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Nepal’s Sandeep Lamichhane faces tough fight for berth in Delhi .

For weeks, Nepalis had been eagerly waiting for their young rising star to take centre stage at the biggest professional Twenty20 cricket: the Indian Premier League. But when Sandeep Lamichhane, the 18-year-old leg-spinner who had made headlines from t the past one year, did not feature in the starting XI, Nepali fans were flustered—and many of them had begun expressing their frustrations online.

And when the IPL outfits Delhi Capitals included Lamichhane in their playing XI against the Kolkata Knight Riders on Saturday, much of the country was expectantly glued to their televisions and mobile devices.

Lamichhane’s inclusion in the team at the Feroz Shah Kotla grounds on Saturday not only shows how much it values the young player but also speaks of the trust the Delhi team has on the leg-spinner. Lamichhane did not disappoint as he helped the Capitals to a winning cause, taking one wicket giving away just 29 runs in his four overs.

Delhi w in Super Over after the scores were tied at 185. Lamichhane would have finished with a better economy rate than 7.25 if it had not been for Andre Russell—this season’s most destructive batsman. The West Indian batsman, one of the marquee signings in this season’s competition, hit the Nepali spinner for two consecutive sixes in the last two balls.

Lamichhane has  since he set off on the professional cricketing journey with the Delhi outfit—then known as Delhi Daredevils—in January last year.

Lamichhane, however, warmed up the Delhi bench almost all of the last season until his team was out of contention for the playoffs. Delhi might have acquired services of Lamichhane as part of its marketing ploy to tap into the Nepali market, but the then-17-year-old gave a glimpse of his potential in the last three games he played, taking five wickets at the economy rate of 6.83.

The brief IPL appearance set the tone as Lamichhane travelled around the world playing in various professional leagues around the world, including the Global Challenge Twenty20 in Canada, Caribbean Premier League, Afghanistan Premier League, Australian Big Bash League, Bangladesh Premier League and Pakistan Super League. What’s more, he left an impression as a mature cricketer with his splendid performances.

The fact that Delhi drafted Lamichhane into the playing XI early in the season suggests that he is very much a part of the team’s plan. Despite all the positives, there is still no guarantee of regular spot for the Nepali bowler in the Capitals’ playing XI this season for a number of reasons. The team combination, pitch conditions, overseas players’ rules and his own performance in matches that he features play a huge part in how often he gets into the playing XI.

“I am surprised that Delhi fielded two leg-spinners—Lamichhane and Amit Mishra—against Kolkata. I would have liked to go with variation,” said former national team captain Pawan Agrawal. “But the good part is that he exhibited maturity required to perform at the highest stage.”

Lamichhane will be vying for a spinning slot in the team that includes much-accomplished campaigner in Mishra, the 36-year-old veteran who has played 22 Tests and 36 ODI for India, and 25-year-old Rahul Tewatia. Mishra had claimed 12 wickets in 10 games last season. Tewatia, who was surprisingly left out on Saturday, featured regularly in the team last season, signing off with six wickets in eight matches.

“Despite his proven potential, it is really tough for [Lamichhane] to get into the playing squad considering that he will be battling with the likes of Mishra and Tewatia,” said Agrawal. “On top of that, he will also be competing for one of the four overseas players’ quotas, two of which are generally occupied by a batsman and/or a seamer. Pitch conditions will also largely dictate a team combination.”

Agrawal, however, said the key to the Nepali spinner’s success in the cash-rich league is to display the same level of maturity and quality that secured him a place in the playing squad on Saturday.