New Delhi: Nepalese sensation Sandeep Lamichhane has called for the World Cup to be expanded to up to 16 teams, saying limiting it to 10 hurts players from emerging cricket nations.
The 18-year-old leg-spinner, who last year became the first Nepalese player to land an Indian Premier League contract, said he was frustrated to be missing out on the tournament in England and Wales starting in May.
"Sorry to say but a 10-team World Cup will hurt a lot of players like me who will not be a part of it," the Delhi Capitals player told AFP in an interview.
"I think there should be 14-16 teams in the World Cup."
Lamichhane added: "World Cup comes after every four years and teams can achieve their biggest dreams there. We are an emerging nation and this is something we would love to play for our country.
"Even in 2023 there are (again) only 10 teams so it will be a while before we can even think of playing in the 50-over event."
Lamichhane, who has a blond streak in his dark hair and earrings in both ears, has drawn comparisons with his hero, the flamboyant Australian great Shane Warne, for his bowling style and ability to generate wicked turn.
The confident teenager is the poster boy for the rise of cricket in mountainous Nepal, which gained one-day international status last year but remains a long way from contesting a World Cup.
Rooting for the underdog
Cricket's showpiece tournament had 16 teams in 2007, but the field was reduced to 14 in 2011 and 2015 as the International Cricket Council sought to avoid one-sided matches.
It has been slashed to just 10 teams for 2019 and 2023, featuring the top eight sides in the one-day rankings and another two coming through qualifying.
Lamichhane, who will be watching the World Cup from afar, said he was hoping for some upsets by the smaller teams, who include Afghanistan.
"I am going to watch the World Cup on TV and love to see any team that is under-rated perform well against the big nations," said Lamichhane.
"It will be an inspiration for us who are just beginning their journey right now."
Test cricket is also on Lamichhane's radar as Nepal bid to follow in the footsteps of Afghanistan and Ireland, who in 2017 were elevated to the elite club of nations eligible to play the five-day game.
"Two years back we were nothing," said Lamichhane. "But now we are an ODI and T20 international nation.
"Hopefully there will be a time when we become the next Test nation. Even if I play a Test match for my country after 10 years, it will be the proudest moment."
Nepal gained one-day international status at last year's World Cup qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe, despite the ICC's suspension of Nepal's national governing body since 2016 over political interference.
Despite their success, the team from the Himalayas are yet to play a top side, and have just a couple of international-standard grounds capable of hosting games.
However, individual talent has flourished and Lamichhane, a product of Nepal's Chitwan Cricket Academy, became a protege of former Australian captain Michael Clarke who spotted him at a tournament in Hong Kong.
The teenager's big break came when he was snapped up by IPL's Delhi Capitals, coached by another ex-Australia captain in Ricky Ponting, for $318,000 in January 2018.
So far this season he has bagged five wickets in four IPL matches, with the Capitals often using him as a new-ball bowler on spin-friendly Indian wickets.
"There is no doubt that IPL is the biggest league in the world. You get to see players who play spin really well and we get to perform against players who are the world's best batsmen," he said.
"He (Ponting) is been a huge influence on me. It's a great sign when a player like Ricky coaches your team. Things become easy because you know that he is there if something is wrong."
Lamichhane, whose biggest idols are Warne and Sachin Tendulkar, is surrounded by the world's top cricketers in the IPL but insists he remains focused on his own self-improvement.
"I look up only to myself because I want to be better than yesterday. I never plan something big, I always enjoy the day I am playing a game and let the life go in a flow," he said.
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