May 242015

LAHORE: With the fever of cricket rising to unprecedented heights after the return of international cricket in the country, an unexpected player has stolen the limelight from his more established colleagues — Mukhtar Ahmed.

Having scored 37 on his T20I debut on the tour to Bangladesh last month, the 22-year-old Mukhtar was still a unknown entity until he unleashed himself against Zimbabwe with a 45-ball 83, and then 62 off 40 balls, to the win the hearts of fans and the cricket fraternity alike.

However, according to the man himself, the instant success is yet to sink in. “I still feel that I’m living a dream of playing international cricket,” Mukhtar told The Express Tribune. “The fans were amazing and their roars spurred me to do something special for my team. It’s just the start for me and I don’t want to get carried away because my goal is to serve Pakistan for a long time in all formats.”

Pakistan wrapped up their two-match T20I campaign against Zimbabwe with a 2-0 sweep, and Mukhtar starred through and through with two man-of-the-match awards and a man-of-the series award to boot.

The batsman’s journey to fame, however, was not an easy one.

Mukhtar’s childhood was spent playing cricket in the streets of his village Dhanawali, near Sialkot. It was later when passion for the game took root.

He was in the eighth grade in a government school when Mukhtar started playing cricket with newfound enthusiasm, while hockey was another game he was forced to play by his school teacher.

However, the development did not go down well with his parents and Mukhtar was often dragged from the grounds and given a not-so-warm reception on the way home. “Both of my parents were strictly against cricket and my father would often beat me in the grounds,” recalled Mukhtar. “My uncle and teacher Arshad Javed fought for me and urged my parents to let me play cricket. If it wasn’t for him, I would have spent my life labouring over cement blocks and sand and in the rice and wheat fields.”

For the youngster, cricket trumped studies by a considerable margin. “I would leave home to go to school, but my feet led me to the grounds to watch club matches and sometimes to play with my friends. I would go back home the same time when school was let out so that my parents don’t get a hint about my bunking.”

How it all began

Mukhtar — third of four siblings — studied till the 10th grade and by then, his family’s resistance grew weaker as he started doing well at his Punjab Club headed by Shahid Rafiq. The chance to represent Sialkot U19 didn’t come for two years, but at last he played in his last year of U19 for his region and was the top-scorer in Pakistan, which prompted a call-up from the Pakistan U19 side.

However, the realisation of the dream of donning national colours was put on hold as Mukhtar was overage by the time the ICC U19 World Cup took place in 2012.

With his career now presenting an unclear future, he joined Kingston Club for a bigger push. “My club captain Shahzad Malik took me to Karachi to play Ramazan T20 cricket with Advance Telecom and that changed my life.”

As Mukhtar’s potential in T20 cricket started gaining attention, he was referred to teams in Dubai and was signed by Ibsons, for whom he played different T20 leagues. “I finally got the chance last year to represent Sialkot in the National T20 when Imran Nazir was declared unfit and I grabbed the opportunity with both hands,” he said. “My century against Karachi Dolphins didn’t go unnoticed as both Shahid Afridi and Moin Khan realised my potential and called me at the National Cricket Academy.”

This year, he enjoyed a good first-class season with SBP and was handed his T20I debut.

Asked about his inspiration, Mukhtar’s reply was novel for a Pakistani player, “I love Virender Sehwag and I believe my aggressive play is similar to his. Thankfully, the coaches haven’t asked me to change my game.”

The impressible newcomer broke the record for most runs — 182 — in the first three T20Is for any cricketer. Sanath Jayasuria held the previous record with 180 runs.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th,  2015.

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The post Taking a beating for cricket? No problem! appeared first on The Express Tribune.

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