Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 September 2020

IPL 2020: Sandeep Lamichhane's journey from a trial at Delhi shopping mall to worldwide fame

Former chief executive Hemant Dua recalls how the franchise stumbled upon the talented Nepal leg-spinner

When Sandeep Lamichhane walks back through the doors at the ICC Academy in Dubai Sports City for training with Delhi Capitals this week, happy memories are likely to come flooding back.

After all, he helped bowl Nepal to series wins in limited-overs internationals on the fields at the back. And he has been back with Lahore Qalandars in the Pakistan Super League, too.

But it is also where he was when he found out his budding cricket career was about to go stratospheric back in January 2018.

Back then, he was part of a Nepal side who were on a training camp in Dubai in the build up to important series lower down the international cricket ladder.

As they were preparing for a session on the Academy Oval, a member of Nepal’s backroom staff relayed a message that would change his life: Delhi Daredevils had just bought him in the IPL auction.

He would become the first Nepal spinner to feature in the world’s biggest cricket league. He has scarcely stopped globetrotting since.

He arrives in the UAE ahead of the 2020 IPL having been one of the most consistently outstanding bowlers in the Caribbean Premier League.

How he reached this point is down to no little skill, as well as a series of fortunate events.

Being spotted as a 14-year old by the Nepal coach, who had just stopped en route to a national team player’s wedding, was a starting point.

The story of how he made it to the IPL was another.

Lamichhane was recommended to the senior management at Delhi’s franchise by a personal friend of the then chief executive Hemant Dua, and was offered a trial.

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On the day he made it to Delhi, heavy overnight rain rendered the practice facilities unplayable.

Instead of wasting the airfare, they sought out a net in an amusement arcade in a shopping mall, and he was told he had a couple of overs to prove himself.

“I was thinking, ‘A leg-spinner from Nepal? That doesn’t sound great’,” Dua said.

“[Aamir Akhtar, Dua’s friend in Nepal] sent me his clips. I said OK, showed it to our spin coach Sridharan Sriram, and invited him for a trial.

“Unfortunately it started raining that day. We had to scramble. We found this place called Smaaash, which is like a fun, entertainment place.

“We made him bowl a few overs there indoors in the net, and me and Sriram thought he was brilliant.

“We took his tapes, showed them to everyone else in the team, including Ricky [Ponting, the coach].

“He thought it was great, so we said let’s see how it plays out in the auction.”

Delhi were either the only ones who were wise to his talents, or the only ones bold enough to risk one of their overseas berths on an untested 17-year-old spinner from Nepal. They went for him, paying around $31,000 to (Dh113,000) secure his services.

“Life is about risks,” Dua said.

“When we got the team in 2011 it was a mess, and it was going to take seven or eight years to rebuild.

What I really liked about him was his attitude and his confidence

Hemant Dua

“We based that on a bunch of youngsters – Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer, Prithvi Shaw, Kagiso Rabada.

“We wanted to focus on youngsters, to make them the core, as they were the future.

“Sure, there were leg-spinners around, but this guy was unique.

“What I really liked about him was his attitude and his confidence, coming from a country where there was not much cricket.

“He is a good kid. He had a mature confidence at 17, so I thought it was worth taking that punt. It worked, and more power to him.”

Sunil Valson, the former India player, was the Delhi team manager at the time, and one of those present at the trial in the shopping arcade.

He recalls that Lamichhane had to wait patiently for his first start. When it finally came, with three matches left at the end of the season, the opposition was a daunting one.

“When the practice games started, he bowled excellently, and was full of fun, but he didn’t get a chance in the team because we had Amit Mishra,” Valson said.

“Mishra had played for the national team, so he was obviously the first choice. Sandeep eventually got his chance, and it was phenomenal the way he bowled.

“He bowled in the powerplay against AB De Villiers and Virat Kohli, and he troubled both of them. They were unsure of him to start with.

“He is a brilliant kid, with a very sharp cricket brain. That is very important for a spinner. He is willing to take chances and look for wickets.”

Lamichhane’s success meant Delhi immediately secured a massive new fanbase over the border to the east of the city.

“Performance was the key: without performance, nothing works,” Dua said.

“But we did think, is there a way we can use him to build a fanbase in Nepal?

“That eventually came with it, but was that the only reason I got him? Definitely not.

“We just thought he was really good, and he’d have to be. Why would we pick an international leg-spinner, if there are so many good domestic leggies?

“This kid was talented, and he fitted in with our philosophy of basing our team on youngsters. That is paying dividends.”

Akhtar, who recommended the young kid to Dua in the first place, says Lamichhane’s success has inspired a nation.

“I must appreciate Hemant in accepting my request, and getting Sandeep to Delhi for one quick trial,” Akhtar said.

“This all happened in a day. Sandeep always deserved this, but luck played an important role, too.

“Nepal has more talent that should be globally recognised like Sandeep.

"He has become a role model for every youth here. I am glad it worked out. Sandeep has made our country proud.”

Updated: September 14, 2020 03:18 PM

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