Was too young and inexperienced when I played for India, says Khaleel | Cricket

In India’s extensive search for a left-arm pacer in white-ball cricket after Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, Khaleel Ahmed was among a handful of options tried in 2018 and 2019. With the left-arm angle considered to be a necessary point of difference particularly in the shorter formats, India played Khaleel in 11 ODIs and 14 T20Is hoping he can stake a claim in the run-up to the 2019 ODI World Cup. Just 20 years old at the time of his debut, Khaleel had middling returns in these matches and was discarded soon enough.

Khaleel Ahmed has been impressive thus far in IPL 2024.(PTI)
Khaleel Ahmed has been impressive thus far in IPL 2024.(PTI)

He is now 26 and hasn’t been on the national radar since playing for India almost five years ago. Even in the Indian Premier League (IPL), his performances weren’t consistent enough for a regular place in the Delhi Capitals team – the most he has played in a single edition is ten matches in 2022.

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That seems set to change this year as Khaleel has made a robust start to the campaign with five wickets in three games. In Delhi’s win over Chennai Super Kings in their previous game to get off the mark, Khaleel had a decisive role to play, claiming the player-of-the-match award with figures of 2/21. Khaleel inflicted most of the damage in the powerplay by dismissing Ruturaj Gaikwad and Rachin Ravindra in an excellent opening spell of 3-1-9-2.

In Khaleel’s view, he is benefitting from the games he played for Rajasthan in the domestic season. Six of Khaleel’s 12 first-class appearances came in the Ranji Trophy this season. He also played nine matches in the Vijay Hazare Trophy and five matches in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.

“I’ve been playing a lot of matches since September. When you play a lot of matches and bowl in different situations in different formats, you understand your bowling and how to take wickets,” Khaleel said in an interview. “In Ranji, I was bowling 12-15 overs every day. So, I’ve understood about how to swing the ball consistently on all types of wickets. It is helping me bowl in the powerplay. Ball ke saath mera bahut time guzra hai (I’ve spent a lot of time with the ball).”

That Khaleel’s last game for India was in November 2019 means enough time has passed for the bowler to look back and reflect on that tough initiation into international cricket. If the chance at the highest level is to come again, he thinks he would be better prepared.

“Yes, definitely. I was only 20-21 back then,” Khaleel said. “I was coming out of my adolescence and still understanding cricket. T20 is a format where 2-3 matches can go wrong at any time. The format is like that. After being out of the team, you realise little things about how a fast bowler should be. At this moment, I am at my best because I am able to read the game. I didn’t have the experience earlier. I know how to get the batters out and understand their mindset now. When you are not playing international cricket and you feel you can perform, it is very painful. And that pain has helped me mature.”

Along with the improvement in skill, Khaleel has also come to terms with the physical demands of being a pace bowler. “I’ve understood how to maintain your body as a fast bowler. It is very tough at a young age for a fast bowler to understand his body. It is only when things happen that you learn. The period of injuries made me understand about the importance of discipline, recovery, how much I should work out in the gym etc. I sat with trainers and physios and discussed how I can stay fit and bowl long spells. I’ve gone into every little detail and embraced discipline as a fast bowler,” he said.

Despite Khaleel’s impressive returns at the start of this campaign, the nature of the T20 format means that a bad day is never far away. If Khaleel is to keep these days to a minimum, he still has considerable space for improvement in the slog overs. While he didn’t want to give away his go-to delivery at the death, he reckons the mindset is also important.

“My mindset is not to have fear about failure. I tell myself that I am one of the best. That is the mentality I go with,” Khaleel said. “Otherwise, it will be tough because I am playing domestic cricket and up against me could be someone like (Jos) Buttler. If you think of yourself as inferior, then you will be dominated mentally. It is important to have self-belief that I am one of the best, and if you are the best, you have to do well against the top players.”


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