Somewhere in the middle of Ohio, a 25-year-old man just went a step closer from working at Cricket to working in cricket at the stroke of a mouse click in Barbados. Ali Khan, whose day job is managing a branch outlet for cellular network provider Cricket Wireless, was less than two hours into his shift for the day when he slipped into a back room to see the 16th and final round of the CPL draft. At 11:52 a.m., he heard his name called out by the owners of Guyana Amazon Warriors.
“I almost blacked out for a minute,” Khan told ESPNcricinfo just after his name was called. “I’m really happy, excited. I got big high-fives and everything from my co-workers. If I wasn’t picked I don’t know how my day was going to go but now it’s gonna be a good day. I was talking to my dad earlier too. He was watching from France. I’m gonna call him after.”
Khan was one of six Associate players from the region who were picked on Thursday during the CPL draft. Nikhil Dutta and Steven Taylor, who debuted in the 2015 CPL for St Kitts & Nevis Patriots and Barbados Tridents, were retained by their respective franchises. Jamaica-born Orlando resident Timroy Allen was taken by the Jamaica Tallawahs while Calgary resident Hamza Tariq was picked up by the Trinbago Knight Riders and Toronto’s Nitish Kumar was claimed by St Lucia Zouks.
The journey of Khan is perhaps the most remarkable one. He has never played for the USA national team, but was plucked from relative obscurity through the open tryout process conducted by the ICC Americas office at September’s inaugural player combine in Indianapolis. Khan not only made it into the group of eight players invited to progress out of an opening group of 68, but even made the cut from a second batch of 32 players into a final 15-man squad to play as a combined USA and Canada team at January’s Nagico Super50 tournament in Trinidad.
Sitting in the fast-bowling pecking order behind Allen, Canada’s Jeremy Gordon and USA’s Hammad Shahid, Khan only managed two games in the Super50. However, his ability to bowl yorkers at the death, which caught the attention of Courtney Walsh among other evaluators in Indianapolis, was on display in the pair of appearances he made against Jamaica and resulted in four wickets. A few weeks after the end of the Nagico Super50, that key skill set also helped him garner a CPL deal.
“I think this is the biggest thing that has happened to me in my life so far, and my cricketing career also,” Khan said. “I just stood up and jumped in the air and shouted ‘Yeah!’ I’m really looking forward to [being with Guyana]. I really like Chris Lynn. I’ve watched his Big Bash games and the way he hits the ball is amazing. And Martin Guptill of course. He has a lot of experience and in the bowling lineup Sohail Tanvir.”
The career-trajectory for the players varies widely. Since Taylor and Dutta were included at the ages of 21 and 20 in the CPL a year ago, they have been pursuing cricket full-time, with Dutta able to parlay his CPL stint into a Bangladesh Premier League deal. Nitish, 21, is currently attending university at Loughborough MCCU in England with hopes of becoming a County pro.
The eldest of the lot, 29-year-old Allen, is at the point in life where like Khan, he needs a day job to make ends meet. When not moonlighting as a dynamic pace-bowling allrounder, Allen runs his own pest control and landscaping business. Tariq, though, is stuck in the middle of the two worlds, a 25-year-old whose clock is ticking closer toward Khan and Allen than the younger three.
At one time, Tariq was on a Cricket Canada central contract, but when they bombed out of the 2014 World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand, Canada lost its ODI status and with it, much of the ICC funding necessary to be able to pay players to play full-time. On Wednesday night, Tariq was busy sweating about a mid-term exam in accounting at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology he was due to take early Thursday morning as part of his junior-year business degree coursework.
In a brief chat less than 24 hours before the draft, he pinned his chances of being picked at “one percent”. Even though he was tabbed to be the ICC Americas number one wicketkeeper heading into the Nagico Super50, Tariq felt his draft prospects were hurt by the fact that he missed the first two games of the tournament due to coming down with the flu on arrival in Trinidad.
However, Tariq held out that one percent of hope that his 35 off 14 balls in the final match against Jamaica – in which seven of his deliveries went to the boundary – was enough to convince a franchise to pick him. Preferably, that franchise would be the Trinbago Knight Riders. He has long been an admirer of Daren Ganga’s captaincy for all T&T sides. As a kid growing up in Pakistan until the age of 12, he acquired an appreciation for all things Bollywood, including the films of owner Shah Rukh Khan.
Just minutes after exiting his morning mid-term in Calgary, Tariq opened up his laptop and saw his name and profile picture on the CPL draft live stream being dragged with a mouse into the Knight Riders pool. The Americas team-mates may have been separated by 1900 miles, but the moment was just as overwhelming for Tariq in Alberta as it was for Khan in Ohio.
“All I can tell you is my eyes are red at the moment,” Tariq said. “It’s a pretty big thing for me and I’ve been working hard towards getting something like this for a while and finally I’ve got it. It’s just something very special. I had a little bit of a preference of playing for the Knight Riders and getting picked by them is something very special.”
“I’m very blessed. The prayers from my friends, family and well-wishers, it’s all because of them. I didn’t think that I would get picked, especially by the Knight Riders, but getting picked by my favorite team is something that I wasn’t expecting and something very very special to me.”
Before he could get carried away celebrating too much though, Tariq once more had to embrace his current reality.
“I’ve got another class at one o’clock so I’ve got to finish that class and then I can go and celebrate.”
The six Americas players are only guaranteed base contracts worth $3000. However, as Dutta has shown, the opportunity to showcase themselves on the CPL stage can be worth much more. It’s something that most players like Khan and Tariq never dreamed of happening less than a year ago. Today, it turned into reality.