“Bas lag gaya”
“It just got hit”
An almost apologetic smile followed the three words, as Raunak Kapoor asked him about crossing the 86 metre boundary at Bloemfontein with ease during the presentation ceremony after the India - New Zealand Super Six game in the U-19 World Cup.
You see, Musheer Khan, the owner of an extremely quick pair of feet and a painfully shy mouth (during interviews, at least), was just being humble. No one can just hit a six beyond 86 metres, especially when you are just 18.
It was a Player of the Match-winning performance, which included 131 runs and two wickets. Moreover, Musheer Khan arrived in the fifth over and departed only in the 48th. It was an innings that had maturity, sensibility, immense skill and confidence all in one. An innings that shouted future India international if things go the right way.
The template wasn’t very different from the 118 he had scored against Ireland, which was straight from his father's coaching manual. He began slowly but in his own characteristic fashion. An upper cut over the keeper’s head for four against Mason Clarke got him going. Right from that moment, Musheer wasn’t troubled by the Kiwi bowlers at all. It might have to do with the lack of experience in the Kiwi squad at this level, but nothing should take away the credit from Musheer and the way he batted.
India lost Arshin Kulkarni early when he unsuccessfully went to strike a short ball over the deep boundary. After that, Musheer and Adarsh Singh forged a fantastic partnership. All the experience that they had gained playing age group level cricket in India was visible in their temperament, as they cut down on risky shots and played to bat long and big — a batting template that has brought huge success, off late, to the Indian team in this format.
Bad balls were hit to the boundary, but restraint was shown against the Kiwi leg-spinner Zac Cumming who was in the middle of a fantastic spell. In fact, at one point, Musheer drove a full toss down the ground for just a single. Full showcasing his ability to respect a good spell when he saw one. For all those who compare Musheer and his brother Sarfaraz’s batting, you know that no matter the phase of the innings, Sarfaraz would have banished a full toss to the boundary at the speed of light.
But Musheer is different. He's had the same wide range of shots from an early age, just like his brother, but his run-scoring temperament holds Musheer in better stead, especially in ODIs and Test cricket. He’s still young and hasn’t yet developed an impressive power game in the V (as evident by his wagon wheel), but his craftiness on the crease allowed him to score square of the wicket even of deliveries bowled at the stumps. This ability enabled him to score his third consecutive fifty-plus score in the tournament.
Musheer was not only able to read the spinners by hand (even leggie Cumming, which other Indian batters failed to do on a regular basis), but he manoeuvred his position within the crease so quickly that he was able to drag full balls outside the off stump towards deep square leg for the boundary.
Against the spinners especially, he read the length quickly and went back with ease. All the while moving in the crease but remaining stable at the point of impact. With all kinds of sweeps, scoops, and pulls in his repertoire, the rest of the job is done by his lightning-quick bat speed and balance at the crease.
Except for Zac Cumming, who gave only 37 in his full quota of overs, none of the other Kiwi bowlers were able to exert any pressure on the Indian batter. As a result, Musheer batted with ease along with Adarsh and, later, skipper Uday Saharan. The Indian top order batted at almost six runs/over until the 20th over mark and then consolidated their position in the next 15 overs or so.
Meanwhile, Musheer brought up his second century of the tournament and also became its leading run-scorer with 325 runs in just four innings. The fact that the next best scorer (Shahzaib Khan from Pakistan) is 91 runs behind tells you how good a tournament he has had. He's been at home on the slow tracks in Bloemfontein and looks set to make it even bigger at this level with the bat.
If you thought that that was it from Musheer in the game, you probably missed the entire second innings.
The Kiwis folded like a pack of cards in front of Raj Limbani’s swing bowling first and then the accurate and lethal spin of Saumy Pandey, who picked up four wickets for just 19 runs. In the middle of that, Musheer Khan cleaned up the Kiwi skipper Oscar Jackson and later Ewald Scheduler with his left-arm spin to collect two wickets with the ball.
New Zealand could muster only 81, handing India their biggest win of this edition.
For an 18 year old to play with such maturity is rare. Even more so when the senior Indian batters have struggled to manoeuvre spin.
Musheer Khan bats against spin like a salsa dancer - his movements are precise, coordinated, and extremely quick. His short height doesn't trouble his reach. His flexible limbs and core more than makeup for it.
When a player has so much going for them, fame is just a byproduct of their excellence; and Musheer Khan showed today that he is excellence personified.