There is something intriguing about quality left-arm fast bowlers. The best of batsmen feel challenged, especially against those who can bring the ball back from over the wicket. May be the fact that they are so rare makes this breed of fast bowlers a particularly tough proposition.
Every captain yearns to have a top class left-arm pacer in his ranks. They get excited not only by the variety offered but also the different angles from which these pacemen attack batsmen. The latter who are unused to this genre of bowling, take some time getting used to the wares.
On Monday evening, there was this spectacular sight of Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayudu setting the stands alight with their pyrotechnics. Naturally, they hogged all the limelight. However, the real encouraging signs for Indian cricket came later, from a completely different source.
Rajasthan's 20-year-old tall and lanky left-arm fast bowler Khaleel Ahmed was just the spark that Indian cricket had been waiting for this past decade. His raw talent came surging to the fore during the Windies innings as he lost nothing in comparison to his more accomplished teammates, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Jaspreet Bumrah.
It would be no exaggeration to state that young Ahmed seems to be the most exciting left-arm fast bowling prospect since Zaheer Khan. On Monday, in a brief span of five overs, he showed that he could bend the white Kookaburra ball to his wishes. This is saying quite a bit as the white ball hardly encourages swing bowling after the initial couple of overs.
Ahmed, however, brought the ball into the right-hander every now and then. He also angled the ball towards slips. These two variations ensured that batsmen were unsure as to which ball would go across the body and which would come in. The three wickets he took for 13 runs was just reward for the promising youngster.
Pointedly, it was only his fifth ODI. Even otherwise, Ahmed has played just two first-class matches. He caught the eye during the Under-19 World Cup in 2015 and has impressed ever since.
A berth in India A team squads followed quickly. However, it was his IPL stints which fast-forwarded his learning.
Following his U-19 World Cup stint he was with Delhi Daredevils (DD) for two years, in 2016 and 2017. This brought him directly under former pace ace Zaheer, whose advice and help fine-tuned the youngster's approach.
In 2018, at the IPL auction, SunRisers Hyderabad (SRH) overcame a stiff bidding war with DD and King's XI Punjab to bag him for Rs 3 crore. By then, he had done pretty well in Vijay Hazare and Deodhar Trophy matches to warrant that sort of attention. Crucially though, at SRH, he came in contact with Bhuvaneshwar who taught him a thing or two about his trade.
Simultaneously, India were on the hunt for a good left-arm fast bowler. They had tried a couple of them, including the discarded Jaydev Unadkat. But the trials were not satisfactory.
In the past, India had Zaheer, Ashish Nehra, RP Singh, Irfan Pathan to call upon. But after their retirement, the team had only right-arm pace bowlers to rely on. The selectors, try as they did, could not find quality left-arm pacemen.
On the other hand, neighbouring Pakistan seemed blessed with an abundance of excellent left-arm pacers, far more than any other country. Wasim Akram, Saleem Jaffer, Mohammad Irfan, Junaid Khan, Wahab Riaz, Sohail Tanvir, Mohammed Amir, Rahat Ali, et al were a handful for successive generation of batsmen.
Akram, for instance, used to get around the wicket against tail-end batsmen and simply bowl them over with his sharp in-coming deliveries. Mitchell Johnson terrorised right-hand batsmen by getting his fast, short-pitched deliveries to follow them. His successor Mitchell Starc seems to be as menacing with his left-arm pace.
Even slower paceman could be a handful as India found out against Sam Curran in England. Much earlier, India's slow left-arm medium pacer Eknath Solkar made a mickey of England's famous opening batsman Geoffrey Boycott.
Thus, as can be gauged, a skillful left-arm pace bowler could be a great asset to a team. He brings variety and hence poses a different kind of challenge to batsmen.
Khaleel is raw. He has played more ODIs (five) than Ranji Trophy (two) or IPL (two) matches. His selection into the Indian team has certainly been an inspired one. He has all the ingredients to mature into an excellent fast bowler: height, pace, good high-arm action, ability to move the ball, age and a hunger to absorb lessons.
Hopefully, with inputs from India bowling coach Bharat Arun, Zaheer, Bhuvneshwar and other national team pacers like Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma, he will reach his potential pretty rapidly. Indian cricket will be richer for it.
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