The coach who fought for Khaleel Ahmed

The Tonk Cricket Academy in Rajasthan erupted in joy with the news of one of its pupils' breakthrough. But no one was happier than Imtiyaz Ali Khan, the man who spotted Khaleel’s talent years ago.

Khaleel Ahmed was picked in the senior national squad for Asia Cup 2018.   -  R.V. Moorthy

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) selection committee surprised many when it named 20-year-old left arm pacer, Khaleel Ahmed in the senior national squad for the Asia Cup on Saturday.

The Tonk Cricket Academy in Rajasthan erupted in joy with the news of one of its pupils' breakthrough. But no one was happier than Imtiyaz Ali Khan, the man who spotted Khaleel’s talent years ago.

On Teacher’s Day, Khaleel could not think of a better teacher to be grateful for. “He fought for me. When my father dissuaded me from joining a cricket academy he was the one who came to the rescue,” Khaleel tells Sportstar.

READ | Asia Cup 2018: Virat Kohli rested, Khaleel Ahmed earns maiden call-up

“He was pretty confident that I would make it big one day. Maybe, that is why he made me stay back and train for extra hours at the Saadat Pavilion grounds.”

One could sense the pride when Imtiyaz spoke about his pupil. “Back in the days, when the older boys used to train, this young kid in a skullcap would watch the game silently. He didn't talk much but there was a spark in his eyes that spoke volumes,” said Imtiyaz.

“Whenever the ball raced towards the boundary ropes, he'd become a different person. He'd run towards the ball as fast as he could to save a boundary. Whenever he managed to do so, he'd throw the ball to me with a bowling action. He wanted to get noticed,” he added.

This, Imtiyaz says, went on for days on end, until one day he disappeared for a few weeks. When enquired, no one had any idea about what had happened to the little spectator who used to rush to watch the games after offering namaaz at the mosque every single day.

Imtiyaz too had given up hope, until one day he met him at the vegetable market. When asked about why he wasn't coming to the grounds anymore, he sheepishly admitted how his father used to beat him for neglecting studies and going to the grounds to watch others play.

Imtiyaz decided to speak with Khaleel’s father, who worked as a compounder. However, his father would have none of it. As Imtiyaz puts it, "His father said that I would be the one to ruin Khaleel’s life." After a verbal tussle, the coach managed to persuade Khaleel's father to grant him a chance to train the kid.

After training him for years and satisfied with what he saw, Imtiyaz accompanied Khaleel to the U-14 selection trials. Khaleel was asked to stop after bowling four deliveries. He had made the cut.

ALSO READ | Khaleel aspires to emulate idol Zaheer Khan

Soon, opportunities came knocking on his door and things started falling in place. U-14, U-16 and U-19 stints with the state paved the way to 2016's U-19 Indian World Cup squad, where he managed 12 wickets in three innings. In the same year, he made his IPL debut with the Delhi Daredevils. In 2018, he was picked up by the Sunrisers Hyderabad for Rs 3 crores. However, the latest feather to his cap is undoubtedly the best among all.

“I wish to cement my place in the Indian team,” says Khaleel, who wishes to surpass his mentor Zaheer Khan’s record some day. Only time will tell whether the pacer will manage to shine in national colours.