From Gopalganj to the Wankhede – Arshad Khan’s IPL Journey

The young boy who smashed sixes against much older kids, and who had the gift of swinging the ball both ways, is now mixing it with the game’s elite in the IPL.

February 13, 2022. Arshad Khan’s brother and father had to visit the mosque for prayers. But on that day, the father-son duo was also thinking about another event that was taking place some 1450 km away in Chennai – the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction. Arshad was one of the uncapped players in the auction, and Zakariya had a gut feel that his brother’s name was about to be called by the auctioneer.

“When Arshad was selected, I was going to pray Namaz,” Zakariya told Revsportz. “While going, I told my mother and father, ‘the way the numbers are going, his number is perhaps coming near’. From the first day, we were watching but we didn’t know uncapped players would come later.

“My father was in the Masjid. When it was clear that Mumbai Indians would pick Arshad, I told my father. We said thanks (to almighty) and when we returned, we felt as though there was a sweets fair.” Ashfaque, father of Arshad and Zakariya, quips, “Lots of people had come, I jokingly said, ‘tomorrow, we might have to start a sweet shop’.”

Beneath all the joy and celebration for Arshad, a seam-bowling all-rounder getting picked up by MI, is a tale of a cricketer who had the willpower to overcome hardships in order to achieve his goal. His family too made enough sacrifices. Arshad belongs to the Gopalganj village in Seoni district in Madhya Pradesh. The remote village doesn’t have the necessary facilities for a boy to dream of taking up cricket as a professional sport. But that didn’t stop Arshad from looking at innovative ways to practice.

“We come from a village, we don’t have turf wickets,” said Zakariya. “There was a small roller-type, which was similar to a pitch roller. He would build some vehicle, pour water, he didn’t know much but he had an idea about it. He would roll and practice bowling. For batting practice, he used to call local boys. I haven’t seen a single day where he didn’t practice. When he was young, he used to go out to play. Even when the phone call would come at night, he and father used to get ready, whatever the conditions.”

Fast forward to 2022, and Arshad and his family had to surmount another hurdle. Just before the 2022 IPL season, Arshad suffered an injury and was ruled out of the tournament. “We kept thinking, ‘he might get a chance in this match’ (and) we kept asking him over phone, ‘Arshad, are you not playing?’” noted Zakariya. “When he was injured, we felt like our big dreams had been shattered. But after that, the way MI took care of him, treated him, I believe there isn’t a better franchise. We are very thankful to MI for the way they took care of him, focused on him.”

Finally, one year later, Arshad’s aspirations were fulfilled as MI picked him for their opening game of the IPL season against Royal Challengers Bangalore. As the 25-year-old  marked his run-up, ultra-motion cameras were zoomed on him.  At the other end of the spectrum, Virat Kohli and Faf du Plessis walked out to take strike amid loud cheers from the home fans. Arshad had played in age-group tournaments and recently in the DY Patil T20 Cup. But this was the big stage and he would have had a few butterflies in his stomach.

Perhaps not surprisingly, his first three deliveries were all wides. It was a nervy start, but there was a particular quality of Arshad’s that sparkled amid those wides – his wrist position. It didn’t take long for Arshad to overcome his nerves and he soon rattled du Plessis, the RCB skipper, with the inswinging yorker.

Swing is Arshad’s most trusted weapon, and it has served him well through the junior ranks. For further evidence, one can check the ‘CricReels’ YouTube video of his bowling, where he is seen continuously flattening the stumps with swing from over and round the wicket, along with a hint of movement off the pitch.

Zakariya says the young pace bowler doesn’t just swing the new ball, he has another weapon in his quiver. “He is a left-handed bowler and swings it both ways – in and out. Then he started to get reverse swing. He used to get wickets before too, but he became even more of a dangerous bowler. You must have seen the DY Patil tournament, he bowled yorkers really well.”

In that DY Patil Cup, while playing for Reliance 1, Arshad soaked up the big-match pressure of playing in the final. It is true that he was smashed for a couple of boundaries in the penultimate over of the match. But that is when the bowler’s temperament is truly tested. Arshad was able to press the delete button and concentrate on what was in front of him. The result was that he gave away only two more runs from his last four deliveries and bagged a wicket too.

In his brief career, Arshad has also showcased his batting ability on enough occasions. In the Under-25 CK Nayudu trophy held in 2019-20, Arshad plucked a rich haul of 36 wickets. During the tournament, he also propped up MP’s innings a few times when it seemed as if his side was about to be upended. A very good illustration of that came against Mumbai, when his breezy innings piloted MP to 229 after they had found themselves in trouble at 112 for 7. 

 “At the age of 16, a team from MP travelled to Bangladesh, and he was representing the team,” said Ashfaque. “He then played for MP U-19. By then, he was the main batter and bowler. At the age of 23, he was named the best player. In the CK Nayudu Trophy, batting at No.9, he scored 134 against Assam and 86 against Mumbai. After watching these two innings, franchises started keeping an eye on him.”

If Arshad’s impressive knock against Assam is examined further, we can unearth more information about his attributes. His power-packed shots included five sixes and nine fours.

“He used to be the opening batter, but when he started to grow, he grew taller and started to bowl with more speed,” Zakariya points out. “He got the chance to play against the senior side in local club tournaments. People were thinking, ‘he is a boy, what will he do’? Playing against Under-14 or U-15 players, he smashed sixes. When people saw that, they understood his talent.”

Many years later, in his maiden IPL game, we saw glimpses of Arshad’s big-hitting prowess as he virtually flat-batted a back-of-a-length delivery from Harshal Patel over midwicket. Even Du Plessis was left stunned by that shot. A week or two later, he also bowled with a decent burst of pace in a game versus Rajasthan Royals. Arshad’s family, and legions of Indian cricket fans will hope that many more opponents are left in a state of wonderment by Arshad’s sixes and swing bowling.

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