Karachi: From throwing rocks down mountains and training by swimming across rivers and streams in Pakistan’s troubled north-west, unheralded pace bowler Sohail Khan has come a long way.
The 30-year-old was a surprise inclusion in Pakistan’s 15-man squad for the World Cup as he was not considered amongst the favourites until the morning of the announcement.
But former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif described Khan as “gate crashing” his way into contention after a string of impressive performances in domestic cricket.
“He has gate-crashed into the World Cup squad,” said Latif, credited for grooming the raw talent of Khan in his domestic team, Port Qasim.
“His recent performances forced the selectors to give him a chance and I am confident he will make his mark in the World Cup.”
Khan took 64 wickets in Pakistan’s domestic season last year and got ten wickets in a one-day event — an impressive show which forced him into the World Cup squad at the expense of unfit Umar Gul.
But it hasn’t been an easy ride for the well-built Khan.
As a youngster, dreaming of making a name for himself, Khan used to throw stones down the hills in Malakand agency — the mountainous tribal area in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province — to build muscle to bowl fast.
Deprived of basic cricket facilities, Khan initially played with a tennis ball.
“I grew up with a desire to make my name in cricket,” Khan told AFP.
“We did not have any facility to play the game like a ground or a gym so someone told me that if I throw stones over a distance I could build my muscle to bowl fast.”
Routine swims in the streams and rivers in the tribal area helped further build the body.
A relative then told Khan to try his luck in Karachi where he was spotted in a talent hunt programme before he landed in the safe hands of Latif who honed the tribal talent in his academy.
“I owe a great deal to Latif,” said Khan. “He told me how to use the new ball and how to use different tricks as a fast bowler. What I am today is because of him.”
Playing for Sui Southern Gas Corporation, Khan took an astonishing 65 wickets in his debut first-class season in 2007, with eight five-wicket hauls.
If that was not enough he recorded the best match figures in a first-class game in Pakistan with 16-189, which broke the long-standing record of Fazal Mahmood who once took 15-76.
That was enough to give Khan a place in the national team in the one-day series against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh at home in 2008.
A return of four wickets in three matches wasn’t enough to cement his place and in the next three years he managed to play three more one-dayers, two Tests and three Twenty20s, the last in Zimbabwe in 2011.
It seemed he would be lost to the game, but Khan’s hard work finally paid off.
“I never got disheartened,” said Khan. “I am now in the World Cup and want to make an impression, be it Virat Kohli (of India) or (Australia’s) David Warner, I want to bowl fast and take wickets for my team.” (AFP)