The Daredevils' supporter base will be vastly inflated this edition of the T20 league as the 17-year-old spin bowler brings with him the support of an entire nation
IPL 2018: From Nepal to Delhi, Daredevils fan base grows on back of Sandeep Lamichhane
When Delhi Daredevils started their 11th attempt at winning an Indian Premier League title, in Mohali on Sunday, not much appeared to have changed.
They have new coach and captain – Ricky Ponting and Gautam Gambhir respectively – of great standing, both in the game as a whole and the league in particular.
And yet the first impressions from their emphatic six-wicket loss to Kings XI Punjab suggested the under-performing franchise representing India’s capital will likely take a lot to turn around yet.
One thing is for certain, though. The Daredevils supporter base will be vastly inflated for this edition. Primarily because of the presence of a teenage spin-bowler relatively little-known beyond his homeland, who might not even feature on the playing field too often.
Midway through the opening match, the Daredevils shared on their Twitter feed a picture of away supporters at the Punjab Cricket Association ground. “Distance is not a barrier for our fans as shown by their amazing support today,” they wrote.
Away travel in the IPL is generally minimal, given the vast distances and short turnaround between matches. At 251km, the distance between Delhi and Mohali is among the shorter trips, but these spectators had made a far more substantial effort to be there.
It was easy to mistake the shirts – dark blue, with red trim and writing – for Daredevils ones. On closer inspection, though, they were replicas of those worn by the Nepal national team.
The two supporters in the photo were waving a neatly hand-drawn banner saying: “Travelled 1,497kms to support Sandeep Lamichhane.”
Aged just 17, Lamichhane is Nepal’s first IPL cricketer. He is carrying some sparkling form with him into his debut event, having played a major hand in his country’s march from the nether reaches of World Cricket League Division 2 to full one-day international status over the course of the past three months.
Despite that, Lamichhane remains regarded as back up to Amit Mishra, the Indian leg-spinner, in the Daredevils set up. Even though Mishra was harshly dealt with, to the tune of 46 from four wicketless overs against Kings XI, he is still likely to retain his place when Delhi continue their campaign against Rajasthan Royals on Wednesday.
Lamichhane, plus his millions of supporters back home in Nepal, will have to wait patiently. Coach Ponting warned as much ahead of the competition, but did say he has “a good chance to play at some point in the IPL” and that he “really enjoyed working with him so far”.
“At the auction we spoke about him,” Ponting said on the eve of the IPL. “We felt that to get the right overseas spinner in our squad would be great back up, if someone like Mishra happened to go down [injured].
“It gives us a great option. Right now, he is not the finished product. He is still a work in progress, but we are all excited to have him around.
“He is a very skillful leg-spin bowler, he has an incredible attitude and wants to bowl all day, every day. At certain training sessions, we have had to tell him to stop bowling, because he is bowling too much and getting himself a little bit tired.”
If Lamichhane is afforded an opportunity, those who know him well expect him to thrive.
“I think he will be brilliant,” said Scott McKechnie, a Hong Kong-based player and coach, who has played an intriguing role in Lamichhane’s rise to prominence.
“He is the sort of guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, he doesn’t really keep things in, he is not much of an introvert, he is a big personality.
“Playing on the sort of stage he is playing on now will suit him really well. He has grown up playing for Nepal, and they get 20,000 people to associate friendlies, so playing in front of big crowds, and in stadiums where there is lots of noise, that is not going to be new to him. He gets that back at home.
“If he can carry the weight of Nepal, I think he can carry the weight of Delhi as well.”
McKechnie first spotted Lamichhane when he played against him, as part of an MCC mission to Nepal in November 2015.
Lamichhane had only just turned 15 at the time. McKechnie was wowed by his skills, and made moves to bring the young Nepali across to play in the first Hong Kong T20 Blitz six months later.
“I didn’t go there with any idea we’d bump into someone like Sandeep,” McKechnie said.
“To have such control at that age is a rarity for players who are still growing and developing into their action. It was pretty clear to see from the way he landed the ball, from the action he got on it both ways, that he was a youngster that was ahead of time in learning his game.”
Lamichhane’s progress was fast-forwarded by the trip to that three-day tournament, most of which was actually washed out. It was there that he teamed up with Michael Clarke, the former Australia captain who was the other overseas player in his Kowloon Cantons team.
Clarke subsequently hosted the teenager at his academy and his club in Sydney. It is safe to assume the extra publicity surrounding that trip increased his renown to the extent his name will have been known to Ponting before the IPL auction.
Making it from being known about to actually being bought at auction was a more personal leap. Lamichhane was contacted by Hemant Dua, the Daredevils chief executive, about travelling to Delhi for a trial.
On a rainy day in the capital, he bowled in the indoor nets in front of Dua and Sridharan Sriram, the assistant coach and former India spin bowler. They were sufficiently impressed to offer him a chance.
That chance may take a while to turn into actually minutes on the field, but the player himself is delighted to be where he is right now.
“There have been up and downs for us in the past two years,” Lamichhane said. “Right now I am getting the opportunity to play IPL, and ODI games for my nation. It is great for me, and will help back home to grow cricket, and future stars will be pleased to see this.”
Read more from Paul Radley:
IPL 2018: Lowdown on teams and their key players