Tall, fast and highly rated
Back in February, like a bolt from the blue, a fast bowler from Multan allegedly standing 7'2" tall caught the eye of former Pakistan fast bowler Aaqib Javed. At 6'8", Joel Garner and Bruce Reid were the tallest fast bowlers to play international cricket, but this was something else, Aaqib realised. It was at that moment that a young player's fortunes took a dramatic change, even if there was and remains, subsequently, considerable confusion over his real height: the PCB has variously measured him at 6'8", 6'10" and 7'1".
Until then Mohammad Irfan's cricketing ambitions were being held back by his surroundings and lack of contacts. He had been working in a plastic pipe factory earning about Rs 8,000 ($96) a month while playing club cricket in the eastern Pakistan town of Gaggu Mandi. Coming from a humble small-town background, the lack of opportunities had left Irfan disillusioned and without first-class representation. In August 2008 he decided to stop playing cricket and seek full-time employment to support his family.
With plenty of interest generated from a fan forum on the cricket website PakPassion.net - who heard of Irfan's name while interviewing Multan's assistant coach Nadeem Iqbal - the tall fast bowler was introduced to Aaqib at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Lahore by a reporter for the site.
Once Aaqib was enthused by what he saw - "I spent the whole day thinking to myself that we might have something really special here," - things happened swiftly. Irfan was brought to the NCA almost immediately by Aaqib, who was keen to develop him mentally more than physically, and then joined a local club at which the internationals Abdul Razzaq and Imran Nazir played. He put in long hours at the NCA as well as for his club; one highlight was his 4 for 45 against Pakistan A prior to their departure for Sri Lanka this summer.
A key moment in Irfan's development came after Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) opener Azhar Ali recommended that the team keep an eye on him. The former Pakistan batsman and current KRL captain, Mohammad Wasim, then recommended that Irfan go to Rawalpindi and trial with the team. All it took was a stint at the nets bowling to Wasim for Irfan to get selected.
Irfan made his first-class debut against PIA on October 10 this year. He went wicketless and conceded 79 runs from 25 overs. In his second game, Irfan took nine: seven in the second innings including former Test batsmen Imran Farhat, Hasan Raza and Salim Elahi.
His former coach, Iqbal, was duly delighted for his ward. "Irfan, once he settles into first-class cricket, will show signs of maturity," he said. "The best thing about Irfan is that he is a quick learner and he bowled only one no-ball in his 46 overs against HBL.
"His main aim should be to obviously take as many wickets as possible and to remember the advice that he has been given about bowling wicket to wicket and not to bowl too short. With his height, if he maintains a good length he will trouble a lot of batsman in Pakistan".
KRL team official Rashid Iqbal, who was contacted by Ali in June, predicted a rise in speed. "At the moment he is raw and he bowls between 130-140 kph (81-87 mph) but I am sure that with the passage of time he could bowl up to 150 kph (93 mph)," he told AP.
It is perhaps no surprise that one of the fast bowlers Irfan, 27, hopes to emulate is Garner. "I have seen quite a lot of videos how Garner used to bowl," he said "The videos help a lot to learn the art of fast bowling."
For someone who just wanted to play cricket and nothing else, Irfan knows that those who have invested in him have high hopes.
With inputs from Pakpassion.net