Khaleel Ahmed has the potential to reach the top….

For India’s new kid in the block, the 20-year old left-arm pacer Khaleel Ahmed, the past 12 months have been nothing sort of fairytale. By this time last year, he did not even make his First-Class or List A debut. And now, within a short span of time, the youngster has been fast-tracked to the highest level, where he has had an impressive debut against Hong Kong.

So, what is so special about Khaleel? Perhaps, his temperament.

Khaleel’s hometown Tonk is a tiny little place In Rajasthan which is around 100 KM away from the capital city Jaipur. Over there, tennis ball cricket is hugely popular and he is the product of this informal version of the game. On those muddy and dusty pitches or at time cement pitches, he used to bowl his heart out with the softball in order to sustain as a fast bowler. So, having learnt his basics on those extreme conditions the youngster has developed a strong mentality as a bowler.

“Tennis ball cricket helped me grow as a fast bowler,”Khaleel told The Hindu in an interview earlier this year. “We would play mostly on cement pitches and had to bowl fast. The tennis ball is light and helps you improve your arm rotation.”

At the age group level, Khaleel was a part of India Under-19 squad, which took part in the 2016 Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh. However, he did not make much impact over there. Coming back from Dhaka, his career changed completely when he got in touch with Zaheer Khan during his IPL stint.

The former Indian pacer worked hard on his run-up and wrist-position. It helped him to generate more pace. Though at times still he finds it difficult to keep the seam upright but on dead surfaces in Indian domestic circuit, Khaleel is renowned for his effort balls. He is one of hit the deck kind of bowler, who extracts bounce from non-responsive pitches and hurries the batsmen.

His performance in the 2018 edition of Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (Domestic T20 event) grabbed a lot of eyeballs. 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. The youngster played an instrumental role behind taking Rajasthan to finals of the tournament.

Khaleel also made his First-Class and List A debut in the 2017-18 season. He has featured in just two Ranji Trophy matches for the state but was highly impressive in the last Vijay Hazare Trophy where he picked up 10 wickets from six games. His performance in the limited-overs competitions was enough to earn him a lucrative IPL deal as well as a call-up in the India A team for the tour of England, which he scalped eight wickets in five limited-overs matches.

Coming back from England, he played in the Quadrangular series against teams like Australia A and South Africa A. In this limited-overs tournament, representing India A under the watchful eyes of Rahul Dravid, he managed seven wickets in four matches at an average of 17. Perhaps, this consistent show was enough to convince the selectors to pick him in the Asia Cup squad. And so far, the Rajasthan lad hasn’t disappointed anyone.

His 3 for 48 against Hong Kong bailed India out from a difficult position and a huge upset was avoided. When wickets were not coming, Khaleel was not hesitant to try out new things. He came round the wicket and bowled with a lot of fire. His control with the new ball was a bit iffy, perhaps nerves got the better of him but with the older ball he made things happen.

In recent years, there has been a scarcity of quality left-arm pacers in Indian cricket. The experiments with Jaydev Unadkat or Barinder Sran haven’t been successful enough. But this kid seems to have something about him. Let’s hope the spark in Khaleel will get ignited.

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