Chitrabhanu Kadalayil shares his thoughts close to the business end of this year's Indian Premier League
IPL talking points: More players like Nepal's Sandeep Lamichhane and Ireland's Kevin O'Brien needed in league
Athletes are usually considered to have passed the test of character if they found a way to swim back to shore after being thrown in at the deep end of the water – metaphorically speaking, of course.
Sandeep Lamichhane was unexpectedly, and finally, picked for the Delhi Daredevils’ game against Royal Challengers Bangalore last week, making him the first Nepal cricketer to play in an Indian Premier League (IPL) game. As if the occasion was not daunting enough, the leg-spinner was asked to open the bowling. He performed splendidly.
Still only 17 years old, Lamichhane could have been forgiven had his nerves got the better of him. Instead, he sent Parthiv Patel – himself a 17-year-old debutant for India 16 years ago – back to the pavilion. He trapped the wicketkeeper-batsman in front of the wicket and spent the rest of his spell keeping the likes of Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers at bay.
Delhi lost the game but Lamichhane’s figures read a respectable 4-0-25-1. It made some wonder why the bottom-placed team in the table had not given him a game earlier in the competition. Could the franchise have been in a position to fight for a play-off spot? One will never know.
In any case, a new challenge awaits the boy now that he has got his long-awaited debut out of the way.
With two dead rubbers (at least, as far as Delhi are concerned) left to play, it makes sense to see if Lamichhane can pass the next test: consistency. The Daredevils take on the mighty Chennai Super Kings on Friday and Mumbai Indians, a team desperate for a win, on Sunday.
If he does well in these games, he could set himself up for more IPL riches in 2019.
A case for Kevin
Sticking with the theme of emerging cricketing nations, Kevin O’Brien has proved over the years why he is good enough to play in the IPL. He is an excellent all-rounder, who can bat and bowl in any conditions, as well as in any format of the game.
Check out the hundred he scored in Ireland’s first ever cricket Test, against Pakistan in Dublin. The conditions were not the most conducive for batting, yet he scored 40 and 118, reviving his team’s flagging fortunes in the game.
O’Brien is a man who rises to the occasion. His 1-29 and 16 not out helped Ireland beat Pakistan – he loves playing against them, doesn’t he? – at the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean. He followed it up with 113 against England in the 2011 World Cup in Indian conditions. It was an innings that earned him the Man of the Match award and put his team firmly on the path to Test status.
He is the sort of happy warrior fans would love to have playing for their side. So what if he is 34? His recent performances indicate he has plenty of cricket left in him. As Ireland coach Graham Ford said in January, the two Twenty20 internationals slated to be played against India in Dublin next month could be the ideal stage for a few Irishmen to impress the IPL’s talent scouts.
O’Brien would be a shoo-in, if that be the case.
10 players to watch out for in IPL 2018: Stokes, Kohli and Nepal's Lamichhane
Umesh enjoying his cricket
India’s pace bowling stocks have never been in better shape.
Just when it was assumed Umesh Yadav would be an automatic selection for the South Africa-India Tests last year, given his pace, he did not play in any of the three Tests. The likes of Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami were picked ahead of him.
Virat Kohli also decided to give Jasprit Bumrah a game. He ended up playing all three, thus relegating Umesh to the bench. But the Royal Challengers Bangalore player has used the IPL and the flat Indian wickets to put himself back in national contention.
Bending his back to generate pace and bounce on the sometimes lifeless wickets, the 30-year-old paceman has taken 17 wickets from 12 games to keep his side’s play-off hopes alive. Who better to impress than the captain of his franchise, Kohli.
Predictably, he has been retained in all three Indian squads picked recently, for the one-off Test against Afghanistan, as well as the limited-overs series in Ireland and England.
No rest for top two
The beauty of the play-offs is that neither of the top two teams who have already qualified for the business end of the competition can afford off days.
After 12 games Sunrisers Hyderabad and Chennai Super Kings are on 16 and 14 points, respectively. Had they qualified for what originally used to be the semi-final round, they could have rested their stars by now and experimented with lesser-known players.
But it is crucial for both sides to ensure they remain in the top two so they can avoid having to play the Eliminator game. The winner of that match would get another chance to reach the final by playing against the loser of Qualifier 1, which is the game between the top two sides. The winner of Qualifier 1 reaches the final, while the loser of the Eliminator is out of the reckoning for the title.