First-class cricket, those who know, know that this is the format of the domestic cricket which prepares the players, many of them end up playing for the nation, especially in Test cricket. As soon as a player makes his first-class debut, he too knows that his dream of donning the national jersey is not far away. If everything pans out well, quality players represent their nation in a very short time, and if things don't go accordingly, it takes such players a bit longer than expected, but how long?
The word 'long' has been the real test for Tabish Khan, a domestic Pakistan star, who played his maiden international game for the country after 18 years of his first-class debut. He hit his straps with the red cherry in the year 2002-03 and kept bowling for 18 long years to make his dream come true, after finding his name in the playing XI of Pakistan for the side's ongoing second Test against Zimbabwe. When Tabish had entered the highest level of domestic competition in Pakistan he was mere 17 but by the time he made it to Pakistan's final XI, he grew 36 years and 146 days old.
"...Iss khushi k lie alfaaz nhi h bilkul (I don't have words to describe this happiness)," this is what Tabish said after receiving his Test cap number 245.
To highlight the struggle even better, it could be presented that he is the oldest pacer to make a Test debut for Pakistan in the last 65 years. Additionally, he is just the second-oldest fast bowler to get a Test cap in the ongoing century, with the other one being Ireland's Tim Murtagh.
Rise of Tabish Khan
Tabish, just like a typical Karachi boy, started his cricket career with tape balls. Inspired by the likes of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, he emerged out as one of the best talents among the boys of his age. His heroics soon grabbed the eyeballs and his fame was strong enough to compel his father to let him pursue his cricket career.
After rising from 'gully cricket' and playing for clubs, Tabish's initial focus was speed. He worked so hard on it that he started clicking 140 kmph with ease. However, as his game developed, the pacer realised that speed is not everything in fast bowling and that is when he started putting more focus on his line, length and swing. What followed was a nightmare for the batsmen who faced him.
Watching the likes of Sohail Tanvir and Mohammad Sami very closely, Tabish turned out to be one of the highest wicket-takers in the domestic circuit, and kept knocking the doors of selectors since 2010. However, his average record in white-ball cricket and his fitness issues took a toll on him and he kept struggling to advance to the next level.
Tabish on his relentless struggle
Though Tabish never hogged the amount of limelight he deserved, some of his interviews from years back beautifully portray his struggle. For once, he had said that it was really tough for him to keep his zeal intact after not getting a chance at the highest level despite being in the fray and performing consistently for such a long time. However, he had stated that his wickets are his "source of inspiration". His words are duly justified as he boasts as many as 598 first-class wickets in just 137 matches at an average of 24.29 and a strike rate of 46.10. Unreal! No?
Luck was never so kind to the man, neither were the Pakistan cricket team national selectors. However, Tabish always believed that he belonged to the level as cricket was the only thing he knew since childhood. He never ever thought of pursuing any other profession for his livelihood. It was his extreme dedication and never ending love for the game that increased his desire to represent the country with every instance of him being overlooked. And the willingness grew enough to ultimately compel the selectors to give him a chance, and unintentionally rewrite the history books in the process.
In January 2021, Tabish was named in Pakistan's Test squad for their series against South Africa but didn't get a chance. However, in the side's ongoing game against Zimbabwe, he received his maiden international cap from Misbah-ul-Haq after the side dropped all-rounder Faheem Ashraf. Tabish always credits his success to his father, who passed away last year, and mother.
Entering the domestic arena as a spring chicken, Tabish is now ageing as he steps on international stage. But the confidence and experience he carries with himself will definitely help him in pulling out match-winning performances for Pakistan in upcoming days.