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His path to the England squad has taken in Denmark, Kent, and a career-threatening knee injury. A look at the rise of a quick bowler with a fascinating story
December 9, 2008
The overseas route has been a common path into the England side for many years. The current captain, Kevin Pietersen, is just the latest high-profile import from South Africa; there have been a fair few of Caribbean descent, while Australia, New Zealand, India and Pakistan have regularly chipped in as well. Geraint Jones' Papua New Guinea roots were often mentioned, but seeing as Jones learnt his cricket in Australia, Amjad's passage to the Test squad is arguably the most obscure yet - for the talk of integration and common policies, Europe has hardly proved a hotbed of cricket talent.
Amjad's childhood wasn't without cricket links, as his parents were from Pakistan and had a passing interest in the game, but moving through the professional ranks was still a success against huge odds. He could easily have followed Denmark's national football obsession and was, in fact, on his way to practice as a six-year-old when he stumbled across a cricket match and quickly asked if he could play. Given that in 2007 there were 45 registered cricket clubs in Denmark, it's fair to say that when a young Amjad was walking around Copenhagen in 1986 the chances of hearing leather on willow were slim.
In 1998 he became Denmark's youngest player when he was picked against Ireland in the European Championships, and in the next game, against Scotland, he claimed an impressive 3 for 34. Still, the professional game - let alone Test cricket - was a million miles away.
His first significant step came when he appeared in the Natwest Trophy against a Kent Cricket Board XI in 1999, where he opened the bowling and took 2 for 38. What really furthered his cause, however, was the friendship between John Wright, the former New Zealand batsman, who was Kent's coach at the time, and Mortensen. The pair had played together at Derbyshire and Mortensen recommended Amjad as a county prospect.
Kent snapped him up and Amjad made his debut in 2001, before taking 63 wickets the following summer. By the time he'd completed his residency qualification and earned a British passport in 2006, the England selectors were already watching. "The defining image of the day was of Amjad Khan bowling hostile leg theory to the well-set Mal Loye and Stuart Law," was how the Times reported one spell against Lancashire. "He showed the ability to reverse swing the old ball and looked to have impressed Andrew Flintoff, who was building a nice innings." In the last few days, Flintoff has become a team-mate.
Then, in a flash, the dream nearly ended. By a quirk of fate it was in Chennai, two winters ago, that Amjad's career was almost finished. He was part of a fast-bowling camp training at the world-renowned MRF pace academy when he felt something click in his knee. A few days later he was sent home from the A-team tour of Bangladesh and the seriousness of the injury became apparent. He needed surgery on his cruciate ligament and was ruled out of the entire 2007 season.
|By a quirk of fate it was in Chennai, two winters ago, that Amjad's career was almost finished. He was part of a fast-bowling camp training at the world-renowned MRF pace academy when he felt something click in his knee|
Less than two years later, however, he finds himself one dose of Delhi Belly away from a Test debut, and that too after playing only six Championship matches last season as Kent nursed him back into first-class cricket. He claimed 21 wickets at 20.61 in that time, and more importantly, showed he hadn't lost the pace and swing that first caught the selectors' eye. Before his injury he was clocked at 93mph, and while those sorts of levels may be a way off yet, his ability to find reverse swing gives him a chance to fulfil a similar role to Simon Jones (they certainly have dodgy knees in common).
"Amjad was someone we identified very early as a player who could have an impact. I remember Adam Hollioake once saying that Amjad had the X-factor as a fast bowler," Simon Willis, the former Kent coach and now professional cricket manager told Cricinfo. "He's had a few setbacks along the way, but his selection is down to a lot of hard work.
"Don't get me wrong, there were some very tough times and sometimes we had to keep him away from the cricket field for his own good," Willis added. "But he is a very focused individual and maintained a positive outlook. Now is his chance to show what he can do."
A number of England players needed plenty of convincing before agreeing to jump on a plane and return to India, little more than two weeks after Mumbai was struck by terrorism. However, for Amjad there was never a doubt he would go back. He'd been called into the one-day party after the fifth ODI, but hadn't had a chance even to get on the plane before all thoughts turned away from cricket. Even as the Performance Squad arrived home from Bangalore a week ago, he was one of the first to state his desire to return.
Although what happens on the field over the next two weeks has been put firmly into context by recent events, no one can begrudge Amjad a feeling of satisfaction. His promotion is reward for months of toil, sweat and gym work, and a little bit of good fortune more than 20 years ago in Copenhagen. If he goes on to have a successful international career, England fans will have found their favourite Danish export.
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