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From Tonk to Team India – Khaleel Ahmed’s Rise Through the Ranks

Hardik Worah | Updated: September 18, 2018, 4:42 PM IST
From Tonk to Team India – Khaleel Ahmed’s Rise Through the Ranks

Twitter/ Rajasthan Police

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Saturday, September 1 2018 will now be inscribed in Khaleel Ahmed's memories for the rest of his life. The tall paceman from Tonk, a small town in Rajasthan, was the only new face in the 16-man India squad announced by the MSK Prasad-led selection panel for the upcoming Asia Cup that in UAE.

Tuesday, September 18 will be an even better memory, for that's when Khaleel received his maiden India cap - from Rohit Sharma - in their Asia Cup game against Hong Kong.

Khaleel, 20, has already made a name for himself in age-group cricket and domestic circuit, especially in the limited-overs format. The left-arm pacer, who is known to generate some serious pace, has been in selectors' radar for almost a year now. While the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal form a vigorous bowling attack, Indian captain Virat Kohli and Prasad have been pretty vocal about the requirement of a left-arm pacer in the ODI setup. Khaleel has a chance to also push his case for the 2019 World Cup.

"Two to three slots we are yet to finalise, so for those slots we are trying and we'll look at these 24 matches (in the lead-up to 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," chief selector Prasad told reporters after making the announcement.

Khaleel is one of the many products of the Rahul Dravid school. He idolises inarguably India's best left-arm pacer Zaheer Khan, and also featured in the 2016 Under-19 World Cup.

As he gets his international career rolling, we look at some of the facts about the fast bowler.

Early days

His father is a compounder in a clinic, but medicines never intrigued Khaleel. Hailing from a town called Tonk, 60 miles to the south of Jaipur, Khaleel learnt the art of bowling fast by playing tennis-ball cricket. He represented Rajasthan at the Under-16 and Under-19 levels but only started to take the game seriously when he was named in the India Under-19 squad for the 2016 World Cup.

Mediocre World Cup

Khaleel came into the World Cup with seven wickets in just two games of the Tri-Nation Under-19 tournament, also involving Sri Lanka and England, in Colombo. However, he failed to extend that wicket-taking form in the World Cup although he featured in all the matches. In six encounters, he only managed three wickets at 56.66 as India lost to West Indies in the final.

Idolises Zaheer Khan and Rahul Dravid

There's not a single interview of Khaleel where he hasn't mentioned about the respect and love he has for both Zaheer and Dravid. Being a left-armer, Khaleel grew up idolising Zaheer and also has a similar jump and run up while leading into the delivery stride. He has also worked closely with Dravid over the years, both with the Under-19 and 'A' side. In 2016, he was bought by Delhi Daredevils for Rs 10 lakh and got to work under the guidance of Dravid once again, and Zaheer. Apart from working on various technical aspects, the former Indian pacer also played a key role in developing the mindset and confidence of the young pacer.

In an interview with Times of India, Zaheer had said Khaleel has all the ingredients to become a match-winner for India, provided he keeps working hard.

Tournament that surged his career

His performance in the 2018 Syed Mushtaq Ali made everyone sit up and take notice. He scalped 17 wickets in 10 games at an impressive average of 15.52 and economy rate of 6.77, and finished the tournament as the second highest wicket-taker. He bowled with pace and in one of the games also clocked 148 km/hr. He played a key role in helping Rajasthan qualify for the final where they lost to Delhi.

He also made his first-class and List A debut in the 2017-18 season. He has featured in just two four-day games for the state but was highly impressive in the Vijay Hazare Trophy where he picked up 10 wickets from six games. His performance in the limited-overs competitions was enough to earn him an IPL deal.

Lucrative IPL contract

Khaleel went into the auction with a base price of Rs 20 lakh which soon upgraded to Rs 3 crore, with Sunrisers Hyderabad overpowering Kings XI Punjab and Delhi Daredevils in the biddling process. However, he just played one game in the season where he was taken out for 38 runs. He did manage to spend some quality time with international players and coaches which only improved his game.

Starring for India A

By the end of the last season it was quite evident that the selectors had their eyes glued on Khaleel. In the nine limited-overs matches that he has played for the 'A' team, Khaleel has taken 15 wickets. He never went wicketless in those nine games. He was part of the India A limited-overs squad that toured England in June-July, and also featured in the recently concluded quadrangular series. Playing for India A, he managed seven wickets in four matches at an average of 17.
First Published: September 18, 2018, 3:05 PM IST
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