With a wry smile, Sunam Gautam jokes that if he gets a call to play in the BBL, there should be a movie about his journey.
When you take in the stories, you want to be the one pitching it to producers.
A former youth international for Nepal, Gautam put senior team hopes aside eight years ago, saving up for a one-way ticket to Australia to pursue safer work and study opportunities. Now 31, balancing classes and night shifts with premier grade cricket, Gautam is just a call away from playing in one of the biggest franchise leagues in the world.
‘There was a time I didn’t have one cent in my pocket, but my love and passion towards cricket kept me alive,’ Gautam admits.
‘I used to drag my kit bag ten kilometres because I didn’t have money for a ticket (for the bus). But I used to take those walks as part of my fitness.’
Overcoming obstacles few of his teammates have faced to establish himself in premier grade cricket, Gautam, now based in Adelaide, boasts strong numbers in two cities. Flourishing for the Greenvale Kangaroos in Melbourne Grade Cricket before moving, Gautam was named in the Victorian Premier Cricket Firsts Team of the Year in 2018/19, finishing agonisingly short in the count for the coveted Jack Ryder Medal.
Earning high praise from coaches and peers, Gautam’s achievements are all the more remarkable considering he played after enduring sleepless nights working in the security industry.
‘I used to reject work and shifts for training and games, and when you cancel shifts they (bosses) don’t give you any shifts after that. Instead, I worked night shifts on Friday night and in the morning I’d go straight to the ground after work,’ Gautam confesses.
‘Sometimes when we play Saturday and Sunday I literally don’t get sleep from Friday night until Sunday evening. It’s been tough, but that made me really strong.’
Unless you ran into Gautam on a Saturday morning with bags under his eyes, you wouldn’t know of his struggles by watching him in the field. A livewire itching for the ball to come to him, Gautam is stationed inside the ring on the balls of his feet. Several coaches compare Sunam’s energy to that of another man that made a name for himself in Melbourne: Australian international Glenn Maxwell.
‘I am such a player who loves to engage in the field. I bowl, bat and I just love being in the field. I want myself in the ring.’
Playing in front of franchise coaches in two cities, Gautam’s biggest public endorsement has come from former Australian leg-spinner Stuart MacGill. MacGill himself has contacted several BBL clubs as an unofficial rep of Sunam – one of which Emerging Cricket can confirm was the franchise that has Gautam under their nose – the Adelaide Strikers.
Australian grade cricket, particularly in the major cities, is considered the most unrelenting amateur cricket in the world. With top-quality talent often stuck in a bottleneck trying to crack just six state teams, the advent of the BBL has left the door ajar for those dominating in the shorter formats. Overseas players add to the competition, but bigger squad sizes and the rigours of the schedule hand more opportunities to deserving cricketers. Sunam is in the trenches every weekend trying to grab attention, and realises he needs put in extra hours to stand out.
‘Cricket here is definitely very tough and the standard is very high, so in order to maintain I have to train extra and do something more to get to the next level.’
‘I was so much in love with cricket I didn’t want to miss training or games, and as an international student it is really difficult to play, work and study. I don’t miss any training or games, and I even play during winter in a competition which helps me to get in my rhythm every summer.’
As overseas stars struggle to make their way down under in 2020, Gautam’s chances are bolstered by a permanent residency visa, another ace in his hand. Qualifying as a local player, Gautam not only possesses some of the skills only foreigners can bring, but he can deliver it for a fraction of the price and without the risk of burning an overseas slot. Benefiting from a cricket upbringing different to his teammates, Gautam is one of few players in the country able to bowl both the doosra and the carrom ball with control.
‘I have a simple action and everyone says I get more revs in my bowling. My top spinner bounces more than normal which makes it more effective,’ Gautam adds.
‘The doosra is a really tough ball to bowl but luckily I have a good wrist which helps me a lot to bowl different kinds of balls. The carrom ball is the most effective bowling in T20s, alongside the doosra and topspinner which get more bounce to get a top edge or leading edge from the batsman.’
Gautam has rubbed shoulders with some of Australia’s best players, and his stats highlight that no one has devised a plan to get on top of him. He claimed his wickets in the 2018/19 VIC Super Slam at an average of 12.56, taking a wicket every two overs. In Adelaide last year, Gautam’s economy dropped to 5.34, with players opting to see him off instead.
‘I have bowled good balls to players and got their wickets, or created pressure. Batsmen don’t take many risks on my bowling. That is why my economy rate is very low. I hardly go for over six runs an over now in T20 cricket.’
Gautam is approaching his eighth summer in Australia and second at the Southern District Cricket Club, where he is coached by West Indian legend Carl Hooper. With over 300 wickets and 10,000 runs across his international career, Hooper’s experience is not lost on Gautam, who hangs on the fellow off-spinner’s every word.
‘I’ve spent so much time with him and we go together to games and training. He’s shared all of his experiences and they help me be better as well.’
Sunam’s compatriot Sandeep Lamichhane is still waiting on a call from the Melbourne Stars, who are yet to announce their overseas signings for the upcoming season. While a beacon of hope for Nepali fans wanting to cheer a countryman on, Sunam is also a friend of Sandeep, and helped the youngster acquaint himself in Australia during his debut season in BBL|08.
‘I took him out to have dinner, or to a friend’s house, so that he didn’t feel any loneliness, or miss home, which may have helped his game. He is a smart guy and he is doing really well these days. He is an inspiration for many many players from what is a small nation.’
Standing next to Sandeep on the field in Nepali national colours is not out of the question for Sunam either. Playing cricket close to twelve months the year at a competitive level and taking wickets on flat surfaces, he has a leg up on his players back home who have been stifled by politics, a lack of fixtures and a lockdown throughout 2020. While 9,000 miles away from national selectors, Gautam has reiterated his availability for the Nepali national team, and still dreams of having the rhino on his chest.
‘CAN (Cricket Association of Nepal) was asking about my availability two or three months ago. I doubt they track my scores but at least they asked me recently. Let’s hope.’
It might be worth CAN running the microscope over Gautam’s batting numbers, with the national team crying out for stability in the middle order. Gautam created history as the first Nepali national to make a hundred in Melbourne’s top grade, and has honed his craft by playing three formats of the game.
‘I always love batting and I have different roles in different teams. I have batted as an opener in white ball cricket and batted in the middle order for the teams I’ve played for.
‘I will say I have done reasonably well but I could be doing better, but I am always confident with my batting and I would consider myself as an aggressive batsman.’
After his early obstacles, Sunam now has a strong support network in Australia, for which he expresses immense gratitude. His parents, who gave him their blessings upon his departure to Australia, understand Sunam’s undying love for the game, and his determination to reach the professional level.
‘They are always there for me. My mum especially always supported me with my cricket. Whenever they see my name in the paper they just get that. I have a dream to get my parents here if I play in the BBL.’
By his side, wife Kritika is his biggest supporter, and even in the middle of a pandemic, Sunam believes their bond is stronger than ever.
‘My wife is so supportive. Since I moved to Adelaide we got married but unfortunately with Covid we couldn’t celebrate with our parents, relatives and friends, but once everything returns to normal we will.
‘Every Saturday morning she helps me prepare by making breakfast and smoothies for me. She is the one who is encouraging me to train more and play well in games. She gets sad if I don’t do well, and I don’t want to see that in her face.’
While Sunam and his supporters believe he has the game befitting of the box office, his focus is to do his bit in another campaign for the Stingrays, while trying to find his personal fairytale ending. Even if he doesn’t get the call, Gautam believes he has realised a dream already.
‘Our focus this season is to get the premiership. We all worked hard in the off-season and Coach Hooper’s plans and experience will definitely help us.’
‘I’m lucky and blessed to be in Australia. All the club presidents, members, teammates have looked after me. I have run out of words to thank all of me and the Nepalese community have always supported me too.’
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