You think about associate nations slowly but steadily making a mark on world cricket. You think about Nepal cricket, and one name hits you in the face – Sandeep Lamichhane. The 20-year-old leg-spinner is already the joint-highest wicket-taker for his country. But even more tellingly, he has put his country on the cricketing world map.
A member of Nepal’s first official ODI against the Netherlands on August 1, 2018, Sandeep Lamichhane returned match-winning figures of 3 for 41 two days later to script his country’s first-ever ODI win. And remarkably, Sandeep Lamichhane was already a household name then in a country not too far away from his hometown Chitwan.
The then 17-year-old had become the first player from Nepal to get picked in the IPL when the Delhi Capitals (DC) roped him in for his base price of INR 20 lakhs ahead of the 2018 edition. And a few months later, Sandeep Lamichhane was opening the bowling for DC against the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB).
One door opened another, and Sandeep Lamichhane suddenly found himself in a corridoor with several doors opening up to welcome him in with a smile.
Cut to 2021. After three years, with an IPL runners-up medal and many franchise contracts in almost all the major T20 leagues around the world, Sandeep Lamichhane is a more experienced and wily bowler. He has just become the first Nepalese cricketer to sign up for England’s Vitality T20 Blast.
But for now, he has his eyes set on the tri-series final against familiar opponents, The Netherlands, on Saturday (April 24). Ahead of the big match, Sandeep Lamichhane – in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda – reminisced about playing cricket as a kid, his T20I debut which surprisingly didn’t come in Nepal colours, his fairytale journey in the IPL and many more cherished moments.
Q. You are currently engaged in the Tri-Nations Cup. Nepal are in the final and Sandeep Lamichhane is the leading wicket-taker by a huge margin. But most importantly, you are back in Nepal colours after more than a year. How does it feel?
Sandeep Lamichhane: It feels fantastic to be back on the field again for Nepal cricket. I have been playing for the franchise leagues around the world, even in these pandemic times, but it feels really beautiful when you are back in your national jersey and national colours.
Q. At the same time, with the IPL going on not too far away from Kirtipur, is there some regret in your mind on going unsold at the February 18 auction?
Sandeep Lamichhane: Never, never. I don’t mind going unsold at all.
Q. Now that we are talking about the IPL, can you please talk us through that journey – from the day you got picked back in 2018, to making your debut and then being part of the Delhi Capitals for two more seasons?
Sandeep Lamichhane: It was fantastic. First player from Nepal to be drafted into the IPL, then picked up by Delhi, and then played for three seasons, unfortunately didn’t get any game last year, but it was really nice to be the finalist of IPL 2020. But the most important thing, how you developed your skills, what you learnt from there – all these were keys for me. Doesn’t matter how many games I have played in the IPL, whether it was enough or not, but the things I have learnt from there – the patience, the hardwork are definitely working for me wherever I am going around the world to play cricket, even for my national team, it’s been working right now.
Q. Can you please share some interesting yet unknown anecdotes from your IPL journey?
Sandeep Lamichhane: There were plenty of moments which I will definitely cherish forever – from the very first time I was picked up in the IPL and then playing for Delhi for the first time, the first wicket of Parthiv Patel; it’s still in my mind. The 50th wicket of my T20 career was of Moeen Ali, against RCB, so plenty of moments which I can cherish for a lifetime. And then being the finalists in last year’s IPL, playing under Shreyas Iyer, playing with my same batch of U-19 guys like Rishabh Pant, Prithvi Shaw. So there are plenty of moments I’ll be remembering.
Q. Nepal is not that far away from India. Growing up in Nepal, what developed your love for the sport? Did Indian cricket or the IPL have any sort of influence?
Sandeep Lamichhane: No, I’ll be very honest, I actually didn’t know about it. I never learnt cricket from anywhere. The only thing that fascinated me to play for my country was, growing up as a child, I used to have a cricket bat which all my friends used to collect money and buy. So the ‘gully cricket’ you say in India – it was something like that that from where the journey started for me. I just used to love this beautiful game, I thought I am doing good in this sport, I thought of growing my skills, and then I went to one of the cricket academies in my hometown Chitwan, and from there everything happened for me.
Q. You have plied your trade in so many T20 leagues around the world. When you now go back to playing for Nepal, does some kind of invincibility creep in and you think, ‘I am more experienced and superior to them all’?
Sandeep Lamichhane: One thing I have always noticed these days, doesn’t matter how many runs you go for, even if you’re not getting wickets in one or two games, the confidence is still there. And the thing where the team expects a lot from you right now. But I still feel that I am playing for my country, and the pride and pressure is still there. You have to prove yourself time and again whenever you’re playing for your country. Then come reputation, hard work and plenty of things wherein you need to prove yourself again and again.
Q. Before representing your country in the T20 format, you made your T20I debut for the World XI against the West Indies, with and against so many stars and role models around. What was going through your mind that morning at Lord’s? And now in hindsight, how has that experience helped?
Sandeep Lamichhane: It was really nice, getting a chance to be a part of World XI where you see plenty of big names coming from around the world and then you are playing with them. I remember Dinesh Karthik was there with me, he came up to me and said, “Just enjoy the moment”. It was really nice of him to come up to me and say all these things. So yeah, beautiful moment when you represent your country on the world stage, that too in World XI. And plenty of things changed after that.
Q. For the development of the game and indeed the players, do you feel that the top teams around the world should send their ‘A’ or ‘Emerging’ teams on tours to the Associate nations? Do you have any other suggestions for these superpowers?
Sandeep Lamichhane: Yes, definitely. Sometimes the Associate nations are also beating top nations, so until you play with big teams, you never know where you are lacking right now. But even if they are sending ‘A’ or ‘Emerging’ teams, say if we are playing against India, I won’t call it India ‘A’, it has to be India. Though there won’t be big names in that team, but it has to be India. Let’s say, when we played against India U-19 and beat them [in 2017], we know Prithvi Shaw was not there, Shubman Gill was not there, but they were from the same batch. And when we beat them, it was not India ‘A’ or India ‘B’ or India ‘Emerging’, it was actually India. India also once beat us brutally at the  U-19 World Cup. So that’s how you learn where you are lacking, when you actually play against a top-class nation.
Q. Sandeep Lamichhane has put Nepal on the world map. But has the thought of migrating to some other country ever occurred to you? Has it ever struck you that things would have been better had you been born or staying in another country?
Sandeep Lamichhane: Nah, never thought of that. Because I don’t think the amount of love I have been getting from my country, I would be getting anywhere else. So it’s been a fortune for me that I am born in this country and the rest is history.
Q. You’d be now having your maiden stint at the Vitality T20 Blast with Worcestershire, on pitches which might not be as conducive to spin as what we get in Asia. How are you preparing for that? Are you doing anything different?
Sandeep Lamichhane: The only key would be how you handle the situation. Everybody knows the wickets in England are not spin-favourable, but if you play with the mind, if you set the field accordingly, or if you just bowl in the right areas, the variation you want to use there would be the key for me. And that’s what I am going to do there.
Catch Sandeep Lamichhane in action at Tri-Nations Cup 2021 - Final will be LIVE on EUROSPORT and EUROSPORT HD from 13:00 Hrs (01:00 pm IST) onwards on Saturday, 24th April, 2021. It can also be streamed on Discovery+.