August 3, 2018 06:25 PM NPT
BRISTOL, Aug 3: He's spent more than half his life representing Nepal on a cricket field, starting with his first match captaining an Under-17 side against Bangladesh in February 2001. So it's understandable that 34-year-old Shakti Gauchan's legs might have felt a bit weary as he took the field as one of Nepal's first eleven ODI cricketers on Wednesday.
He was stationed at short midwicket, having already finished a four-over spell of 0 for 15, when the Netherlands captain Pieter Seelaar nailed a slog sweep. There wasn't too much time for Gauchan to move, so he randomly stuck out his left paw and a split second later realised he had pulled off a spectacular catch. All of a sudden, the legs had power again as he raced around the outfield with a megawatt smile from ear to ear. It took a while for his team-mates, just like it had done for time, to catch up with him.
"Usually when I took a wicket, I run around all over the boundary," Gauchan said later. "I usually do but I got halfway around and the boys caught me and they all hugged me. I think that part is amazing and why I love cricket."
Even though Nepal captain Paras Khadka starred with the ball, taking four wickets on the nation's ODI debut, he had Gauchan lead the players off the field at the innings break. He had announced before the tour that he was retiring and the 200 or so traveling Nepal fans provided a rousing show of their support as he walked towards them, right through a guard of honor from his team-mates.
"Shakti has been incredible," Khadka said after the match. "He's the senior-most cricketer. He's really set examples. He's one of the most hard-working cricketers that I've ever seen or known. I think this was his last international game. He wants to retire back home with an official game but we never know when we're going to get a home game. So we thought to try and give him the best possible reception from our side that we can and hopefully I think Shakti Gauchan has served Nepal cricket and Nepal for the last 18-19 years and he deserves a lot more from everybody back home as well.
"I just hope people realize the kind of sacrifices that he has made along with his family. Moving forward we'll be missing him for sure. In the dressing room, he's somebody whom we can always go to for advice, somebody who has put in so many match-winning performances. For Nepal cricket to become an ODI nation, he has played one of the most important key roles over the years."
The guard of honor wasn't a pre-planned gesture, according to Khadka. But during the course of the Netherlands innings, he let Gauchan know that this was his chance to savor the moment. The last one even with Nepal's coaching staff keen to use the final ODI in Amstelveen as an opportunity to blood younger players ahead of the Asia Cup Qualifier in Malaysia starting on August 29. The gesture clearly touched Gauchan as he broke into his trademark smile as if he was almost embarrassed by all the attention.
"It was amazing," Gauchan said. "When we were leaving after the first innings off the ground, suddenly Paras and Basant tell me, 'Today is your last foreign tour match so we are giving you a guard of honor. Please stand there, we are going just for the boundary line up. Just come slowly. We are giving you a guard of honor.' At that time, that is the best part of life when you may be retired as a cricket player. So it was amazing that they have given me guard of honor."
Gauchan's day wasn't entirely done, of course. He strode out to bat with his team on 104 for 6 chasing 190, and in days gone by, there may have been hope of his pulling off a miracle. After all, he was the second Nepal player to score a century, doing it from No. 4 against Italy in 2005. Gauchan tried to stretch the match out until he was the only man left. The Netherlands did win the match, but Gauchan would not succumb, fighting to the end to finish unbeaten on 9.
His ODI career may only include one match, but it's significance was profound, starting as it did with Gauchan exchanging his sweaty and weather-worn Nepal cap for a bright and shimmering one. It had "3" sewn into the side, recognizing his seniority after captain Paras Khadka and vice-captain Gyanendra Malla were given caps embroidered with No. 1 and 2.
"I think that cap ceremony has given us more responsibility for Nepali cricket, whether or not I come on future tours," Gauchan said. "Those who are getting this cap, they are getting the responsibility of Nepali cricket to grow up and up. We are thinking now for the next level of cricket and the next level is Test playing nation.
"Before when we were playing in World [Cricket] League or other championship, we were thinking about ODI [status]. Today we became an ODI nation so the next part is to become a Test-playing nation. In that moment, everyone is thinking, 'So we are getting today this ODI cap. Now the next cap is our Test cap and [becoming] a Test nation.'"
Nepal are now being propelled by the likes of teenage legspinner Sandeep Lamichhane and he may achieve more fame than any other cricketer from his country thanks to his litany of T20 contracts. He's already played in the IPL. He was part of a World XI squad that met West Indies at Lord's. And he will soon be representing the St Kitts & Nevis Patriots in the Caribbean Premier League.
Lamichhane appreciates the foundation that Gauchan laid for him to achieve such personal heights, not to mention collective team honors for Nepal. "Growing up as a kid, it was really really enjoyable to watch him on TV. The way he celebrates all wickets and the way he gives his 100%, his dedication to Nepal cricket, his immense love from his side to Nepal cricket. It was a fantastic moment when I made my debut with him as well two years back against Namibia. My dream came true playing with him."
"I feel lucky because if somebody asks me, 'Who was Shakti Gauchan?' I can proudly say I made my debut under him, Paras dai, Basant dai, Gyan dai, Sharad dai and other players," Lamichhane said. "It gives me lots of strength whenever I watch him. I salute to him his dedication to Nepal cricket because I've never seen any other player who is honest to his cricket and to his passion for cricket and everything. He's one of the idols for every player who wants to play cricket in Nepal."
This respect that Gauchan commands is in no small part due to his performance in the 2014 World T20, when he masterminded victories over Hong Kong and Afghanistan, inspired more and more youngsters to take up spin. But his fondest memories of playing for Nepal was the journey itself, rising up through the Associate ranks to become a team with international status.
"Whenever we qualify for a big tournament, that is very very memorable for me," Gauchan said. "Either T20 World Cup or qualify for ODI nation or qualify for World [Cricket] League, I think that part is very memorable for me. At that time we enjoy it and we support each other so that part I am missing as a player and I'll miss all of these things."
As for what the future holds, Gauchan says he is contemplating a role in cricket administration instead of carrying on with his side job as a development coach because that is where the country needs the most help. The Nepal board is currently suspended by the ICC.
Whatever he decides to pursue, Shakti will be bringing the power of his smile with him. "The big smile on his face shows he has that strength," Lamichhane said. "He can kill everybody with his smile. His name as well, 'Shakti The Power', he has that power I feel. Sometimes it feels really bad he's leaving us in his last tour, but this is cricket and one day you need to leave everything. I think he'll continue his journey in any part of Nepal cricket."
This column is written by Peter Della Penna for ESPN Cricinfo
(Views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of this portal)