After being named in Nepal's squad for the T20 matches against the MCC and Netherlands at Lord's and Nepal's maiden ODIs against the Netherlands on August 1 and 3, left-arm spinner Shakti Gauchan has announced his retirement. Gauchan made the announcement at a press conference in Kathmandu on Wednesday, marking the Netherlands tour as his last with Nepal.
Gauchan remains in a 15-man squad despite having played just one match at the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe. Nepal secured ODI status for the first time by finishing as one of the top-three Associates aside from Netherlands, who had regained ODI status after winning the WCL Championship in December. Wicketkeeper Dilip Nath has been dropped in a like-for-like swap with Subash Khakurel in the only change to the squad that toured Zimbabwe.
The 34-year-old Gauchan is an iconic figure in Nepalese cricket, having played 191 matches across all formats for his country since making his senior team debut as an 18-year-old against Oman in July 2002 at the Asian Cricket Council Trophy. He is by far the longest tenured player in Nepal's squad, having made his debut two years prior to captain Paras Khadka's maiden international against Malaysia in 2004.
However, Gauchan has struggled to maintain a place in the starting line-up over the last two years since the emergence of teenage legspin sensation Sandeep Lamichhane. Fellow left-arm spinner Basant Regmi has been the preferred spin option to partner Lamichhane ahead of Gauchan on most occasions, though Gauchan has remained in Nepal's regular touring squads, acting as a mentor to Lamichhane.
Gauchan played a starring role in Nepal's two victories in the opening round of the 2014 World Twenty20 in Bangladesh, the only major ICC tournament the country has played in. On World T20 debut, Gauchan's four-over spell of 3 for 9 including the prized wicket of Babar Hayat earned him Man-of-the-Match honors as Nepal wiped out Hong Kong for 69 in an 80-run win. He then took 2 for 25, including the wickets of Nawroz Mangal and then-captain Mohammad Nabi, in a nine-run win over Afghanistan.
His infectious smile has made him many friends off the field among opposition sides and helped make him a major fan favorite in Nepal, as well as a cult figure across the Associate world. Even though Gauchan has never been a big turner of the ball with his round-arm action, he has been lethal at strangling Associate teams into submission thanks to his unflinching accuracy.
One of Gauchan's most dominant tournaments came at 2012 WCL Division Four in Malaysia where Nepal went undefeated during the start of a golden run that spurred a push to the 2014 World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand and the 2014 World T20 in Bangladesh. It was in Malaysia that Gauchan produced near flawless and statistically mindboggling spells against Singapore (9-4-8-1), Malaysia (10-8-2-3), and Denmark (7-1-12-1).
The following spring, in a pressure-packed must-win last-day scenario at WCL Division Three in Bermuda, he reprised his heroics against Italy by helping tie down the opposition for 129 with a golden spell of 10-2-15-2. It set up a sprinted chase in less than 15 overs that ensured Nepal overtook USA on the net-run-rate tiebreaker and into the World Cup Qualifier for just the second time in their history, and first appearance since the 2001 ICC Trophy in Canada.
Gauchan has also been noteworthy for his unselfishness. Earlier in his career, he batted at No. 3 as a genuine allrounder, but shifted down the order in later years to suit the needs of the team. More recently his team-first attitude has been noticeable in the way he has gracefully stepped aside to make room for Lamichhane's rise as leader of the bowling attack. Despite carrying drinks for all of WCL Division Two in Namibia, there was arguably nobody happier than Gauchan during the celebrations that followed an epic last-ball one-wicket win over Canada on the final day of round-robin play to send Nepal to the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe.
But with an increase from 14 to 15 roster spots available a few weeks after their Division Two success for the qualifier in Zimbabwe, Nepal's selectors decided against boosting the team's weak batting depth and instead called up rookie left-arm orthodox spinner Lalit Rajbanshi. The 18-year-old played all six matches in Zimbabwe as part of a three-pronged spin attack with Lamichhane and Regmi. Gauchan only suited up for the 7th place game against Netherlands, after ODI status had been secured. It was yet another signal that his career was nearing its end.
Rather than wait until being dropped from a subsequent squad, Gauchan has decided to make an exit on his own terms. Having played such a monumental and often unsung role in Nepal's rise from WCL Division Five to ODI status over the last decade behind the likes of Khadka, Regmi, Lamichhane and Gyanendra Malla, a trip to Lord's amid an expected turnout in excess of 5000 Nepal fans is a fitting farewell for Gauchan's final tour.