With a little more money, Irrfan Khan could've been a professional cricketer
- Before film success, Irrfan Khan had successfully made the Rajasthan CK Nayudu Trophy team in 1984.
- Irrfan Khan was a feisty pace bowler who wanted to represent the Indian cricket team before his film career.
Irrfan Khan began his film career with a sports movie titled ‘The Goal’ in 1999, where he played the role of a renowned coach giving young, budding footballers from underprivileged backgrounds a chance to succeed on the national level. In the process of doing so, he fought several societal barriers such as caste and race discrimination during the entire narrative. However, little do people know that the internationally acclaimed actor’s initial dream was to represent the Indian cricket team, but a lack of financial support forced him to quit his beloved sport.
During the initial days of his fledgeling cricket career, Khan was selected to represent Rajasthan in the renowned CK Nayudu Trophy, but he was unable to pay the required amount of Rs 600 to travel from Jaipur to Ajmer.
The U-23 tournament is considered a stepping stone into senior-level cricket in the domestic hierarchy, with as many as seven cricketers from the current Indian Test cricket setup having plied their trade in this particular tournament.
Khan’s family was unwilling to support his cricketing career and he often lied at home to go play tournaments. Unable to gather funds for his CK Nayudu trip, he vowed to never play the sport again. However, his love for the sport came out through his numerous films such as Goal and Paan Singh Tomar, where he played the role of a sporting figure.
Representing the in 11-star cricket club in Jaipur from 1981 to 1985, Khan was quick to gain stardom in the region for his pace bowling prowess.
A friend of Khan’s spoke to Sportskeeda based on anonymity, “I was a batsman for the club and used to love facing Irrfan, he had the pace and bounce that a batsman would either love to face or be scared of. He used to bowl to me for at least 30-40 minutes because I was tough to get out. I even spoke to him in 2016, where we remembered those old days, but sadly none of us remotely played the sport then.”
Irrfan Khan's pace bowling exploits and love for Kapil Dev
Khan stayed 10 minutes from the National Institute of Ayurveda in Subhas Chowk, which boasted of the city’s only mat turf during that specific era. It was also after India’s 1983 World Cup win that he harboured dreams of representing the country.
His friend added, “He loved Kapil Dev, because of his bowling and his ability to adapt to every situation. Irrfan was never a batsman, and you could ask him at any time that he would always prefer bowling, but if the situation demanded, he would stand up and face it. There were several occasions where he batted at number 4 or number 7 and saved the match, that’s where he saw a similarity between himself and Kapil Dev.”
According to Khan’s friend, once his mother had come down to the ground to find him playing crickete. She shouted at him in front of the entire team, but Khan continued playing much to the anger of his mother. However, he found support from his father, who helped him buy equipment secretly without his mother coming to know.
His friend added, “During one practice session, I still remember him telling me that he will play for the Indian cricket team one day, but sadly that never happened. I assure you if he continued to play seriously, he would play for the Indian team, the 11-star cricket club never saw a player like him, he adapted to every situation regardless of his position. He was a patient cricketer, never dissuaded by emotion, that’s why he liked MS Dhoni so much because it reminded him of himself. However, he hated lazy fielders, that used to make him angry. He was captain material, to be honest
Khan is often considered one of the Indian film industry’s strongest exports to Hollywood having acted in films such as Inferno, the Amazing Spiderman, Slumdog Millionaire and many more. Whether the Tonk-born pacer would have tasted international success in cricket is a mystery, but knowing the legacy he has left behind in the world of cinema, the perseverance can only be envisaged in the gentleman's game.