IPL experience vital to Khaleel’s smooth transition
Getting their form batsmen out early gave the confidence that we can control the game
Khaleel Ahmed spent the entire IPL 2017 season bowling day in and day out at the Delhi Daredevils nets, without ever making his IPL debut. It would have been easy to mistake him as a net bowler, but his pace would almost always catch the attention of the onlookers.At the end of sessions, Khaleel would often walk up to chat with Rahul Dravid, the Daredevils’ then mentor and Khaleel’s coach at the 2016 U-19 World Cup. Despite the obvious lack of game time, there was no dearth in lessons given the overarching presence of veterans Dravid and Zaheer Khan.After a prolific Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (17 wickets from 10 games) for Rajasthan, Khaleel’s name sparked a bidding war at the next auctions. While Daredevils and Kings XI Punjab were in the fray, Sunrisers Hyderabad snapped him up for a whopping INR 3 crore from a base price of 20 lakhs. Khaleel did get one IPL cap there, but that was that. However, the 20-year-old believes that two years of sharing the dressing rooms with some of the biggest international names has helped him understand responsibility and professionalism better.“It’s a big help if you are a part of the IPL. You’re already sharing dressing rooms with a lot of international players and hence you’re constantly learning. So, when you come into the Indian team you have already [playing like] a professional. You know how to correct your mistakes, which is why I feel IPL is a massive help,” Khaleel said after India’s 71-run victory in Lucknow.Despite having a combined experience of just eight matches, Khaleel’s stocks have risen sharply since his international debut last month. The left-armer from Tonk, Rajasthan, however, doesn’t feel the pressure of performance.“I’m enjoying every moment of it. When I was young, I wanted to play for India. And here today also if I feel the pressure as well then I probably won’t be able to [fulfil my potential]. Now that I’m living my dream, I want to be confident in my bowling and want to do well for India. And when you’re doing well that in turn spurs you on to do even better.”While Rohit’s belligerent hitting in the first half did make Khaleel a tad nervous, the pacer said things fell in place with his opening spell when he provided the hosts two early breakthroughs. Captain Rohit’s record-shattering fourth T20I hundred – 111 not out off 61 deliveries – had set Windies a massive target of 196 to force a decider in Chennai. But India’s latest pace sensation followed up his impressive debut figures with two big wickets in Lucknow, accounting for both of Windies’ in-form batsmen Shai Hope and Shrimon Hetmyer, that eventually allowed the visitors only 124..“Lagg raha tha kahin humari hi Diwali na nikal jaye (We feared getting taken apart). But we eventually bowled well. Getting their form batsmen out early gave the confidence that we can control the game, and then the spinners can spin a web around them.“The pitch had hardly anything for the bowlers. It was a batting friendly wicket. Our effort was not to give them much room, because most their batsmen are power-hitters, so they’ll easily convert [bad balls into runs]. We were trying to maintain a good line and length, along with some food fielding. After getting the wickets of Hetmyer and Shai Hope, we thought the match was in our control to some extent.”In only just two games, Khaleel has already impressed his stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma by putting his hand up to bowl with the new ball. After sealing the three-match T20I series rather convincingly, Rohit revealed how Khaleel’s ability to swing the kookaburra ball both ways early allows India to use their premier seamer, Jasprit Bumrah, differently.“Khaleel swings the ball upfront and the new ball gives him a lot of confidence. He wants that new cherry as well. That is something important from his perspective. He’s taken up that challenge really well and it’s only helping us as a team when someone like Khaleel bowls that kind of spell for us upfront with the new ball. Of course he’s shown that wicket-taking ability, which is a big help,” Rohit said.