WHEN Umran Malik was playing on uneven grounds of Jammu and Kashmir with a tennis ball, a few hundred kilometers away in the Chakswari area of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, Zaman Khan almost the same age as Malik would also partake in Cosco cricket. While Malik’s parents did not see much hope in cricket as a prospective career, Khan’s situation was no different. However, both of them decided against what was repeatedly told to them — to look for a career beyond sports.
Zaman Khan’s affair with cricket is a bit different from Umran Malik’s though. While Malik would at least have a ground to practice on, Khan came from a village barely known to anyone, where his father, Aleem Khan, lived in a ‘jhopdi‘ (hut). A YouTuber who reached Khan’s home after a toil saw a tin shed thatched with grass. This is where the new cricketing speed star of Pakistan, who is as famous as Malik is in India, grew up.
In the subcontinent, both are the fastest when it comes to bowling. They have a jaw-dropping pace that both have learned using tennis balls until they were selected in the state trials in their home regions across the borders.
Zaman Khan was enrolled in a Madrasa and whenever there would be a break from the Quranic studies, he would sneak out to play cricket for a while. “He would do all of this away from my sight,” said his father, who worked as a daily laborer. “This (cricket), he thought would anger me”.
Malik, who was alien to the leather ball, would only play in the Cosco tournaments in Kashmir. Zaman Khan did the same. “They used to take place at night So ideally, I had to go to the field in the evening and come back by 1 or 2 in the night. My father would reprimand me very badly about it. At times, he thought, I was indulging in some bad habits so he sent someone to follow me to see if I really went to play cricket or not,” said Malik.
Both Khan and Malik come from border areas often in news for volatile tensions that surround them. After being enrolled in a Madrasa, where he completed memorising the Quran, Khan’s luck shone similarly to that of Malik. Both had no real participation in junior cricket and found their way to their countrys’ top cricketing leagues in a lucky jiffy.
Khan, who had barely visited the Pakistani capital Islamabad, found himself in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) after the selectors of Lahore Qalandars visited Mirpur, a place near his hometown. He was striving very hard as his chances to make it to the national team appeared dim after he crossed the age of 20. The Under-23 group had bigger players to compete with and Khan who had no real training saw himself at odds in this. Especially, when there is no dearth of fast-paced bowlers in Pakistan.
Speaking to a YouTube channel, he said, “I couldn’t even go back home since I had left the madrasa. People back home would see me as a failure.”
Among the selectors of Lahore Qalandars was Aaquib Javed, who has mentored a plethora of Pakistan’s speed stars. Many people in Pakistan often attribute the meme “sadak se utha kar star bana dena” to Javed who is known for his eagle’s eye for picking up raw talent from a crowd of thousands. Javed saw Khan and Khan became a star. “That was a turning point in my career,” says Khan.
Rana Sameen, owner of the Lahore Qalandars, made sure he gave everything possible to Khan. “Our captain Shaheen Afridi had told me that Zaman lives in a jhopdi. We will make a concrete house for him,” he said.
When the selectors saw Malik bowl in under-19 trials, he says they were shocked and asked him where he came from as he was nowhere in the scene of the domestic cricket till now. Something similar happened with Zaman in Pakistan too.
“So, they were not even considering me as I had not played any domestic cricket till now,” said Malik.
The struggle that Malik underwent to keep his training at par with the standard needed for international cricket amid a crunch of resources was similar to Khan’s. For Malik, former bowling all rounder Irfan Pathan played the crucial role that Javed did in Khan’s life.
“I was raw, he rectified my mistakes,” both players have made a similar statement for their respective coaches – Javed and Pathan.
Like Khan had no ground to practice, Malik had no spikes to bowl with on the day of his trials. Yet, both are gearing up to make a mark for their respective nations. The two speedster across border are united in their struggle to reach to the top.