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Nepal’s first Helicopter that grounded before taking off

In come to think of it, it would not be very wrong if it is said Nepali cricket has paucity to identify its unidentified gems. Talents have been tapped, brought within the national team system and vanished with blink of an eye.

Bring Irshad Ahmed the spinner to the list; the right arm bowler delivered during the ICC World Cricket League Championship matches against Papua New Guinea five years ago in the UAE and then perished. Add Jitendra Mukhiya, hailed Yorker King by renowned commentator Ian Bishop during the 2014 ICC World Twenty20 before a niggling injury forced him out of the game, ultimately costing him a place in the senior side.

Turn the clock back to the 2015 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers at the Malahide ground in Ireland capital Dublin. Young Siddhant Lohani smacks a Dhoni-esque Helicopter shot and did AB De Villiers in the only bright spot of a disastrous campaign where Nepal finished at the bottom of their pool with just one win out of six games.

A seven-wicket loss to lowly Jersey was the final nail in the coffin for Nepal but the match couldn’t be written off from the pages of history because of Siddhant. The right-hand batsman, then 20, cumulated all the aggression lacking in Nepali batsmen throughout the tournament and signaled his own arrival to the fore of country’s modern cricket.

Coming in at a precarious 61-5, not for the first time were Nepal in such position that tour, Siddhant smoked Ben Stevens that had a glimpse of South African flamboyant batsman De Villiers. Then came the first ball of the 19th over from Anthony Hawkins-Kay when Siddhant deposited the bowler for a six over point with a Helicopter shot. The commentator screamed “Where was this guy before?” and social media went berserk after the shots he played gave what cricket lovers back home were craving for.

Siddhant’s sole appearance of 27 runs during that tour lasted 16 deliveries but he returned with the highest strike rate among Nepali batsmen from the tour.

A modest Siddhant never wanted to get carried away by his one-hit laurel. “I was just looking for an opportunity and gave the best I could. I knew that I had a long way to go so I kept myself grounded that time because we were not doing well as a team,” the 25-year old said from his hometown Biratnagar.

A youngster at ease

Siddhant first brought into the Nepali cricket’s system when Nepal played the 2013-14 ACC U-19 Asia Cup in the United Arab Emirates. While he didn’t play against Pakistan, Siddhant was out for a duck against India but the right-handed batsmen showed some grit stroking not out 19 from 12 deliveries in a consolation victory over the junior Emiratis.

In chase of a decent 160, Nepal were placed in a tricky situation of 134-6 but Siddhant never let the bowlers gain upper hand collecting runs with ease. Siddhant’s fearless attitude was something which would help him as a name to be noted in domestic cricket.

It never took time for Siddhant to find his name among the upper echelons of domestic cricket once he returned from the Asia Cup in January, 2014. Siddhant did the majority of scoring for Region No 1 Biratnagar in the Pepsi Standard Chartered One Day National Cricket Tournament in April, the month when Nepal saw this talent performing up close.

A whirlwind 25-ball 67 against Region No 8 Pokhara established him as an unorthodox hitter of the ball, mainly because five of the six sixes he hit in the match came against national team’s now-established seamer Karan KC. A bowler unsettling shuffle in the crease and power hitting capability with sharpness in the field would make any cricketer dangerous in Twenty20 format; Siddhant had them all.

The explosion in the Nationals forced then-coach Pubudu Dassanayake to draft Siddhant into the national set-up and although he played one match in the Qualfiiers, he gave a glimpse what his game is going to be.

The return from Qualifiers was even better with Siddhant putting at disposal one of the finest Twenty20 knocks in domestic cricket considering the bowlers he clobbered.

While playing for Nepal Police Club (NPC) in the Ruslan Twenty20 final, the departmental side was caving in at 73-7 in chase of 131. Needing 66 runs from five overs, Siddhant smashed spinner Sagar Pun for two sixes and Nepal No 1 seamer Sompal Kami for three sixes to change the complexion of the game in just two overs.

The treatment of Sompal will remain as one of the best scenes of carnage as the fast bowler was undone by Siddhant’s unorthodox style of batting. Those were the times when Siddhant was ripe, ready for more action but he was nowhere to be seen.

No one knows who is to blame and Siddhant has no qualms.

“I don’t know exactly what happened. I was playing for NPC. It has been one of the best teams in the domestic cricket but I was coming way down the order. I was not even getting enough chance in the 50 overs. Its obvious when you don’t have numbers, you will be unpicked,” he said.

A chance for redemption

Siddhant had expectations to get his place back in the national side but his premature career came spiraling down that began with an injury he sustained during the Dhangadhi Premier League in 2016. A hit in the ankle kept him out of the game for three months; then it has been Siddhant’s unfinished business with inconsistency.

While he was even struggling to put runs on the board in franchise Twenty20s, a cruel ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injury during the 2018 Prime Minister Cup One Day National added salt to his wounds. Concerned by not being able to exhibit enough for NPC, Siddhant had just returned to his region in the Nationals.

Against a lowly Karnali team, Siddhant was playing on 63 before the ACL injury struck him. He returned to the field during the Pokhara Premier League last year and is now waiting for redemption but in 50 overs. “For the last few months, I’ve worked a lot in my fitness and practiced regularly. I know the competition now is getting more intense. If there is any format which I can target, its 50 overs, added Siddhant.

Once known for his ferocious hitting, Siddhant has failed to enhance his reputation of a Helicopter-boy, practically. Nepal might see few more glimpses of his unorthodox shots in coming days but it won’t provide the same thrill that his Qualifiers’ days did.

He can be better or he can be worse.

For Siddhant, there is no room for mediocrity.

BY ANURAG SUBEDI

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