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“Khaleel is making the best of the third seamer’s role in the team and India will hopefully not discard him in the near future”

After going for some stick in the last couple of matches, Khaleel Ahmed bounced back extremely well in the crucial fourth ODI against West Indies, claiming figures of 3-13. The fact that India had 377 runs on the board also helped Khaleel a great extent, but one cannot take away from the fact that he bowled extremely well and deserved his wickets. Since making his debut against Hong Kong in the Asia Cup, Khaleel has found it difficult to contain runs and to pick up wickets at regular intervals, which is something a bowler must possess in the 50-over format. However, with every match, he has gotten better and in the Mumbai ODI, he displayed some fine swing bowling, leaving the Windies batsmen in all sorts of trouble.

In the absence of Hardik Pandya, India have gone to Ravindra Jadeja to fill the spot of the all-rounder. However, when it comes to having a third seamer, India have found Khaleel and given his performance in the recent game, he might fit very well in the Indian team. But then, he will have to make way if India decide to go in with three spinners, given the current squad. India have persisted with Khaleel ahead of Umesh Yadav, which is an indication that the captain and the team management have a lot of faith in the youngster. Having him in the XI might just be an experiment for now, but Khaleel has at least ensured that they think about it twice before they leave him out in the near future.

Barring Jason Holder, the West Indies batsmen did not offer any sort of resistance. With a huge target to chase, there was a sense of urgency, which resulted in false shots and eventually wickets. Some brilliant run-outs too did not help West Indies. Shai Hope and Shimron Hetmyer, who have scored heavily in this series so far fell cheaply. It was an opportunity for a new hero to be born, but nobody put their hand up. Khaleel decided this was going to be his day. He perhaps bowled his best spell in his short international career so far. He first got rid of the dangerous Hetmyer, who missed the ball and was wrapped on the pads with the impact being on middle stump.

Khaleel then bowled a peach of a delivery to Rovman Powell. Powell went for the extravagant drive but the ball swung back in and crashed into the wickets. While he was bowling wonderful in-swingers all this while, he bowled a delivery that went with the angle to Marlon Samuels and West Indies’ most experienced player poked at it and Rohit Sharma took an easy catch at slip. Khaleel bowled with purpose and intensity, giving absolutely nothing away.

Over the years, India have produced very less left-arm fast bowlers in the recent past. Before Khaleel, they had Barinder Sran, who debuted in 2016, Jaydev Unadkat, who made his ODI bow in 2013. Before that, India have to go way back to 2005 when they handed a debut to RP Singh and a year before that to Irfan Pathan. Even before their emergence, India had fine left-arm pacers in Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra. The likes of Zaheer, Nehra along with Javagal Srinath led India’s bowling attack for years. However, with Unadkat and Sran do not seem to be in contention for an ODI spot in the moment, which could mean Khaleel could make that spot his own. With a left-arm pacer in the side, it certainly adds a bit more variation in the bowling department, which could come in handy at some point.

Khaleel has been picked in the T20I squads against West Indies and also against Australia. He will hopefully get another chance in the fifth ODI against Windies at Thiruvananthapuram and also both the T20I series. He will, however, have to work hard in the domestic circuit as well. Before making his India debut, Khaleel had played just two First-Class matches 17 List A games. He bowled extremely well in the Quadrangular series during South Africa and Australia’s visit to India, picking up 7 wickets at 17 at an economy rate of 4.38. Before that, he also did well during India A’s tour of England, where he managed to pick up 6 wickets at 21 with an economy rate of 4.55. He was India A’ third seamer in those matches and is currently plays a similar role in the senior side. He has been good in that role and can support the opening bowlers well. He usually maintains a low economy rate and chips in with some crucial wickets. While he cannot lead a bowling attack just yet but has already shown that he can play second fiddle.

There was clearly some changes in Khaleel’s length at Mumbai. He was on the shorter side in the other matches, but in the fourth ODI, he bowled much fuller and swung the ball both ways. Also, according to Zaheer, Khaleel had a better approach to the crease and his non-bowling arm too moved in the right directions. Zaheer spent the evening before the match with the youngster and it seems like just the boost the fast bowler needed.

Khaleel is making the best of the third seamer’s role in the team and India will hopefully not discard him in the near future.

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