Khaleel Ahmed Asia Cup: The 20-year old left-arm fast bowler has received a maiden call-up to the senior team.
Following the footsteps of his teammates in Rishabh Pant and Washington Sundar, Khaleel Ahmed has become another player from the class of 2016 (ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup 2016 in Bangladesh) to be selected for the Indian team. The 20-year old left-arm fast bowler has gradually made his way to the rub shoulders with the best in the business.
To reach to his destination at the highest level, Ahmed has followed a prototypical path which has made him travel from strength to strength right from his childhood. Born in Tonk, Rajasthan, Ahmed’s first introduction to cricket was with the tennis ball. As is the trend in this genre of cricket, watching the batsmen come at him motivated Ahmed to beat them with his outright pace.
Ahmed’s transition happened from local cricket to representing India at the U-19 level to playing for Rajasthan. He followed it with playing in the IPL and for India A. Eventually, post his consistent show across these platforms, he has now been named in a team where each player of the country wishes to be.
U-19 World Cup figures of 40.3-10-189-3 might not seem to be highly impressive but the fact that he bowled with control throughout the tourney and didn’t leak runs added merit under his name.
Others might argue about Ahmed not having enough First-class experiences but it is not the format for which he has been selected. Something which has contributed to him being selected at the highest level is his List A record. In 17 List A appearances, Ahmed has registered 28 dismissals at an average of 22.50, an economy rate of 4.74 and a strike rate of 28.4. The numbers clearly identify the fact that Ahmed has it in him to affect dismissals. His spree of being wicket-less in the last nine matches for India A (against England Lions and in the recently-concluded quadrangular series) is testimony of the same.
MSK Prasad, chief selector of the Indian team, spoke about the inclusion of Ahmed in the squad. “Two to three slots we are yet to finalise, so for those slots we are trying and we’ll look at these 24 matches [for the World Cup]. You’ll come to know the slots more specifically as we go ahead … Among those, one of those seamers’ slots is open. We are looking at a left-arm option in Khaleel”, he said.
Ahmed was initially roped into the Delhi Daredevils squad in 2016. Having spent two years at the franchise, he didn’t get to play a single match. However, sharing the dressing room with Zaheer Khan reaped numerous benefits for the then teenager.
In an interview with ESPNcricinfo during the quadrangular series last week, Ahmed talked about the learning curve from India’s most successful left-arm bowler. “Being under Zaheer coincided with my improvement as a cricketer. I used to just look to bowl fast, didn’t think much about the technicalities, but Zaheer worked on my non-bowling arm and wrist position. The seam position used to be wobbly, because there was some problem with my grip and alignment with my thumb. Now I can swing the ball back into the right-handers,” said Ahmed.
Sunrisers Hyderabad showed enough interest in him during the auction of this year’s IPL, so much so that the uncapped pacer was bought for a whopping INR 3 crores. That being said, he still played a lone match during the season, conceding 38 runs in three overs against Kolkata Knight Riders.
In which was another learning curve, Ahmed spent enough time with a senior bowler in Bhuvneshwar Kumar. “With Bhuvneshwar Kumar at Sunrisers, I learnt about death bowling. How he trains in the nets, how he practices bowling yorkers and does target practice. He is a very simple person, and is always ready to offer advice.
“With him, chats have been around consistency. My strength is bounce because of height, but if I can swing the ball, then it adds variety. So even when I didn’t get chances, I wasn’t frustrated because I tried to learn in whatever little time we had between matches”, he was quoted in the same interview with ESPNcricinfo.
If he gets an opportunity in the Asia Cup, it would be interesting to see Khaleel Ahmed bowl at the highest level on pitches where batsmen would aim attacking him.