Mianwali’s Match winner – Muhammad Irfan Khan’s Journey from School Trials to Pakistan Team Camp

April 17, 2024

Mianwali, the 82nd largest city in Pakistan situated on the border of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, is home to Punjabi, Pashto, and Saraiki speakers. Historically known for its forests and agricultural lands, this region has not only produced notable figures in music, arts, literature, politics, and society but has also contributed significantly to Pakistan’s sports arena. Among these contributors is Muhammad Irfan Khan, a graduate of Karachi Kings’ Emerging category, who has secured a place in Pakistan’s national cricket team squad.

Irfan hails from Mianwali, where he initiated his cricket journey. However, his beginning wasn’t smooth, as he faced failure in his first school trial. Reflecting on those days, Irfan recalls, “When I tried out for the school team, I couldn’t make it. Taking it as a challenge, I decided to prove myself and get selected. Eventually, not only did I get selected, but I also became the captain of the school team, thus marking the beginning of my cricketing journey.”

After school cricket, Irfan’s next destination was the district level Under-19 team. His first year wasn’t as successful, and he was advised to quit cricket and pursue studies or another career path. Recounting his experience, Irfan said, “When I was selected for Mianwali District Under-19 team, I didn’t get a chance to play in the first four matches of the season. It was only in the fifth and the last match of the team in the season when I got out for a duck in the first innings and got run out in the second.

“At that point, the team coach advised me to quit cricket, considering it a waste of time. This was my second challenge. I went back to my club and practised from noon till evening after school every single day. Throughout the year, I worked hard, and eventually, I became the captain of the same team, Mianwali District Under-19. In Mianwali, the captain of my club and my mentor, Inzamam-ul-Haq, provided me with a lot of guidance, and he is my first formal coach.”

For his cricket career, Irfan left his city Mianwali and shifted to Faisalabad, where he continued his educational and cricket journey at the renowned institution DPS (Divisional Public School & College). Speaking about this, Irfan said, “The principal of DPS, Shahid Mahmood, supported me a lot in terms of cricket and gave me the opportunity to captain the DPS team for three years. When the cricket academy I used to play for in Faisalabad, FACE cricket academy, closed down for some reason, I joined the cricket academy of former Test cricketer Mohammad Salman, and under his coaching, I got the opportunity to improve my cricket skills significantly. Salman (bhai) provided me with excellent guidance.”

Irfan’s performance at the Inter-Regional level was instrumental in clinching the championship for Faisalabad Region in the Inter-Regional Under-19 Three-Day Tournament in his second year. He struck a century for Faisalabad in the final of the tournament. With an average of 41 runs in 13 innings, including one century and two half-centuries, and 12 catches, Irfan was among the top five batsmen of the tournament. Despite excelling in cricket, Irfan was also coping with the loss of his younger brother.

Based on his performance at the Inter-Regional level, Irfan Khan was included in the Pakistan Under-19 camp and subsequently joined the team touring South Africa in 2019. Recalling his journey, Irfan said, “In 2019, I got selected for Pakistan Under-19, and I was picked for the series against South Africa. On that tour, I scored a century. At that time, I used to bat in the middle order, which allowed me to play longer innings. Our coach, Azam Khan, advised me to play in the lower middle order and take on the role of a finisher.”

During this tour, Irfan scored 208 runs in four innings with an average of 69.33 and took three catches. His next milestone for Pakistan Under-19 was the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup held in South Africa in 2020. In three innings, he scored 56 runs and remained a prominent fielder for Pakistan with six catches in five matches. He was also part of the squad for the 2021 Under-19 Asia Cup held in the United Arab Emirates, where he scored 61 runs, being Pakistan’s fourth-highest run-scorer, and took eight catches in four matches, emerging as Pakistan’s most outstanding fielder.

In the 2021 ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup held in the West Indies, Irfan represented Pakistan as a finisher, scoring 132 runs in five innings.

Talking about his experience in the Under-19 World Cup, Irfan says, “In the Under-19 World Cup in the West Indies, my role was that of a finisher, and my batting position was such that I sometimes got the opportunity to bat and sometimes not. In the first match of the tournament, I scored 75 runs against Zimbabwe, then 24 against Bangladesh, and 27 against Australia. After that, I got the opportunity to play domestic cricket at the senior level, and I was included in Central Punjab’s Second XI. I was the youngest player in Central Punjab that year.”

In the 2021-22 domestic cricket season, Irfan scored 529 runs with an average of 53 in the Cricket Association Championship (T20s) and 79 runs in the Cricket Association Challenge (Three-Day). In the 2022-23 season, Irfan was included in Central Punjab’s First XI, and in this season, he scored 141 runs in the National T20 Cup and 122 runs in the Pakistan Cup. Karachi Kings selected Muhammad Irfan Khan in the Emerging Category in the HBL PSL Draft 2023 based on his performance for Central Punjab in that season.

Irfan says, “Playing from Central Punjab, my role was such that it was difficult to be on top in terms of scoring because I used to bat as a lower-middle-order finisher, but I always remained in the top 10 scorers. At that time, Central Punjab had a star studded squad in the First XI, which made it difficult to find a place in it. But the coaches knew who was performing in the Second XI. When Abdul Razzaq became the coach and saw me playing, he gave me the opportunity to play in the National T20 Cup, and based on my performance in that tournament, Karachi Kings selected me for the HBL Pakistan Super League 2023.”

Talking about his experience in the HBL PSL, Irfan says, “It was an honor to have my name in the HBL PSL, and I am very grateful to the management of Karachi Kings for believing in me and providing me with ample opportunities. I had a lot to learn in my first season, it was all a very new experience for me, and I would call the first year in the HBL PSL a learning opportunity for me. And this year, in HBL PSL 9, I was prepared to a great extent for it, Karachi Kings retained me and supported me continuously. I am also thankful to Karachi Kings’ owner Salman Iqbal for his constant support and encouragement at every opportunity. Assistant coach Muhammad Masroor, with whom I have been working with in the age group cricket, also provided me with excellent guidance in Karachi Kings and helped me improve my fielding and batting.”

In the HBL PSL Season 9, Irfan Khan emerged not only as the best emerging player of the season but also as the best fielder, earning him a place in Pakistan’s national cricket team’s squad. Irfan says, “I received a lot of support from my parents, despite the loss of my younger brother and being their only son, they never insisted on me returning to them, but they always said that if I can play well, they will fully support me. When I transitioned from Under-19 to senior cricket, the way my seniors boosted my morale gave me a lot of confidence and taught me how to motivate others. Playing for Pakistan is the dream of every player, and when the team announcement was being made, I was watching it on TV with my family. The feeling of hearing my name in the national squad cannot be expressed in words.”

Graduate of Karachi Kings from Mianwali, Muhammad Irfan Khan is determined to serve Pakistan cricket for a long time, believing in his hard work.

READ: Karachi Kings’ Emerging Star Irfan Khan Niazi Receives Maiden Pakistan Call-Up for New Zealand T20Is

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