Muhammad Imran’s story is a perfect fairytale, almost tailormade for going viral in the social media age.
In 2012, on a cold December night, at the age of 18, Imran left his village in Dera Ismail Khan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province without informing anyone and travelled around 1,000 km on a truck to Karachi. The purpose of the trip was to give a trial. He couldn’t afford to tell anyone in the family because his father wanted him to join the Pakistan Army, and not pursue cricket.
Now more than a decade later, one of his bowling videos has gone viral on social media, due to the uncanny similarity of his action with that of former Pakistan speedster Shoaib Akhtar.
Imran is a carbon copy of the Rawalpindi Express, from the hair to the walk to his bowling mark, the run-up, the load-up, and even the celebration.
“I grew up watching Shoaib bhai. Everyone in my village used to run and try to bowl like him, but only I was able to perfect it,” Imran told The Indian Express.
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“My village is near the Afghanistan border. I started bowling with the tape ball. In 2010, during one of the tournaments at Dera Ismail Khan, someone told him that I bowl exactly like Shoaib Akhtar.”
In a couple of years after he completed his intermediate schooling, to save himself from the wrath of his father, Imran gave a physical test for the Pakistan army and was selected.
“Jis din ghar mey dawaat thi, mai usi raat bhaag gaya (The day there was a celebration at my house for my job, I ran away),” he recalled.
“My father wanted me to join the army. I wanted to play cricket. So, I ran away from my village. I didn’t tell anyone, everyone was sleeping when I left for Karachi.”
With little money but with the help of a kind truck driver, Imran reached Karachi after three days and went straight to the KDA Cricket Ground, as he instructed by Mohammad Naeem, a former first-class cricketer, who played for FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas).
“They asked me to come for the trials the next day. I said ‘bhaijaan mai ghar se bhaag ke aaya hun, mere pass rukne ko bhi koi jagah nahi hai (I have run away from home and don’t have anywhere to stay in Karachi), can I give the trial now’. They refused but allowed me to spend the night at the ground,” he said.
“I will never forget my first night in Karachi. It was freezing, I couldn’t sleep, and was just hoping the night would get over. Probably the longest night of my life.”
Next day, he would impress everyone with his slingy action and in a few months, was picked for Karachi U-19s.
“I picked 21 wickets in six games. I took four wickets against Rashid Latif’s academy. Ehsan Ali, Saad Ali, Faraz Ali, all of them now play in the Pakistan Super League. I removed all three of them in my first spell,” Imran recalled.
In 2013, Ufone, a Pakistani GSM cellular service provider, held a trial across the country to pick fast bowlers under the supervision of the legendary Wasim Akram.
“I clocked 143 kmph and was second in all Pakistan. I thought my life would change. There was a lot of hype in the media. Wasim Akram appreciated me and told me I could bowl even quicker. But you know the politics in Pakistan cricket, if you don’t know people in the system, you can’t go further,” Imran alleged.
“I played U-23, U-25 cricket but never got an opportunity to play first-class cricket.”
In 2017, Imran went for a trial for PSL franchise Lahore Qalandars, where he caught the eye of former Pakistan pacer Aaqib Javed.
“The first ball I bowled, he raced towards me and said ‘aapki bowling mey jaan hai. (You are quick)’ One of the assistant coaches of Lahore Qalandars took my number, and asked about my whereabouts but I never received a call,” he said.
In 2019, a friend of his posted his bowling video on YouTube and he received a call from a T20 franchise in Oman.
“They asked ‘why don’t you come to Oman’. They helped me get a passport. But in Oman, you can’t survive only by playing cricket. I needed to earn money. Mai CCTV camera lagata hun (I fix CCTV cameras). I earn around 70,000 Pakistan rupees. I have responsibility towards the family as well. I used to send half the money back home. It was a 12-hour shift, and then I would go to the gym.”
“Now I play for Azaiba XI, The franchise has given me a place to stay and I work only for six to seven hours now. I am playing more cricket. Suddenly my video has gone viral and I have become famous,” he said.
Now, at the age of 29, Imran is in the Oman national camp.
“Head coach Duleep Mendis and his deputy Mazhar Salem Khan are guiding me. They say in a couple of years, I can play in T20 leagues across the world,” he said.