Asia Cup 2018: 5 Team India members who have something to prove
In any other sport, a tournament called the Asia Cup could be reasonably expected to be an epic affair. Teams from all around Asia converge in one spot, to prove their mettle in a battle for continental supremacy. A tournament where legends are born, and the names of the conquerors etched into history.
Unfortunately, Cricket's Asia Cup offers none of that. It will be an interesting tournament for sure, but certainly not the pantheon of Cricketing Gods. That honour is reserved for the World Cup. The tournament officially started four days after India's Test Series in England ended.
Moreover, Captain and star batsman Virat Kohli has been rested. It is fair to say that this tournament has somewhat slipped under the radar. However, life as an Indian Cricketer means that the Indian squad will be under more pressure than any other in the tournament (with the arguable exception of the Pakistani team before their clash with India).
Words will be written. Shot selection will be analyzed. Bowling changes will be scrutinized. And team selection will be criticized. Every member of the squad selected will be under an enormous amount of pressure, irrespective of whether they are playing or not. It is the nature of the beast. It is part of being an Indian Cricketer.
However, the tournament is doubly important for these five men. For one reason or another, they will be under more pressure than most. They include a grizzled veteran, a wide-eyed youngster, and one of Indian Cricket’s nearly men. For some, this tournament is a chance to prove to others what they have fervently believed for years; that they have what it takes to be successful in international cricket.
For others, this tournament is a chance to show the world what they have done so many times in the past; that they are elite in their fields. Without further ado, let's analyze, scrutinize, and criticize what I have written.
Go ahead, google him. I certainly did when the squad was announced. Yet here he is, one of five pacers in India's Asia Cup Squad.
Ahmed is the latest in a line of India A players; Rishabh Pant, Krunal Pandya, Hanuma Vihari, Deepak Chahar, and Prithvi Shaw, who have recently been elevated to the national team. I believe that his elevation is proof not only of his talent, but also of his perceived mental preparedness for international cricket.
This is not the idle speculation of a columnist; Rahul Dravid's desire to use the India A team to build up a reserve of players that can easily be slotted into the national team is well known. Ahmed's elevation to the Asia Cup squad does not take place if Mr. Dravid does not think he is mentally ready.
A left-arm medium pace bowler, Ahmed certainly has the benefit of recent match practice; he played his last competitive game on the 29th of August, for India A against South Africa A. He has also had the benefit of being guided by the Sage, Rahul Dravid, whose wisdom has hopefully made Ahmed a more thinking fast bowler. Crucially, Ahmed is the only left-armer in the squad, which means that if selected in the final eleven, he provides the attack with variety.
Ahmed's best chance of getting a game is against Hong Kong; he has surely already faced tougher opposition during his India A tenure. However, there is always the chance that one or more of the front-line fast bowlers is injured, or completely loses form, in which case Ahmed is the next man in. If selected, there is no doubt that he will attempt to do his best, and barring a catastrophic debut à la Simon Kerrigan at the Oval in 2013, should remain in the conversation regarding reserve players. It is even possible that I am not doing the young man justice; maybe he will set the international stage alight à la Mustafizur Rahman.
I believe that Ahmed's real test, and best opportunity to favourably acquit himself, will come off the field of play, if he can impress the coaching staff, and senior members of the team with his work-ethic, attitude, and skills in practice sessions. The likelihood that he will be selected in future squads depends on that; he must ingratiate himself within the group. Moreover, he must take advantage of being around the national team to improve himself. He must ask questions. He must be a sponge that absorbs all the knowledge that he can.
Khaleel Ahmed is not only in the position to play for his country. He is also in the position to become a much better player.