How Himachal Pradesh missed out on 'record-breaker' Arslan Khan [Exclusive]

Arslan Khan
Arslan Khan

Arslan Khan is not a very well-known name, but it could be in a few years time. The 21-year-old has set the stage on fire during his short domestic career so far with the Chandigarh team.

However, there was a time when Arslan Khan was banging on the doors of the Himachal Pradesh selectors for a Ranji Trophy call-up, thanks to his blistering performances. However, when that didn't happen, he took a tough decision of returning to Chandigarh, despite having established himself as a regular for Himachal Pradesh at the U-23 level.

With the desire of representing his home state coupled with an aim to play Ranji Trophy cricket, Arslan Khan made his debut for Chandigarh. The move has paid off so far, as he has shattered many records, in the process seeing his name etched into the 'India Book of Records 2021'.

Excerpts from Arslan Khan's exclusive interview with Sportskeeda

In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Arslan Khan opened up about his early cricketing days with Himachal Pradesh, his decision to play for Chandigarh, his dream Ranji Trophy debut, and much more.

Arslan Khan on his early cricketing days

Q: Congratulations on a terrific start to your career. What inspired you to take up cricket as a sport professionally? Are there any anecdotes you would like to share with us regarding your early days?

Arslan Khan: My brother Shahnawaz was a fine cricketer, but he could never pursue the sport professionally. When we used to play together, maybe he saw that spark in me and felt that I could do well. When I was 11-12 years old, there was the 2011 World Cup which motivated me even further.

My coach Sukhwinder Bawa used to stay in Gurgaon and came to Chandigarh sometimes. So my brother urged him to have a look at me. I went to the academy with my brother to have a trial. To be honest, it was pretty average batting from my end, and even I was embarrassed by my performance.

My brother was bowling to me with a synthetic ball on a cement wicket. Although he was quick, I somehow negotiated him, and perhaps that is what might have caught the attention of Bawa, sir. So I started going to the academy, living by myself, preparing food on my own, etc. Thanks to that, I became mentally strong during those days.

Q: What was that one innings that made you believe you belong to this level?

Arslan Khan: I had trials for the district level at U-16 and got selected. However, I got dismissed for a duck on my debut. In the next game, the coach asked who wanted to open the innings.

I raised my hand and although there were doubts about whether I would perform, I was determined to do well. I scored 178 in that innings, and that helped me get selected for the U-14 as well as U-16 at the state level. That gave me the confidence that I could be successful at this level.

Q: You mentioned about the 2011 World Cup taking place just when you were entering into cricket professionally. So did you have any role models? Did you try to imitate anyone's style or admire the way they batted?

Arslan Khan: Initially, I didn't have a particular player that I admired, I just liked to watch the game. However, when I started playing professionally, I began to follow a lot of players. I used to follow the way Graeme Smith, Alastair Cook, Yuvraj Singh, etc., batted. I used to love watching them bat.

Arslan Khan on why he made the switch from Himachal Pradesh to Chandigarh

Arslan Khan wanted to play Ranji Trophy regularly.
Arslan Khan wanted to play Ranji Trophy regularly.

Q: You represented Himachal Pradesh at U-14, U-16, U-19 and U-23 levels and also captained the U-19 team. What made you take the decision of switching to Chandigarh? Your brother said your father's illness was one of the main reasons. Were there any other reasons too?

Arslan Khan: It was my second year of U-19 cricket, and I was the highest run-scorer in the entire North Zone, probably the fourth or fifth-highest in India at that point. I was the only player who was from Himachal and represented North Zone. I was picked in the one-day side but didn't get many opportunities.

Even after playing Zonal cricket, I was not considered in the 4-day side for Himachal. After losing their first game against Assam, Himachal had a home game against Jammu and Kashmir.

One of the players was ill, and the selectors called me up as a replacement. I scored 120 odd runs in my very first comeback game. I got a few chances after that, but I wasn't their first choice.

Q: What made you realise you had to make a change to get a shot at Ranji Trophy cricket?

Arslan Khan: When I captained the U-19 team, I scored four centuries in six games and was the second or third-highest run-scorer in India. After performing exceedingly well for Himachal for three years, anyone would have felt I, at least, deserved a call-up to the Ranji Trophy camp.

I got just one game in the U-23 for Himachal and was also ignored for the main Ranji probables camp. I realised I would have to struggle a lot to make the cut for Himachal in Ranji Trophy.

Q: Do you feel there was a lot of competition for places in the Himachal team? Or the fact that you were not born there was the reason you were ignored?

Arslan Khan: According to the BCCI guidelines, I was not qualified to play as a local player for Himachal, as I wasn't born there and had no residence. However, I could play as a professional and did the same at the district level.

Even after doing well at the state level, I was dropped by my district team of Sirmaur. I started playing for Chamba at district level and got a double hundred against the defending champions. But still, I was not considered even for the practice matches of the Ranji Trophy.

At around the same time, Chandigarh had got affiliation and were supposed to have their own team for domestic cricket. I had a tough decision to make since I was already established in Himachal and could have played Ranji Trophy in another 2-3 years.

But since my home state was formed, I had a chat with my brother and other family members. I had confidence in my ability and decided to take up the challenge of playing for Chandigarh.

A Dream U-23 tournament for Chandigarh's Arslan Khan

Arslan Khan scored an unbelievable five centuries in 11 games, amassing a total of 699 runs.
Arslan Khan scored an unbelievable five centuries in 11 games, amassing a total of 699 runs.

Q: Tell us a bit about your record-breaking U-23 tournament for Chandigarh, where you scored 699 runs from just 11 games, including an incredible five centuries. Would you say that tournament helped you receive your maiden Ranji call-up?

Arslan Khan: Yes, indeed, that was a great season for me. I was the highest run-scorer in India at that time. The first game was against Assam, who were a really good side, as they used to play elite cricket regularly. I scored another century in the next game against a very good Puducherry side.

Centuries against Meghalaya and Manipur also happened, but the most satisfying one came against Vidarbha in the quarterfinal. It was important for me to perform in this game, as Vidarbha were a non-plate side.

It was also a seaming track, and batting was difficult. But I scored a match-winning hundred, and that was enough for me to receive my maiden Ranji call-up.

Arslan Khan hits the ground running in the Ranji Trophy for Chandigarh

Arslan Khan scored an incredible 233* on his Ranji Trophy debut.
Arslan Khan scored an incredible 233* on his Ranji Trophy debut.

Q: You are off to a fabulous start in your first-class career, scoring 504 runs already in just seven games, including a double century on debut. Tell us a bit about your experience so far and the camaraderie with the seniors in the Chandigarh team.

Arslan Khan: When I entered the Ranji Trophy team, everyone was pretty welcoming and congratulated me for the performances I have had prior to receiving my Ranji call-up.

The practice games were on a very difficult pitch to bat on. Players were getting our multiple times, but I scored a few runs and remained unbeaten. So even they felt I deserved my call-up.

I dominated against the bowling of domestic stalwarts like Vinay Kumar, and that gave me the confidence that I can be successful against anyone at this level.

Arslan Khan and Manan Vohra (P.C.: BCCI)
Arslan Khan and Manan Vohra (P.C.: BCCI)

Skipper Manan Vohra has become a really good friend of mine. Bipul Sharma and Uday Kaul, who have played about 18 years of domestic cricket, helped me a lot with their advice as well about playing at this level.

The double hundred on Ranji Trophy debut was probably the best feeling. I was just 33 runs away from the world record, but it was satisfying to remain unbeaten.

Q: Do you think scoring heaps of runs in the Plate group still gives lesser recognition? Did that thought enter your mind when you left Himachal, who were playing at Elite level?

Arslan Khan: I did think about it, but I was confident in mine as well as Chandigarh's ability and believed that we would soon end up playing in the Elite group.

We performed really well this year in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, won games against Haryana, Services and beat Bengal in their own den. We narrowly missed out on qualification for the knockouts.

Arslan Khan on missing out on an IPL contract

Arslan Khan was impressive in his debut Vijay Hazare Trophy season.
Arslan Khan was impressive in his debut Vijay Hazare Trophy season.

Q: With the current uncapped youngsters getting IPL contracts based on their domestic performances, do you feel frustrated or hard done by that despite scoring so many runs, you still didn't find any suitors?

Arslan Khan: I won't say it was unfair on me since I have made my debut in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy this year only. But there is a mega auction next year, and if I perform well next year and even then if I am ignored, then yes, I might feel a bit hard done by.

But certainly right now, I cannot feel that since I haven't yet proved myself in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, where I have played just two games.

Arslan Khan's favourite IPL team

Arslan Khan wishes to play for Virat Kohli's RCB in the future
Arslan Khan wishes to play for Virat Kohli's RCB in the future

Q: Although you might be looking forward to participating in the IPL with any team, given a choice, which is that one team you would love to play for?

Arslan Khan: I like RCB a lot. I would definitely love to play under Virat Kohli.

Q: Now that the 2021-22 Ranji Trophy season has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, do you think it would have a severe impact on players like you who do not have an IPL contract and whose livelihood depends on match fees from such domestic games? Do you think the situation could have been handled better?

Arslan Khan: Yes, you are right. I feel two things could have been done. Firstly, I feel if you are conducting white-ball competitions, then you could have increased the match fees.

Secondly, the state associations can take care of their players by giving them contracts like maybe how Punjab does. That would certainly give us financial security.

Q: Given that players like Shubman Gill and Prithvi Shaw are getting international exposure at your age, do you see yourself playing for India soon?

Arslan Khan: I think what makes the difference here is how early you are playing domestic cricket. Although the likes of Shubman and Shaw are from my age group only, at the age of just 17-18, they were already playing in the Ranji Trophy.

So it was certain they would represent India at the U19 level. If I would have debuted for Himachal at that point, maybe even I could have made the cut. This is my first year of domestic cricket, but I am already 21.

Arslan Khan on his future goals

Q: Having done well in your short career so far across all three formats, what are your future goals? Do you see yourself moving back to Himachal someday, or are you content playing for Chandigarh?

Arslan Khan: I am content with playing for Chandigarh and will try my level best to score as many runs as possible. There was a chance I would still not have been playing Ranji Trophy if I would have stayed with Himachal. So I am satisfied with my decision and have no regrets.

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Edited by Bhargav