/1. Picked up a wicket in the first ball of his third over, picked another one in his fourth over, and picked two more in his fifth. Singapore’s score at the 17th over was 23/6 and Sandeep had already bagged four wickets. He picked up another in his sixth over. He bowled 8 overs on a trot and when he was hit for 10 runs in the 8th over, he took himself out of the attack. All his five dismissals were of a top 7 batsman. You have to admire this performance. He was truly leading from the front in this match. He kept on applying the pressure. Although Singapore batsman played few release shots in between, Nepal still succeeded in restricting them to 73 runs.
2nd match vs Malaysia: It was 18/1 after 8 overs when he came into bowl. He picked up wicket each in his second, third, fourth and fifth overs. He had already bagged four wickets in his first five overs and Malaysia were already 39/8; another example of captain leading from the front. However, he took Pawan Saraff off after his 3 overs where he picked 3 wickets and put on a part-timer but continued to bowl himself until he got the last wicket. This decision raised quite a few eyebrows. Former players Sanjam Regmi, Manoj Katuwal and Manjeet Shrestha were quick to react. Luckily for Nepal, Malaysia were bundled out for 58 runs and the chapter closed.
“You would expect as a premier leg-spinner he would come charging in to a new batsman with a slip and a short-leg and attack him straightaway but no, he took himself off and brought on Sandeep Sunar”
3rd match vs Afghanistan: This was going to be the real test for Sandeep after he bowled well to two relatively weaker batting units. Afghanistan were 41/0 after 8 overs when he came into bowl. He bowled 4 overs for 12 runs and Afghanistan played him with respect and their score was 69/0 after 15. Shahab Alam drew the first blood and Afghanistan’s score after 16 overs was 79/1. You would expect as a premier leg-spinner he would come charging in to a new batsman with a slip and a short-leg and attack him straightaway but no, he took himself off and brought on Sandeep Sunar. Yes you heard it right. Then Pawan Sharaf and Dipendra Airee were brought into attack. Sarraf picked up the second Afghanistan wicket in the 19th over and there was no sign of Sandeep again. Sarraf picked up another one again in 28th over and when Shahab picked up the fourth wicket in 32nd over, we finally saw Sandeep come and bowl his fifth over. From 69/0 to 135/4 there were no signs of Sandeep. And more surprisingly, he bowled just one over and waited Afghanistan to lose two more wickets. And when he came to bowl his 6th over in the 39th over, he bowled just 2 overs and replaced himself with a seamer and took over from Shahab’s end after he had completed his spell. He picked up the last two wickets in his 10th over to finish the innings. Afghanistan had already made 190 runs. When Nepal needed him the most, he surrendered.
“Pawan Saraff and Dipendra Airee picked up a wicket each in the 33rd and 34th over but no signs of Sandeep again. The score was 94/5. He waits for 10 overs, allows them to build in a partnership and finally comes back in the 44th over”
4th match vs Singapore: Singapore were 23/0 after 5 overs when he came into bowl. He broke the opening partnership in his fourth over and took himself off after five overs and strange he brought on Sandeep Sunar again ahead of Pawan Saraff. He came into bowl in the 26th over and picked up his wicket in the 28th. But after a 3 over spell, he was off again with figures 8 overs 2 wickets and 22 runs. Pawan Saraff and Dipendra Airee picked up wicket each in the 33rd and 34th over but still no signs of Sandeep again. The score was 94/5. He waits for 10 overs, allows them to build in a partnership and finally came back in the 44th over and picked up 2 wickets in the over, picked up another one in his last over to finish up with four wickets. Although Nepal did win the match, the decision not to attack the new batsman looks questionable.
5th match vs Malaysia: Malaysia lost their first wicket with just 1 run on the board. Sandeep allowed Malaysia to score 58/1 before coming on to bowl. (58 is the same score in which Malaysia were bowled out when these two teams last met). Such is the quality of Sandeep, he provided the breakthrough in the same over. He kept on picking wickets and ended up with 7 wickets himself. If Malaysian batsman were uncomfortable facing him and he knew it from earlier match why did he not bowl earlier to try to restrict to a much lower total? The question perhaps only Sandeep can answer.
“Afghanistan four wickets down with five overs of Sandeep remaining; it was the perfect time to go for the kill with your premier leg-spinner. But again Sandeep had other ideas. From 80/4 to 153/4 many bowlers were rotated in search of a wicket except Sandeep who kept holding himself back”
6th match vs Afghanistan : The opposition was Afghanistan and after 5 overs and they were 21 without loss when Sandeep came on to bowl. Dipendra Airee picked up 2 wickets in the 9th over. Sandeep kept bowling from the other end and looking to pick up wicket as well. He bowled 5 overs in a trot. However in another surprising move, he replaced Dipendra Airee who had just bowled three overs and picked up 2 wickets with Sandeep Sunar. Pawan Saraff was introduced as late as 19th over and he picked a wicket in his first ball itself. The score was 80/4 after 18.1 overs. Afghanistan four wickets down with five overs of Sandeep remaining; it was the perfect time to go for the kill with your premier legs-pinner. But omce again Sandeep had other ideas. From 80/4 to 153/4 many bowlers were rotated in search of a wicket except Sandeep who kept holding himself back. It took a run out to pick the fifth Afghanistan wicket but still no signs of Sandeep yet. 41 overs completed and Afghanistan were 180/6 and Sandeep returned for his favourite phase of the game. He would have loved to add few more wickets in his tally but Shahab Alam picked all the remaining wickets. Sandeep’s match figure was 8 overs 1 maiden 27 runs and a wicket as he couldn’t even complete his 10 overs quota.
Conclusion: We don’t know how he set the fields, how proactive he is as a captain. I don’t want to comment on the playing eleven, batting order and the toss decisions. May be these were not his sole decisions. Captaincy is not only about bringing your own performance but setting a positive example for the team. This is where I felt Sandeep failed as captain. We would rather see Sandeep pick up 15 wickets instead of 25 wickets in the tourney but bowl in the match defining crucial stages of the game. I wouldn’t say we would have defeated Afghanistan and qualified for the World Cup. But maybe we could improved our run rate and could have played Afghanistan with a positive mindset. He is young, he is talented and he is learning. This tournament must have taught him a lot of lessons. Hope we can see a much stronger Sandeep Lamichhane in the coming days.
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