How Ashwin engineer-MBA Affan Khader’s advice helped finally break into the Tamil Nadu Ranji team

M Affan Khader was literally at home on borrowed time. This should have been a breakthrough year for him, but in June the 26-year-old was not even part of the Tamil Nadu Premier League, a tournament in which the cream of the crop participates. One by one, the doors were closed to the middle batter.

And after being overlooked for the national white ball competitions, there was also understandable pressure from the family. Mujahid Khader, father of the mechanical engineering graduate who also has an MBA degree, advised his son to leave the duffel bag behind and look for a career other than cricket.

But on Friday, when the senior selection committee of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) named the squad for the upcoming Ranji Trophy starting on December 13, Affan received his first call-up for the state. Although part of the contenders, Affan never expected to reach the final thanks to his good performance for MRC ‘A’, which won the First Division title last season.

“It feels great to finally be part of a Tamil Nadu side,” Affan told The Indian Express. “Right from the age group circuit, I have never been part of a TN side. And I have to admit, I was never good enough to make it. But this time, after working hard, this feels really special.”

Born into a family where studies preceded everything, cricket was not his profession. He was an off-spinner in his early years and only got a chance to bat at the top of the league table because ‘none of the boys who studied engineering wanted to play cricket. Since I was handy with the bat, they left me open. And as I kept scoring, I got the confidence,” said Affan.

Affan Khader with his brother and sister.

During the four-year period in which he studied engineering at Loyola College, cricket took a back seat. All he could do was practice his trade in the Third Division before the Indian Overseas Bank called. A move to CromBest would follow, and this is where Affan caught the attention of R Ashwin.

“I had a decent performance against MRC ‘A’ (the club Ashwin represents) and I later got a call from Ashwin anna asking if I would be interested in joining their team. That came out of nowhere for me, but it made me realize that if he asks me to play, there must be something special in me,” Affan recalled.

MRC ‘A’ is a new team in the TNCA circuit. In many ways, their success story is similar to that of Leicester, where they ran away with Rajah of Palayampatti Shield for the First Division a season after surviving relegation earlier this year. And it also happened to be a breakthrough season for Affan.

Work on your fitness, Ashwin said

Last October, Affan remembers Ashwin telling him he had to improve his fitness if he was serious about graduating to the next level. Affan had a score of 16.4 in the yo-yo test, with Ashwin setting a target of 19.

“That was an eye-opener for me. And this is actually the period where I started doing the hard work. Not that I didn’t do it before, but if you have to play at the top, you have to work more on many aspects. And since he told me during the off-season, it helped me a lot to set up a program and follow it diligently.

“For the next three months my total focus was on improving my fitness in all areas. And once I started to feel the difference, I started to enjoy it more. I even took a backseat to skills-based training during those months,” Affan said.

In the First Division that followed, Affan played a key role in MRC ‘A’s title win, with his gritty attitude being praised by all.

“This was a make or break season for him,” said TN opener NS Chaturved, who captained him at the club. “If he hadn’t been given a chance even we would have struggled to keep him in the club as his family wanted him to quit cricket and start working. So we are all happy for him as he fully deserves the call-up, Chaturved said.

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