Abeed Janmohamed: 'I had no inkling that this was going to happen'
Last weekend Abeed Janmohamed, like club cricketers throughout England, played his last game of the summer, went home, and packed away his cricket kit for the winter, not expecting to see it for another six months until pre-season nets came around. Unlike most club cricketers, however, Janmohamed will be making his international debut this week.
The remarkable change in fortune came with a call out of the blue from Harilal Shah, Kenya's chairman of selectors, as Janmohamed was on his way to work in the City of London. Several of Kenya's leading players had gone on strike ahead of this week's Intercontinental Cup match against Namibia, and Janmohamed, a wicketkeeper-batsman, was needed to fill the void.
His boss was persuaded to give him some time off - "I told him it was a childhood dream and if I didn't take the chance now I would regret it forever" - and he set about desperately trying to book a net session in London. The captain of his hockey side - he was due to play a second-team game on Saturday - was reportedly not quite as understanding.
"I had no inkling that this was going to happen," a dazed Janmohamed admitted. "I was back in Nairobi at Christmas and I was told by one of the selectors that I was in their thoughts and might be called up at some time in the future. But I was also told that I would need to stay and play club cricket in Nairobi first. I was there or thereabouts at Under-19 level, and was selected for the Commonweath Games in Kuala Lumpur, but chose to go to university instead. I guess the selectors heard that I was playing some decent cricket in England. More recently, I was indirectly told that if I was in Kenya during the series against India and Pakistan A then I might get some games."
But while those games were taking place, Janmohamed, a confident and stylish batsman and sound keeper, was playing league cricket for Cranleigh in division two of the Surrey Championship. He finished second in the batting averages - behind Trevor Gripper, the Zimbabwe Test player - and in the summer as a whole scored more than 1500 runs for Cranleigh, Frogs and MCC. His last major game was for Old Cranleighans, when they won the Brewers Cup, a competiton for old boys' sides, on September 5. He made 39 and was "robbed of a hundred by a dodgy decision".
Janmohamed has been in England for eight years, spending the first two at Cranleigh School before moving to Oxford Brookes where he made three first-class appearances for Oxford Universities. By then he had already played for Kenya Under-19s in the 1999 World Cup and also for Kenya A. Some of his team-mates from those days will take the field with him on Friday. "I have played with Hitesh Modi, the captain, many times and I will know most of the side," he said. "They won't be strangers."
He will also feel at home at the Aga Khan Club, as he represented them in the NPCA League from the age of 12. "I played for Aga Khan for about eight years until I was 20, and then had a couple of summers with Nairobi Jaffereys."
A calm individual, he is not fazed by what awaits him. "I know that some players have dropped out, which is sad as it would be nice to be picked on my own merit. But if this is way you get selected, then so be it. I think I'm good enough."
His only worry was that while many of his team-mates have been practising regularly, his work means that he has been limited to weekend games. And he will have to adjust to Kenyan conditions quickly as his last game there was in January, although he did make an unbeaten 90 in a league game for Kongonis. Also playing in that match was Tom Tikolo, brother of Steve, then involved in coaching, and Janmohamed admitted that might not have harmed his chances.
If the transition from club to international cricket sounds glamorous, his travel details are more akin to the amateur game. He flies to Kenya on Thursday night - he was wanted in time for Thursday's practice session but sits a banking exam in London that morning - and lands at 6.30am. He has three-and-a-half hours to negotiate customs - and Nairobi's rush-hour - and get to the ground for the 10am start. And there will be no business-class luxury either - Janmohamed is paying for his own flight and staying with his parents while in Nairobi.
So by the end of the weekend Janmohamed will be an international cricketer. The only downside so far as he is concerned is that his father won't be there to watch - they were due to meet this weekend in London - and that from next season he might be classified as an overseas player, with all the difficulties that brings, in club cricket.
But for the moment he is living the dream of club players the world over.