What makes Khaleel Ahmed tick: insights from MRF Pace Foundation

With the emergence of Khaleel Ahmed, it looks like India's search for a left-arm seamer has ended.

Khaleel Ahmed finished with seven wickets from four matches against the Windies.   -  AFP

Khaleel Ahmed’s inclusion in India’s Asia Cup squad came as a surprise, but two months later, the left-arm seamer has justified his selection. In fact, his impressive performances aligning with the team’s search for a left-arm seamer — to lend variety to the bowling attack — have moved Khaleel up the pecking order for a potential spot in India's World Cup squad.

The 20-year-old already has two three-wicket hauls to his name, the latest against the West Indies being particularly impressive. He finished the home ODI series against the Windies as the second-highest wicket-taker with seven wickets, an average of 24.42 and an economy rate of 5.34.

Read: The coach who fought for Khaleel

In the fourth ODI at the Brabourne Stadium, where he recorded figures of three for 13 in five overs, Khaleel’s ability to move the ball into the right-hander reminded one of Irfan Pathan’s initial days at the international level.

Sportstar spoke to the chief coach at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai, Senthilnathan M., to understand the work Khaleel has put in to his bowling in the recent months.

“He trained at the MRF Pace Foundation in July-August 2018, in the presence of Glenn McGrath (the director at the coaching clinic in Chennai for fast bowlers) and me. We worked on getting him to bowl inswingers and outswingers. We also took him to the National Centre of Excellence (in Brisbane) and made him bowl in those conditions to help gain experience,” Senthilnathan said.

After the fifth and final one-dayer against the Windies, India coach, Ravi Shastri said that Khaleel is raw and lacks experience, but has variations up his sleeve. Senthilnathan explained how the MRF Pace Foundation tunes Khaleel up for the format he is about to play.

The preparation

“We work on different aspects of bowling depending on the format Khaleel is going to play. When he is going to play Ranji Trophy, we prepare him for bowling the right length; when he is going to play IPL (or T20 cricket), we get him to work on variations, bowl yorker and slower-uns.”

Senthilnathan feels Khaleel, who has gained tremendous exposure in the last three years, courtesy his playing in the 2016 Under-19 World Cup and with two IPL franchises (Delhi Daredevils and Sunrisers Hyderabad), can be one of India's best bowlers in the coming years.

Also read: Bharat Arun impressed with team's pace unit

“He (Khaleel) has the potential to be very good. He has it in him to be one of the best bowlers for India. We tell him, ‘play every game like it’s your first, keep doing well’.”

Senthilnathan says that MRF Pace Foundation is proud of another success story in the form of Khaleel (the 20th from the academy to go on to play for India), having played important roles in nurturing Zaheer Khan, R.P. Singh, S. Sreesanth, among others.

“I am proud, but actually, it’s (getting another fast bowler from MRF Pace Foundation to play for India) a collective effort. We are proud.”