Mallu swag on African pitch

Representing the United Republic of Tanzania in T20 cricket,  the two are now emerging stars in Africa. Donning a national team’s jersey, they say, is like living a dream.

author_img Mahima Anna Jacob Published :  11th October 2022 10:52 PM   |   Published :   |  11th October 2022 10:52 PM
Kerala cricketers

Kerala cricketers

Passion for cricket has propelled 25-year-old Kerala cricketers Akhil Anil and Amal P Rajeevan all the way to Tanzania the land of Mount Kilimanjaro and the spectacular Serengeti National Park for an amazing safari.

Representing the United Republic of Tanzania in T20 cricket,  the two are now emerging stars in Africa. Donning a national team’s jersey, they say, is like living a dream. What more, both have got a call for the Africa XI team, and are likely to play against Asia XI and Europe XI in Dubai in December.  

Akhil, of Thiruvalla, is a left-hand batsman and off-break bowler,  and Amal, of Muvattupuzha in Ernakulam, is a wicketkeeper-batsman. They, understandably, are thrilled as they got to be part of a team that put up an impressive show at the recent Africa T20 Cup (September 14-22). 

The tournament featured eight nations, including Kenya, Botswana, Ghana, Uganda, Malawi, Mozambique, and Cameroon. Tanzania registered a commanding win over Kenya, and ended up as the runner’s up, losing to Uganda in a close final. 

Notably, Akhil debuted against Kenya and scored a match-winning 52. And Amal made a mark against Malawi, emerging as the top-scorer with a solid 70. 

Speaking to TNIE from Dar es Salaam, the duo says the “spirited performance of the team has helped improve Tanzania’s International Cricket Council ranking”. Their “ultimate goal” is to see Tanzania qualify for the T20 World Cup. Akhil and Amal have built a strong partnership. They have known each other for eight years, both being part of the Kerala Cricket Academy. They also trained together at Thevara, in Kochi, under the guidance of coaches N Bijumon and Umesh N K. 

It was the duo’s performance in Kerala’s under-25 matches that paved the way to their African safari. “We are still in a daze. The whole deal was unexpected,” gushes Akhil, who was part of the under-16 Indian team as well.

Surprise safari to World Cup hopes
“A cricket club run by Malayalis in Tanzania, ‘Caravans’, invited us to play in a local tournament. They got in touch through mutual friends who had played for club.” Both had an impressive outing, and Amal emerged as the ‘best batsman’ in the tournament. As they packed their bags to return home, they got another call -- this time, to play in Tanzania Cricket Association’s league matches. And then came the big opening. 

“A brief tour of Africa turned out to be a turning point of our lives,” says Akhil, who recently landed a job at a petroleum company in Tanzania. Fortune favoured the duo. Tanzania, they say, had got a wild-card entry into Africa Cup, as another country had backed out in the last minute. “We had to prepare on short notice. Yet, we showcased a remarkable performance, especially defeating Kenya, which had players such Nehemiah Odhiambo, Rakep Patel, and Alex Obanda,” says Amal.  

“The guidance of our coach, former Kenyan skipper Jimmy Kamande, was vital.” Amal and Akhil say the “limelight and exposure” they are receiving now is “something every player dreams of”. “We are fortunate of getting such an opportunity at a relatively young age,” they add. 

“We are here purely out of our love for cricket, and want to soar as much as we can. Now our chances of playing international matches and leagues are higher. We are close to the World Cup qualifiers, which will be held in November.” 

‘Our ICC rankings have improved’
Cricket comes only third, after football and boxing, in Tanzania, notes the duo. “It’s not like in India, where cricket is like a religion,” says Akhil. “However, with impressive performances in recent times, the game is gaining prominence. For instance, the company I work for encourages my game, gives me time for practice.”  Amal, who is on the lookout for a job opening, adds the team’s aim is to enter ICC’s top 30. “Our ranking has improved from 38 to 31 after the Africa Cup,” he says.

On opportunities in India, Amal and Akhil say the competition is tough, and getting a break remains a distant dream for many. “Our experience shows sincerely staying on the path one chooses could yield the most unexpected experiences,” they add. “The game has to be prioritised over everything else, that’s all.”