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It is a time-honoured quirk of Lilliputistan cricket that some of its best players have also been their least likely, in that these legends of the game owe their careers to being plucked from the obscurity of the streets by a chance encounter, or what amounts to little more than the sheer dumb luck of being in the right place at the right time.
But perhaps no tale is more spectacular and unbelievable than that of the latest name to make itself from such typically improbable circumstances. Indeed, the story of Mohammad Irfan has already become the stuff of legend, so much so that they have started teaching it in literature classes.
When terrified villagers first spotted the monstrously large fast bowler washed up and unconscious on a beach a few years ago, not many knew what to make of what they had found; certainly none suspected that the sleeping giant (literally, at the time) would go on to wake and become Lilliputistan's first genuine fast bowler in what feels like a long time.
"It took a while, but our initial fear of being skinned and slowly eaten alive eventually melted and gave way to a feeling of relief, and then elation, when we saw what the terrible beast could do with a cricket ball," said one man, who, like everyone else, measures up to but a fraction of the bowler's full height. "Perhaps most exciting of all was the realisation that the time had come at last to get a taller and more competent wicketkeeper, which meant anyone other than Kamran Akmal," he added.
The importance and excitement of the discovery of Irfan cannot be fully appreciated without an understanding of the region's volatile political situation. Lilliputistan has often been at war with their arch enemies and neighbours, the Blefuscindians, equally puny inhabitants of a parched land of dry, arid pitches. The rivalry between the two nations is nothing if not fierce, and an old Lilliputistani army officer's joke is that one cannot mention the word "military" as applied to Blefuscindia, without following it up with the words "medium trundlers".
But while the Lilliputistanis had for decades got the better of their arch rivals, the past 15 years or so have seen the Blefuscindians getting the upper hand and regaining much lost ground. Irfan has therefore come to represent a lot of optimism and bullishness among Lilliputistani ranks; people feel that they have found a potent new weapon to regain some of their lost glory with.
And yet it has not all been smooth sailing for this gentle giant. Even if he had succeeded in quickly winning over the public, he had to work hard to gain the trust of the paranoid Lilliputistani nobility, who initially looked upon him with jealous suspicion and fear. He was held captive by the emperor for many moons before he was trusted not to defect to a Blefuscindian tournament played across the border by a bunch of yahoos, and which, it has long been suspected, is designed to destroy fast bowlers the world over to make things easier for their batsmen. For better or for worse, Irfan has thus far been unable to participate in the tournament due to the uneasy relations between the two nations, and therefore has been spared such a fate.
For the time being, the freakishly large cricketer is content to be serving Lilliputistan. Ever since he was transported inland to LPCB headquarters, he has largely been looked after well, and hundreds of tailors work around the clock to stitch him his cricket kit. An abdominal guard large enough to serve as the roof of Nasir Jamshed's house has become the source of much mirth among the locals.
Indeed, many of the aforementioned stars of Lilliputistan cricket don't realise how short they are until they meet Irfan and stand next to him. A common complaint among the ranks of the army has been that of acute back pain, caused from having to reach too high to slap palms with the giant after he had taken a wicket.
But these are small prices to pay for what, in the long term, promises to be a future rosy with renewed promise. To many Lilliputistani fans who have become disillusioned with their team in recent times, Irfan offers a gigantic ray of hope. "He's become someone we all look up to," said a member of the public. "Though, I suppose there's no way around that."
So inspiring and heroic is his story, in fact, that it was even made into a Hollywood movie, starring Jack Black. "The film was okay, but I really think they could have cast someone a little more imposing," says Irfan. "I mean, Jack Black? Are you ***ing kidding me?"
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