Cricket legends 'blown away' by Pakistani child bowlers
Two six-year-olds have become social media sensations in cricket-mad Pakistan with videos of their bowling "blowing away" the likes of Shane Warne and Wasim Akram, who have been giving the pair tips on improving their game.
Eli Mikal Khan, from the southwestern city of Quetta, has been nicknamed "Shane Warne Junior" after videos posted on Twitter of his astonishing leg break bowling attracted awe from fans around the world and drew tips and encouragement from the Australian legend.
Another six-year-old, an aspiring pace bowler named Hasan Akhtar, has meanwhile been dubbed "Little Wasim Akram" after the former Pakistani captain - who also saw videos of him on Twitter and insisted on tracking him down and meeting him.
The two children have been widely feted by Pakistani media, as the cricket-obsessed country celebrates the successful staging of the third Pakistan Super League final in Karachi - a hugely symbolic step towards bringing international teams back amid improving security.
Eli, who spoke to AFP at his home in Quetta, said he dreams of playing for Pakistan.
"I love cricket... I want to become a perfect leg break bowler," he said.
He said he enjoys the adulation he has received - particularly from legends such as Warne, who first tweeted encouragement to Eli after seeing one of his videos in March.
This week Warne retweeted another video of Eli, writing: "Absolutely fantastic, blown away on how good the ball comes out of your hand, especially at the age of only 6 - well done and keep up the great work. One tip - get that bowling arm a little higher!"
Eli, whose father and coach Abdullah Khan maintains his Twitter account, said he had been honoured by the tweet, adding: "I will definitely work on the given tip by Sir @ShaneWarne".
Pakistani hopes lifted
Admiration of the two six-year-olds comes as Pakistan enjoys guarded optimism over the return of international cricket, driven from the country after a deadly militant attack targeting the Sri Lanka team in 2009.
Last weekend Karachi became the second major venue to host international matches after Lahore hosted five international matches against Zimbabwe in 2015, as well as the PSL final in March last year, three World XI matches in September and one against Sri Lanka a month later.
If Eli's dream of playing for Pakistan bears fruit, he could be joined by fellow Twitter sensation Hasan, videos of whom drew Akram's notice in late February.
"Where is this boy???" he said, retweeting one of the videos and calling for a "platform" to discover such talent in Pakistan.
On Monday he tweeted images of himself with the six-year-old, who he called a "young sensation" with "unbelievable skills".
"Really enjoyed myself spending quality time with Hasan," he wrote, adding that the child's knowledge is already "unreal".
Hasan's father Muhammad said that before he realised how talented his son was, he found the bowling habit "annoying".
"Our home floor is made of mud and Hasan would break the surface bowling all day," he told AFP by telephone from their village of Chichawatni, some 200 kilometres from Lahore.
One of Hasan's seven older siblings posted the initial video of him, which the family did not know had gone viral until a cousin phoned to say it was playing on television and that news reporters were looking for him.
The meeting with Akram took place in Karachi, arranged by private broadcaster Geo, Hasan's father said, adding that it was "beyond imagination".
Hasan said Akram had been "very kind", adding that other heroes include Pakistan's Muhammad Aamir and Australia's Mitchell Starc.
"We did not expect the amount of love and support he has shown to us," Hasan's father said. "He coached Hasan how to hold the ball properly, the importance of the run-up and how to deliver the ball and he insisted that Hasan should continue his studies."
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