Umran Malik & Zaman Khan: Two pacers defining the speed rush on either side of India – Pakistan border

One of which goes like this.

Far away from the country’s cricketing hub, a young boy develops a junoon for fast bowling. His family, uninitiated to the world of cricketing riches, discourages him. The love is obsessive, he doesn’t drop the ball. Spotted by a local coach, the young tearaway is fast-tracked from his club to the state unit. It doesn’t take long for the T20 franchise talent spotters to swoop in. The raw speedster goes under the wings of a pace legend, becoming the country’s new pace hope. A call from the national team is now awaited.

For those following the Indian Premier League, this is the story about Umran Malik, Sun Risers Hyderabad and Dale Steyn. Across the border, it is about the Pakistan Super League, Zaman Khan, Lahore Qalandars and Aquib Javed.

Malik, 22, touches 150 kph everytime he takes the field this IPL. He has electrified the rather low-key season, bumped up the TRPs and given India the outline of a pace muscle they always wanted. Fruit-seller’s son, no formal training, tennis ball star turned national sensation; Malik has been this IPL’s find.

Almost everything is the same for Zaman, 20, son of a daily laborer from Chakswari. His family lived in a mud-plastered kucha jhopdi with tin sheds. Zaman was sent to a madarsa as a child, since his father wanted him to be a Quran hafiz. The young boy, between breaks from studying holy scriptures, unknown to his father, would play cricket. Local coaches impressed by his speed would send him to Mirpur to sharpen his skills.

Unlike Umran, Zaman’s walk into the spotlight was slow and, at times, frustrating. In Pakistan, pacers with speed aren’t a novelty. You shake a tree and a quartet would fall.

Zaman did represent Pakistan in age-group cricket, but once he turned 20, the doors shut on him. The pool got bigger and deeper, the fishes here were faster and hungrier. For the boy from a large family and frugal income, there was no Plan B. “I couldn’t go home since I had quit the madarsa. Not making it in cricket would mean, the villagers would have called me a failure,” he told a Pakistan youtube channel recently.

Then came the twist. One fine morning, Mirpur got visitors. They were the talent spotters from PSL’s Lahore Qalandars. Among them was Aaquib Javed, the World Cup winner, reputed coach and a mentor for a generation of Pakistan pacers. He is also known to pick world-class pacers from a crowd of thousands.

Months later, the bowler with a slingy action, a life-long Lasith Malinga and Shoaib Akhtar fan, was being hailed as the next big Pakistan pacer. Qalandars would win the league, Zaman won the respect of the dressing room for bowling a crucial final over, a couple of Man of the Match awards and at least four Iphones as incentive from the overjoyed and highly indulgent owners.

There is a touching video of the Qalandars’ country-wide Trophy tour, a journey the owners and coach Aaquib undertook around Pakistan to visit the home town of each member of the winning squad. The father shaking his head in disbelief with the trophy in his hand, narrating the early days of his ‘acha bacha’ and owner Rana Sameen making a grand announcement at a public function and getting thunderous applause from Zaman’s Chakswari family, friends and fans.

“When I came here, our captain Shaheen Afridi had told me that Zaman lives in a jhopdi. We have decided to build a pucca house for the family,” he said.

There were other achievers in the Qalandars PSL winning squad, and maybe needy too, but it is only a tearaway that turned a franchise owner into a philanthropist. It is true for Umran too. Young spinners and batsmen have shown promise and performances this IPL but it’s only a 150 kph pacer that has compelled a nation to overwhelmingly raise a chorus of fast-tracking him into the national team.

So what is it about the fast bowlers that makes them the adrenalin-triggering unputdownable popular stars?

A fairly convincing answer can be found in The Right Stuff, a riveting aviation book about the fighter jocks by the late American journalist Tom Wolfe. It’s from the era when US Air Force pilots flew experimental rocket-powered aircrafts to break speed records. It was a dangerous career option where daring air-men faced astonishingly deadly odds on a daily basis.

Back in the day, there were more aircraft failure deaths in trials than in combat but still young pilots, addicted to speed and adventure, got drafted and courted death.

Only those with the ‘right stuff’ got the golden wings and climbed to the top of the pyramid. The ones falling off ended up as flight controllers and transport plane pilots. The jocks with titanic egos and steely nerves stuck to each other since others, those weeded out as inferiors, couldn’t understand their willingness to face danger.

Cricket in comparison is a far easier and safer pursuit but still the express fast bowlers are the game’s fighter jocks. They are proud men with a swagger, who deep inside snigger at wily spinners, cocky batsmen and even the dubly-dobly so-called pacers. They have their corners in the dressing room where they sit letting their sweat dry and muscles rest. That’s where they mock batsmen waiting to take the field and open the innings.

Always at risk of some career-threatening injury, they live on the edge. Despite those hazards, they run in hard and gleefully smile when the speed gun flashes 150 kph.

Men like Shoaib Akhtar never compromised on pace, even if it meant living in pain all their life, going through surgeries and long physiotherapy and post-retirement going in for knee-replacement before turning 50. They are the classic anti-heroes, men who give happiness to the world while being in pain.

There are no borders when it comes to true fans of fast bowling. The sight of stumps cartwheeling after getting hit by a 150 kph ball would always remain breath-taking, be it Umran or Zaman.

Please send feedback to sandydwivedi@gmail.com.

Sandeep Dwivedi

National Sports Editor

The Indian Express

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