Sporting a black tee,which like everything else in Rahil Shaikh’s wardrobe clings to his bulging muscles,he seems pretty ambiguous in the swarming congregation despite his ample frame. The venue here is Naushad Khan’s new residence,where the burly left-arm pacer is among the special invitees for the departure function arranged for his mentor’s eldest son,Sarfaraz,who is on his way to England. With everyone from local politicians to some imminent neighbours in attendance,not many take much notice of Rahil. He slips into the crowd,exchanges a few words and smiles with his Macho Cricket Club teammates before resting his 6’3 figure on the boundary wall of the ground-floor apartment.
Rahil looked no less ambiguous at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack back in December 2008,as he stepped onto the field as the Mumbai team’s latest pace sensation. Not many,including a number of his teammates,really knew much about the fast bowler or his background for that matter. Rahil had after all emerged from absolute oblivion.
I hadn’t even played a serious cricket match till I was around 20, he recalls.
His journey to the Ranji team had been a rather unique one. Instead of the traditional route of making a mark in school or club cricket,Rahil had shown his mettle in a reality show. And before he knew it,he had been fast-tracked into the Mumbai senior team. Built like a ramthough his physique seemed more lardy than muscular back thenand having claimed the prize wicket of Andrew Flintoff in a practice game at thee Cricket Club of India (CCI),the sky seemed the limit for him. And Rahil even made a fair impression on debut,taking five wickets in all against a hapless Orissa outfit. The dream,however,only lasted close to nine months. Four first-class matches,ending with the Irani Cup tie in Nagpur,and 10 wickets later,Rahil had disappeared. He had arrived with a bang,and at the same rapid rate decamped back into obscurity. Just like that.
The world or the Mumbai cricket circuit to be more precise has heard little of Rahil Shaikh ever since. Bar a few intermittent displays of his pace prowess in the local tournaments here and there. Rahil,now 27. though hasn’t even made it to the Mumbai team probables list in the last couple of years. And despite having sent the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) selectors a reminder with a few notable performances in the Times Shield and Police Shield recently17 wickets in allthe Mankhurd resident has failed to make enough noise to force a recall into the state team.
It is really disappointing to be honest. I have been working really hard on my bowling,and my wickets have come against some quality opposition. But the problem is nobody takes notice, says Rahil,who used to fix air-conditioners in his youth. His other jobs included being a temporary supervisor and keeping count of the trucks hired by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to clean the Mithi river.
So how did a career which took off on such a high start retreating backwards so hastily?
It was his ability to send the speed-gun blazing that set him apart four years ago. It was also this gift of bowling extremely quick that led to his immediate downfall,according to Rahil himself.
I used to hit batsmen on the head and get them to duck regularly while bowling in the indoor nets at BKC. But all I knew back then was to run in as fast as I could and bang the ball onto the wicket. I didn’t know the benefits of pitching the ball up and trying to learn other tricks with the ball till after I was dropped from the team, explains Rahil,who even turned up for Mumbai Indians in an IPL match at Centurion back in 2009.
Not having come up the ranks like his other contemporaries also proved to be bane. Rahil had to learn everything about the game and himself on his feet and at the highest level of domestic cricket.
One day I was a tennis-ball bowler and suddenly I was bowling with leather balls inside a proper Stadium. I was really overawed to be honest. I hadn’t played any age-level games nor ever turned up for a club. There I was making a Ranji debut not knowing about what I was doing there, says Rahil.
Criticism about his bounteous girth and the apparent waistline weren’t far away. And his unathleticism too was exposed very early on. For someone his age,Rahil just couldn’t hold himself up on the field. Nor did he possess the fitness required to be a mainstream fast bowler for any extended period of time.
Those were days when I didn’t know the importance of fitness or fielding. Hitting a gym was a huge pain,and I just couldn’t get myself to go through the rigours. In club games,I used to bowl four overs and then go sit on the sidelines. I just wasn’t fit enough, says Rahil.
But life on the sidelines have taught Rahil a few valuable lessons. He now knows what is required to sustain himself at Ranji Trophy level. Rahil,these days,follows a strict fitness regiment. He looks fitter,and insists on being able to bowl long spells.
I recently bowled close to 18 overs on the trot. I have understood the importance of fitness,and these days I also can swing the ball both ways. And moving the ball at my pace makes me a handful for any batsman, says Rahil.
While he’s continued to be ignored by the MCA selectors,Rahil has seem the emergence of a number of young fast bowlers who have gone onto play for Mumbai in his place. It’s unlikely that Balwinder Singh Sandhu Jr,Javed Khan and Saurabh Netrawalkar would have made it to the Mumbai team as easily if Rahil had mended his ways back when the spotlight was on him.
But with his pace,the big-built pacer can still boast of being amongst the quickest bowlers in the city. And with a few more impressive showings in the local circuit,Rahil could even hope for that elusive recall.
I’ve given it my all in the last couple of years and tried my best to better my skills and fitness. Now I can only hope that the selectors regain their trust in me, he says.
But when you are Rahil Shaikh,nothing really can be ruled out. Such has been the fickle nature of his truly unique cricket career.