Hyderabad cricketer, Chicago pitch!

A couple of days back, the ICC Americas has named an 18-member squad for the ICC World Cricket League Division Three, and, quite surprisingly, the list features the wicketkeeper-batsman from Hyderabad — Ibrahim Khaleel!

“It is just the first step. I am not absolutely sure whether I will make it to the final 14. It would be cleared once the ICC Americas approves my citizenship process,” says Ibrahim Khaleel.   -  Special Arrangement

For the last four years, neither his friends in Hyderabad nor his team-mates, who played with him in the Ranji Trophy, knew anything about Ibrahim Khaleel’s whereabouts. All they knew was, he had shifted base to the U.S., to try something new.

But now, his friends and colleagues would be in for a surprise.

A couple of days back, the ICC Americas has named an 18-member squad for the ICC World Cricket League Division Three, and, quite surprisingly, the list features the wicketkeeper-batsman from Hyderabad — Ibrahim Khaleel!

On Monday evening as Khaleel spoke to Sportstar from Chicago, he sounded emotional. “It is just the first step. I am not absolutely sure whether I will make it to the final 14. It would be cleared once the ICC approves my citizenship process,” he said.

Khaleel sounded happy to be back in the groove. A couple of weeks ago, he was called for a trial in Houston. The selectors and the team’s chief coach Pubudu Dassanayake, took trials of all the players and shortlisted 18. “It was a rigorous training programme. It went on well, and I was quite confident of making the cut,” he said.

But then, Khaleel, who has played 57 first-class matches for Hyderabad, was a bit cautious. And that’s because of his citizenship.

Even though he shifted base to Chicago four years ago, he is yet to acquire a full-term U.S. citizenship. “My papers have been processed, and I am waiting for a final clearance. It should not be a problem, but then…” the 34-year-old paused.

It was only last month that the U.S. President, Donald Trump, had revised the policies, blocking immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. But that isn’t bothering Khaleel, who moved to Chicago to be with his wife — a doctor by profession and a U.S. citizen. “I don’t have much idea about the recent immigration order. I had applied a long time back. Hopefully, things will go my way,” he said.

After moving to the U.S., Khaleel initially played for a local club in Chicago. “There was a friend from Hyderabad, who would play for the club. He only asked me to play there.”

That’s how, Khaleel started making his mark in the U.S. Last year, there was a Regional combined camp organised by the ICC Americas, where eight overseas players were asked to be present. And, from the group, Khaleel was chosen for the final trials. “When they called me, I was not too sure about the prospect. But I just wanted to be associated with cricket,” he said.

‘I can only keep my fingers crossed. My cricketing days in India have taught me not to expect too much.’

Coming from a family of cricketers (his father, M. A. Khaleel, played for Railways in the Ranji Trophy in the early 1980s), Khaleel started his career under the watchful eyes of Arshad Ayub. “It all started in Hyderabad. Slowly, I made it to the State team and left my mark in the domestic tournaments. But then, I had to take the tough call of leaving the country. The scopes were less there,” a rather dejected Khaleel said.

Even after moving to the U.S. in 2013, Khaleel continued playing for Hyderabad in the 2014-15 season. “But after that, it was not possible to hop between India and the U.S… I had to set my priorities right,” he said.

Was it just the priorities that made him move to the U.S., or was it something else?

Khaleel smiled and politely answered: “I have no regrets. I have thoroughly enjoyed my game.”

Not the best of choices

While Khaleel said he had no regrets in life, some of his former team-mates in Hyderabad indicated that the stumper had taken a couple of wrong decisions, which affected his career. In 2007, he left the Hyderabad Ranji Trophy side and joined the Hyderabad Heroes side in the Indian Cricket League (ICL). That affected his career.

Later, when the BCCI brought back the ICL players in the mainstream, Khaleel was bought by the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League (IPL). However, he had to warm the benches. “I was looking for an opportunity, but that never came my way,” he said.

In 2011, Khaleel created a world record in wicket-keeping for any first-class game with a tally of 14 victims in a Ranji Trophy Plate Group B match against Assam.

But even after that his career never really took off, and that prompted him to move overseas. “I was not too happy with a few things in Hyderabad cricket. And then I decided to move out,” he said, adding: “I have lost touch with most of my team-mates.”

Reserved person

Ever since leaving Hyderabad, Khaleel seems to have gone incommunicado. While he doesn’t have a social media account, the cricketer did not even use WhatsApp till a year ago. “I am a reserved person, and don’t enjoy talking to too many people. I had to install WhatsApp only after my parents and my sister persuaded,” he said with a smile.

Perhaps, that’s why most of his old friends and team-mates can’t even reach him despite repeated attempts. “That’s how I am,” he laughed.

With the USA side set to begin its campaign at the World Cricket League on May 23, Khaleel hopes to be in the final team. “I can only keep my fingers crossed. My cricketing days in India have taught me not to expect too much,” a rather cautious Khaleel said.

After all, there is many a slip, between the cup and the lip!