HYDERABAD: As the Peshawar Zalmi vs Islamabad United match unfolded on Saturday, a young spinner increasingly attracted the limelight with his googlies.
Donning his yellow Zalmi jersey with great pride, he first caught and bowled Shadab Khan with a superb high catch.
Next, he sent the explosive Andre Russell back to the pavilion, and then cleaned up Samit Patel, bringing about a spectacular collapse of Islamabad United’s batting helped along with pacer Umaid Asif’s brilliance.
This is the 19-year-old spinner Ibtisam Sheikh, whose years of quiet hard work and struggle paid off during Saturday’s match, where he took three wickets in exchange for just 20 runs.
Ibtisam hails from City College Road, a densely populated area of Hyderabad’s Fakir Ka Pir. He comes from a family of doctors, but since he was a child he knew what he wanted to be: a cricketer.
Long hours of bowling under the scorching Hyderabad sun, years of unnoticed dedication and juggling between studies and cricket only strengthened his resolve to play cricket.
Ibtisam used to practice at the small grounds of his government college, using whatever meager resources he had to improve his game. His bowling eventually landed him at the Baloch Cricket Club, where he began to work upon his skills.
In 2015, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) held Under-16 trials at Hyderabad’s Niaz Stadium. Determined to get noticed, Ibtisam reached there to demonstrate his game to the selectors, but he was not selected.
Not losing hope, he went home and asked his older brother, a doctor by profession, to lend him Rs 500.
“I was surprised, why was he asking me for Rs 500?” Ibtisam’s brother Dr Zohaib Sheikh told Geo News.
“I gave him the money and he went to the market and printed two banners, He hung one inside our house and the other in the street outside. The banners read: ‘Next year, my name will be in the top 10 of Under-16 tournament'”.
“In 2016, he was the number one bowler with 48 wickets at the PCB’s U-16 tournament,” Zohaib added.
Ibtisam then played for Hyderabad Region at the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, where he impressed with his bowling against Faisalabad.
Based on this performance, former spin legend Saeed Ajmal selected him for Peshawar Zalmi.
Ibtisam is also a Hafiz-e-Quran, and is known as ‘Hafiz Ibtisam’ in his neighbourhood. His father, Abdul Latif Sheikh, is also a doctor by profession.
“We fully supported him from the beginning. First, he memorised the Quran, then he began playing cricket,” said Dr Abdul Latif Sheikh.
One of the most important people behind Ibtisam’s success is his coach, Shaukat Mama.
“Ibtisam used to bowl against the wall for four hours during fasting [in the month of Ramzan],” said the coach.