Ali Khan – meet the American international playing in the IPL
“Like how Rashid Khan has done for Afghanistan, I can be that guy for USA cricket.”
Carrying the cricketing beacon for an entire nation sits nicely on Ali Khan’s shoulders – after all, he’s used to breaking down barriers and defying the odds.
After becoming the first American international to be drafted in the Indian Premier League, the Kolkata Knight Riders seamer told the TMS does the IPL podcast about his unusual journey to the richest cricketing competition in the world.
Born in Pakistan, made in America
Nicknamed ‘The Yorker Machine’ for his pinpoint accuracy, the 29-year-old was picked up by KKR after impressing in the Caribbean Premier League for the Trinbago Knight Riders.
A consistent performer in the CPL for the past three seasons, in 2020 he took eight wickets in eight matches at an economy rate of 7.43 to help Trinbago lift the trophy.
Born in the Attock region of Pakistan, Khan and his family moved to USA when he was 19. The idea of playing elite-level cricket was nothing short of a pipedream.
“Growing up as a kid I was playing tape-ball cricket, I never thought I’d be a professional cricketer,” Khan said.
“I was just playing for fun with my brother and cousins on the streets and on the rooftops; we would break windows, always get in trouble, come home late. My parents were very strict, they were like ‘study, study, study and go to school, no cricket’.”
Lapping up a black forest gateau served to him on a private jet flying from the Caribbean to India gave Khan sufficient time to reflect on how it all happened.
“You’re sitting and thinking how your life has changed from moving from Pakistan to the US and now you’re flying with West Indies’ Sunil Narine and coach Brendon McCullum in a private jet. It was a surreal moment.”
‘I contacted him on Facebook and said I want to play cricket’
When he first arrived in America, Khan managed to find a local club in Dayton, Ohio. A few years later, it was a message he sent on Facebook which catapulted his cricket career.
“I played in the Ohio league and then in 2013 there’s a guy name Maq Quereshi, he was the founder of the US Open T20 tournament which they play in Florida in December,” said Khan.
“I contacted him on Facebook and said I want to play cricket, I’m a fast bowler, is there any opportunity? He said buy your ticket and we’ll see if we like you.”
They did like him. And Khan’s career continued on a sharp upwards trajectory from there on.
In 2015 he was playing in a 50-over domestic tournament in Trinidad for the ICC Americas development squad, before being selected for Guyana Amazon Warriors in the CPL.
It was Khan’s first taste of the lucrative world of T20 franchise cricket. And with his first ball, he took the wicket of Sri Lanka great Kumar Sangakkara.
Emulating Rashid Khan & growth of USA cricket
Leg-spinner Rashid Khan, the world’s number one ranked T20 bowler, has undeniably put Afghanistan cricket on the map.
And while America’s Khan wants to emulate his namesake, he realises the magnitude of the task ahead and the importance of his own performances in top-level cricket.
“As the guy coming in from the USA, all eyes will be on me,” said Khan, who is currently out injured with a side strain.
“But I’m not going to take it as pressure, I’m going to take it an advantage and to showcase my talent. And also that will help me showcase that there is a lot more talent in the USA.”
While Afghanistan and Ireland both gained Test-status in 2017, there is a long way to go for USA before they compete in top-level cricket.
They compete in the second division of the ICC World Super League for associate nations, but Khan says the infrastructure in his homeland is improving.
“We have big facilities and a national stadium in south Florida, which is our best stadium in the US,” he said.
“It’s really growing now because there’s a big community from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Caribbean so all these things are helping to grow cricket.”
‘England v America? I hope it happens’
There are plans to launch a domestic ‘Minor League’ T20 tournament next year which will include teams from areas such as New York and Los Angeles, and for it to then progress to a ‘Major League’ tournament in 2022.
Khan is hoping he can recruit some of his KKR team-mates, which include England’s limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan, to play in the tournaments.
“They’re all keen to come to North America and come to play cricket.”
And could Khan ever come up against Morgan on the international stage?
“I hope it happens but we have to qualify for the World Cup,” he adds
“For that we need to play World Cricket League Division Two and climb up the ladder. It’s a tough job but you never know.
“Afghanistan made it there and came from the same path that we’re on. I hope I can help.”