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The biggest challenge for Mumbai Indians heading into IPL 2023 was to fill the Jasprit Bumrah-sized hole in their fast bowling department. This has, however, helped realise the dream of Arshad Khan, an all-rounder from Gopalganj, Seoni district of Madhya Pradesh, who might have earned his Mumbai Indians cap a year back.
Mumbai bagged Arshad at his base price of INR 20 lakh in the 2022 mega auction, but an injury ruled him out of the tournament and he was replaced by his domestic teammate Kumar Kartikeya. Arshad was devastated, but went home and began training children in Seoni free of cost as he began his recovery.
"He was deeply disappointed at missing out on the IPL, but one of his strengths has always been his unwillingness to give up," Arshad's coach Abdul Kalam says. "His passion for cricket has been such that he would regularly travel 300 km from Seoni to Jabalpur to play cricket matches. It required him to wake at three in the morning, but he never failed to turn up for these matches ahead of time."
Arshad first caught the eye when he finished as the top wicket-taker at the Under-25 CK Nayudu Trophy in the 2019-20 season, with 36 wickets, in addition to scoring 400 runs. That included a ton - a 134 against Assam - and a counter-attacking 86 off 54 balls, including five sixes and nine fours, against Mumbai which took MP from 112 for 7 to a total of 229. He later picked up a couple of wickets too in the match, and it was this performance that first got him noticed by Mumbai Indians' scouting team, and possibly why they retained him this year despite him not playing a single match last season.
"Arshad has always enjoyed overcoming challenges," Arshad's elder brother Zakaria says. "I still remember when he was first picked by Mumbai Indians, our father was about to leave for maghreeb namaz (evening prayers), and by the time he returned from the mosque, it was a festive atmosphere at home. It was like the entire village had descended on our home to share in the joy."
Arshad's father Ashfaque himself has been a coach with the Seoni District Cricket Association, beside his regular employment as an educator, and he was the first one to identify his son's talent. "He was nine years old and was playing with kids much older than him and smacking them for massive sixes," Ashfaque says. "When I saw him pull off some professional-looking shots, I made up my mind that he must make it as a cricketer.
Ashfaque then took his son to Kalam. "There were some trials on, and I saw him play the cut and pull with such perfection that I realised this boy is rather special," Kalam says. "Not making the most of that talent would have been injustice both to Arshad, but to the game of cricket."
At 11, Arshad had already made the state Under-14 team. "When he started off, Arshad was a specialist left-handed batter," Kalam says. "There was once a game in Jabalpur against Hoshangabad division, where the Jabalpur bowling was proving ineffective. I consulted Jabalpur division secretary Dharmesh Patel, and we decided to hand him the new ball. He was a natural with both inswing and outswing. That was the day he took his game to another level."
Earlier this February, Arshad turned out for Reliance 1, led by World Cup winner Piyush Chawla, along with the likes of Tilak Verma, Kartikeya and Hrithik Shokeen, at the DY Patil T20 Cup. Arshad took two wickets and also contributed to two run-outs in the tournament opener against BPCL. Against DY Patil Group B, he removed openers Naushad Sheikh and Priyam Garg, and helped himself to 22 off 14 with the bat. His three overs in the final went for just 18 and also picked up a wicket.
Arshad's mother Aaliya says: "Arshad is where he is because of his father's sacrifices throughout his life. I remember his father would only earn 15,000 a month, but he provided his son with his cricket kit that cost 16,000 rupees. All we pray for is that he makes his family and his country proud one day."