Asia Cup 2018: Who is Khaleel Ahmed, India’s newest ODI entrant?
Left-arm pacer Khaleel Ahmed has received his maiden ODI call-up (Getty Images)

As the selectors named India’s 16-member squad for the Asia Cup 2018 starting September 15 in the UAE, the biggest takeaway was the absence of Virat Kohli, who has been rested, and whose duties will be taken over by Rohit Sharma. However, another highlight of the squad was the addition of the lesser-known Khaleel Ahmed, a 20-year-old left-arm pacer who has earned praise from the likes of Zaheer Khan and Rahul Dravid.

For those not aware, Khaleel is an out and out fast bowler. Not medium pace, fast. He recently played in the Quadrangular trophy for India A where he picked up seven wickets in four matches, including 3/45 against South Africa A in Bengaluru in a losing case. Prior to that, Ahmed played five List-A matches for India A in England and impressed with eight wickets.

Ahmed, son of a compounder, hails from the small town of Tonk in Rajasthan. His ability to bowl fast goes back to his days of playing tennis ball cricket when he would play on cement pitches and bend his back. During the last edition of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in January, Khaleel took 17 wickets and generated some serious pace, clocking 148 in one of the games. During his close association with mentor Zaheer while playing for the Delhi Daredevils, the former India fast bowler rated Khaleel a very bright prospect.

With 12 wickets in three innings, including 3/29 against Sri Lanka in the final of the Tri-Nation Under-19s tournament in Colombo, Khaleel broke into India’s Under-19 World Cup squad in 2016. In the much-awaited tie against Pakistan, Khaleel picked up 5/30, winning the match for India.

It was the same year where he was picked up by the Daredevils. That is where his association began with the then coach of the franchise Rahul Dravid. In two years, Khaleel’s development has impressed Dravid to an extent that he feels the left-arm pacer can be part of India’s bench-strength and a potential candidate for the World Cup in England next year.

“He taught us a lot about life off the field and discipline.” Khaleel said about Dravid, his Under-19 World Cup coach. “The difference (between junior cricket and the next grade) is big but I am keen to learn and adapt.”

He moved to Sunrisers Hyderabad this year during the IPL but played just one match and went wicketless.

According to BCCI’s chief selector MSK Prasad, Khaleel’s inclusion stems from the fact that India continue to be on the lookout for more fast bowling options for the World Cup starting in nine months’ time. “There are two, three slots we are yet to see before we fix the final team for the World Cup and one of the slots is a seamer slot which is available. We are looking at a left-hander option in Khaleel Ahmed,” he said.