Just a few months ago Maaz Khan was playing cricket on the war-torn streets of northern Pakistan.
Today the 18-year-old leg spinner is one of the country’s rising stars.
“My life has completely changed,” Khan said.
“I was wandering the streets or working as a labourer [before] coming here.
“I never imagined travelling to Australia.”
Today, Khan is a member of the Lahore Qalandars — a Pakistani domestic T20 Super League team that was last season captained by New Zealand star Brenden McCullum.
The team is touring Sydney this week taking on some opponents from the domestic Big Bash League.
But Khan’s journey to Australia, along with a number of his teammates, is an extrodinary tale of talent, luck and coming together.
Khan was one of a handful selected from 500,000 boys and young men who have trialled for selection for the team over the past three years.
They come from disadvantaged areas such as Punjab, Kashmir and Gilgit.
A chance in the bigtime, even if you don’t have shoes
Farzan Raja, 21, is another lucky one.
“I thought let’s give it a chance,” he told the ABC at a suburban ground in Sydney this week.
“This is the moment I’ve been waiting for, this trial has turned my life into something that I always wanted to be.”
The initiative is the brainchild of Aaqib Javed, a former Pakistani international who was part of the country’s golden era during the early 1990s.
The 46-year-old former fast bowler turned Qalandars head coach was part of Pakistan’s winning 1992 World Cup team and played 22 tests and 163 One Day Internationals for his country.
Yet, he said his biggest achievement in his cricket life has been his involvement with the Qalanders program to give disadvantaged youngsters a chance in the bigtime.
“This is different, bringing opportunity to all of the people, everyone, whoever is interested in this game,” he said.
“Even if you don’t have shoes, if you don’t have pads, or a bat, you don’t have to bring anything [to the trial].”
Brilliant fast bowling with a tennis ball
The initiative is unearthing some promising prodigies for the team.
Haris Rauf unleashes the ball down the pitch at 150 kilometres per hour, the type of speed recorded by Pakistan fast-bowling legend Shoaib Akhtar.
Before he was discovered by the Qalandars last year Rauf had only played with a soft tennis ball.
In July’s T20 against Australia, Qalandar teenage quick Shaheen Afridi claimed three Australian scalps, including captain Aaron Finch.
He was discovered along the war-torn Afghan border.
“The trouble areas, the hate zone of terrorism, we went there and the people wanted to play,” Javed said.
“They wanted to impress, but there’s no opportunities.”
Today, there is.