'Have a dream to play Test cricket for Nepal' - Sandeep Lamichhane

Sandeep Lamichhane roars a strong appeal for lbw Peter Della Penna

Nepal legspinner Sandeep Lamichhane is hoping that success in the Cricket World Cup League Two ODI competition for Associates will lay the groundwork for a path to Test cricket for his homeland, adding that it is his dream to don the whites for Nepal.

According to Lamichhane, that dream played a significant role in his decision to cut short his stint with league-leading Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League in order to return home ahead of Nepal's first-ever home ODI, against Oman on February 5 in Kathmandu.

"It's simple. I have a dream to play Test cricket for Nepal and every little contribution from my side will go for Nepal cricket," Lamichhane told ESPNcricinfo on Monday. "Till the day of retirement of my cricket career, I would like to play Test cricket for Nepal. I think the sight of playing Test cricket for Nepal will be amazing. I can get those vibes straight away right now, how that feeling will be in the future. Little steps will take me to that place."

As one of the most in-demand spinners in the T20 franchise circuit, the 19-year-old Lamichhane has cultivated a following that has transcended Associate cricket. After getting his first taste of franchise T20 cricket in the now-defunct Hong Kong T20 Blitz, Lamichhane became the first Nepalese player to be picked up in an IPL auction by Delhi Capitals in 2018, and has since parlayed that into opportunities in the CPL, PSL, BBL and Global T20 Canada.

But even though he is earning well into the six figures when all his franchise deals are tabulated, he still has never been able to say no to playing for his country. This despite the fact that according to multiple sources, players have not been paid for more than a year while the Cricket Association of Nepal tries to recover from administrative suspension by the ICC. Part of the reason for that is the determination of Lamichhane and his teammates to lift Nepal higher up the global rankings in limited-overs formats, which he sees as a vehicle to pursue the dream of Test cricket, particularly since the four-day Intercontinental Cup competition for Associates has been quietly disbanded after Afghanistan and Ireland's elevation to Test status in 2017.

"You can't even imagine the excitement level for all the players right now," Lamichhane said of the build-up to Nepal's first of four ODIs they will play against Oman and USA over the next week. "Individually, I'm really excited about these four games that are going to be played against USA and Oman, pretty important games for us [if we are to] play in the World Cup 2023. First time playing in home conditions, first-ever ODI for Nepal to host right now, so pretty excited and I'm really hoping to see more than 20,000 audience to come and cheer for Nepal.

"If you see in this stadium in the sitting areas, there is no one right now, but come Wednesday it will be fully jam-packed and I can't wait to see all those spectators who will come here and support us. It will be an amazing experience. For the four games Nepal is going to play here, it will be jam-packed."

The moment is just as special for captain Gyanendra Malla, who took over the captaincy reins from Paras Khadka in 2019. The 29-year-old, who made his senior team debut in 2006, says this week will be one of the highlights of his career.

"When we started playing cricket, everybody wanted to get ODI status and get big cricket over here," Malla said. "Finally, one-dayers are here in Kathmandu, one of my favourite venues. The first ODI home series, that's one of the proudest moments for me as a captain.

"I think we are one of the luckiest teams because we have very good fan following. Wherever we go as a Nepali, there are lots of Nepali supporting us. I think that craze has gone up since the [2014 T20] World Cup and then after ODI status, it's been getting bigger and bigger. So we're very excited about it. The fans are supporting, 15,000-plus coming here and supporting us will be a huge plus point for us playing against other sides. As an Associate nation, we are the luckiest team who have the best fan following."