Indian cricket has seen a dearth of left-arm seamers off late. The likes of Ashish Nehra, Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan come to our minds when we discuss Indian cricket's 'left-arm armoury'. Zaheer Khan led India's pace attack for a long time and performed consistently for the team. While Nehra has filled in well from time to time, injuries hampered his involvement in the side. Barinder Sran, Jaydev Unadkat and Aniket Chaudhary made fleeting appearances but failed to impress and the hunt for a new left-armer is still on.
Khaleel Ahmed, a 20-year-old left-arm fast bowler from Tonk region of Rajasthan is the new lad on the block. Thanks to his fierce pace and swing Khaleel he has earned a maiden call-up in Indian side for the upcoming Asia Cup. Khaleel, who idolises Zaheer Khan, will be playing under the leadership of Rohit Sharma as the selectors have rested Virat Kohli for the tournament.
"I was packing my bag for a practice session and my parents called and asked me to attend a call. It was regarding my India call up for the Asia Cup. I was really happy. I started hugging my parents. Asia Cup is a big tournament and getting selected is a big thing for any cricketer. It still feels like a dream," Khaleel told NDTV.com in an exclusive interview.
"I had a good quadrangular series against South Africa A and Australia A. I had an intuition that I will be selected. If I will get a chance to perform in the playing eleven, I will put my best show," an excited Khaleel said.
Khaleel has played 17 List A matches taking 28 wickets at an economy rate of 4.74. He has also played 12 Twenty20 matches and a couple of first-class games.
"All I want to do is go and perform. I want to give my best and cement my place for a long time," he said.
Khaleel is an ardent admirer of Zaheer. The Rajasthan lad spent one IPL season with Zaheer at Delhi Daredevils in 2016.
The young pacer used to keep a diary along while interacting with Zaheer and make a note of the tips given by the legend.
"He (Zaheer) has played a lot cricket for our country. Whenever I needed any advice and tips, he was always available. I used to keep a diary with me. I used to write everything whatever Zaheer bhai told me during the training sessions. I still have that diary and whenever I am in problem and need help, I open it and believe me, it really helps in my bowling," Khaleel said.
"The diary is with me. I will take tips from it in the Asia Cup. I want to do what Zaheer has done for India," he said.
Khaleel is one of the many talents conditioned by batting legend Rahul Dravid. Dravid has been mentoring Khaleel since the 2016 Under-19 World Cup. Khaleel was under Dravid's guidance during two seasons in the Indian Premier League and recently-concluded India A tour of England.
"I have spent two seasons under Rahul Dravid sir's guidance in IPL. He was a coach during the 2016 Under-19 World Cup and India's A tours. He has helped me in improving my skills. His guidance has helped me reach where I am right now. He has taught me how to handle pressure. His style of coaching is very much different from others," Khaleel said.
The youngster from Rajasthan also recalled the word of wisdom from the former India cricketer who nurtured his career.
"His words - jeetna aur harna mat socho, jao khelo (Don't think about win and lose, go and play) has helped the entire Under-19 and India A team. It has worked a lot for me. I feel positive when he is around."
Asked if he can become the next Zaheer Khan of India, Khaleel said: "Zaheer is a legend and has his own identity. I want to be first Khaleel Ahmed for India. I want to play for long for my country.
"I have just one aim. I want retire with a wicket more than Zaheer. So that I can call and tease him," Khaleel jokingly said.