Is the criticism fair on Khaleel Ahmed?

You perform and take the bouquets; You fail and receive the brickbats. It’s as ruthless as it can get. But then, that is the reality of today’s world.

Khaleel Ahmed, the 22-year-old left-arm Indian fast bowler, is drawing criticism for his poor show with the ball in the recently concluded 3-match T-20 international series against Bangladesh. While many are eager to see the back of him, well, I would say, ‘Welcome, Khaleel, to the real world of cricket’. You perform and take the bouquets; You fail and receive the brickbats. It’s as ruthless as it can get. But then, that is the reality of today’s world. Even in non-sporting fields too. So, Khaleel, take it on the chin and move forward.

Drafted into the senior Team India as a potential replacement for Zaheer Khan or Ashish Nehra, the strategy of the team management or the selectors is never doubted or questioned. Because, Team India surely needs variety in their pace attack and would do well with a left-arm fast bowler who can bowl that ‘angular’ deliveries that naturally goes away and bring one back on to the pads trapping the batsman in front of the wicket. We have seen the legendary Wasim Akram, Mohammed Amir, Starc, Mitchell Johnson, and India’s own Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, and Irfan Pathan doing it umpteen times in the past.

The resolve of Team India to persist with him in the third match, when everybody anticipated that Khaleel will be dropped from the playing 11, goes on to show the team’s faith in the young man and the ‘investment’ strategy. Also, Rohit Sharma’s deft handling of Khaleel in the third match ensured that Khaleel returned with better figures for himself end of the day. Although he went wicketless, finishing his quota of 4 overs under 8 runs an over (27 runs in his 4 overs) is no mean task at the international level. That performance must have restored some confidence in the young man.

Khaleel to become stronger

So, is the criticism fair on this young boy? There is no clear answer to this question. For the simple reason that from a 70-year-old housewife to someone selling tea or ‘paani puri’ on the streets of India, ‘expertise’ is in abundance in this country. And almost everyone has a strong like or dislike, right or wrong. In fact, it is this sentiment or deep involvement of common citizens that sustains the clock of cricket ticking in this country. Therefore, if the criticism is coming from the larger public, gracefully accept it and move on. But if the criticism is from ex-cricketers, especially from people who know what it takes to nurture and build an international cricketer, it’s ‘unfair’ and is like adding fuel to the fire.

In this milieu, for Khaleel Ahmed, it boils down to how he takes the criticism deep inside. As an ardent follower of Indian cricket, I will stick my neck out and back Khaleel to come good sooner than later. For I see a few positives in Khaleel.

1. Even while getting hit all over the park, his body language was not that of a person who has accepted ‘defeat’.
2. He generates sufficient pace for his lanky body structure. Considering his young age, a few more stacks of muscles here and there in the coming days can make him only faster.
3. Although his disarming smile displays a lot of innocence, one cannot find ‘fear’ in those sparkling eyes.

A generic point about bowling, especially in the shorter formats of the game, merits consideration here. Having absolute control over one’s bowling is something and anticipating what a batsman is going to do to you in the next delivery and bowl accordingly is something else. Khaleel does have the former, but he comes across as one who lacks the latter ability.

To be fair to Khaleel, he may have anticipated what to expect from the batsman, it is quite possible that the batsman might have outwitted him in that. End of the day, people have found him ‘wanting’ in this area.

But, isn’t it this skill borne out of the experience? I guess so. In this context, he deserves more opportunities at the highest level or ‘A’ team, wherever possible, because he is seen as the best young ‘left-arm pacer’ around in the country at this point in time.

After all, India’s investment in Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav may not have clicked in the shorter versions of the game, but they are proven customers in the longer versions! The same thinking and logic should apply to Khaleel also.

Having identified him, stay invested in Khaleel for a couple of years more. The shorter or longer version, the return on investment should turn out to be positive for Team India in the long run.

And for Khaleel, he should simply stop paying attention to media reports or expert comments and stay focused on the job.

Finally, to Khaleel, don’t allow anyone to snatch that ‘million-dollar beautiful smile’ away from you.