The Indian Premier League has long divided opinions about its place on the cricketing table. The numerous controversies, ranging from players fighting right on the field to the spot-fixing muck that mushroomed into a huge cloud of administrative mismanagement, haven’t helped its reputation either.
However, the IPL has not been without its moments and on those few occasions when it has had a chance to come up with something good, it’s gone and brought out the spirit of cricket.
Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi’s selection into the Sunrisers Hyderabad’s squad then follows on these very lines. And then some, with more than just cricket at stake in the event’s context, for the first time in its decade-old history.
The aspiration that the IPL raises
“[The] IPL is a huge league. There are big players, big teams and big coaches,” rattled off Rashid Khan as a conversation opener to Scroll.in, his tone varying between matter-of-factness and awe as if he couldn’t yet believe he was playing in the tournament.
Despite any lingering sense of euphoria Khan has had about being one-half of the Afghani duo to have participated in the IPL for the first time ever, the 18-year-old has not let it overwhelm his performances. Rather, his being a new inductee has made him want to prove himself all the more. “So far, it’s been a great experience. I always wanted to play here [in the IPL] and achieve something,” he said.
And, achieved he has, in leaps and bounds. In this last month, since the celebratory edition of the League began, Khan has made himself indispensable to the team. He has picked 12 wickets across the 10 matches he has featured in and when not picking wickets, he has made his presence felt through his stinginess in giving away runs. As such, along with catching the batsmen off-guard he has also mesmerised the world at-large with his bowling.
Asked about this, the Nangarhar native preferred to attribute his consistent results to the support he has been receiving from his team members. According to him, “We [the Sunrisers] have some good coaches like Tom Moody, Murali [Muttiah Muralitharan] and Laxman [VVS Laxman, who help us]. The team atmosphere [is good to work with].”
The growth that has been Afghan cricket
In a throwback to the prosperity that came about when teams played on a tight-knit unit, remember the time when the Sri Lankan team of underdogs took on the established Australian squad in the final of the 1996 ICC Cricket World Cup and emerged as champions? Or the way the Bangladesh cricket outfit has gone on to improve in all these years?
The triumphs of these countries get pronounced when considered the adversities they had had to surmount to get to that point when wins started coming more naturally. Tack on Afghanistan to this list and there’s a whole lot of volatility that gets added in.
Mohammad Nabi, former captain of the Afghani national team, knows this only too well. Trying to come up with words to sum up his country’s cricketing journey adequately, the 32-year-old who hails from the country capital, Kabul, stated, “[To play] Cricket in Afghanistan was very difficult [before]. During the time of the Taliban, cricket used to be played. They [the Taliban] used to support cricket too. Then their regime ended and the new government was put in place in 2001, [and] then there was nothing for cricket in the country. But, regardless of our adversities, we continued played cricket.”
Nabi also pointed out that while in the initial years of the country’s rehabilitation post the end of the Taliban rule, basic infrastructure was, indeed, lacking for the sport, it did thrive among the youngsters.
“Because there were a lot of people who had returned back from refugee camps in India, Pakistan and Iran, lots of boys used to play cricket,” he said, before adding that the locals who had stayed on in Afghanistan, during the war in the country, didn’t have any idea about this game that had fascinated the younger generation. “When we used to play cricket, people used to ask us, ‘Why are you playing this? This is Pakistan’s game.’ They didn’t know the game had originated in England. So, there was not much support offered [from the people] and that was also a problem.”
Perseverance does have its way of getting through, and it’s with more than a token amount of nostalgia that Nabi compares his country’s cricketing past to its steady rise through the sport’s ranks. Even as he acknowledges this development as a steadfast commitment of the players to make it count as international cricketers.
“[Slowly], the Afghan government started supporting us. They started to believe that the boys [who had taken up cricket] had talent and could go far. Now, grounds have come up, there’s a [cricket] academy and throughout the year, tournaments are conducted, ” the Kabul native shared. “So, now going back and thinking about that time and where we are now, the difference is as big as between the earth and the sky.”
Is the IPL the catalyst to spur on Afghanistan’s cricketing pace?
The IPL has, thus, come to be an effective bridge for these two players – and perhaps several more in the forthcoming years – to draw in more youngsters from their nation towards cricket. Moreover, after the struggle they have had endured to get themselves placed in the IPL player auction, it can only get easier for other Afghani players further along.
Talking about the way his teammates and he made it through to the final list of players in the IPL auction list, Nabi said, “This year, the Afghanistan Cricket Board took a lot of effort and drew up a contract [with the Board of Control of Cricket in India] and managed to get five of our players in, and we two got selected in the first round of auction itself.” Nabi couldn’t hide his pride about being selected as he continued on, “So, for us [players] and for the Board it’s a matter of huge pride. And, we are performing too, so we are making our country proud too, as it will help Afghanistan cricket to grow.”
In their own way, Khan and Nabi have then been a source of inspiration for the rest of cricket’s order to learn from. But, what about the exposure they have gained from the IPL?
Speaking about the learning curve from their maiden IPL experience, both Khan and Nabi then had similar thoughts. “[I have learnt] how to play under pressure, without losing control over my bowling. I am getting to learn a lot and I will get to learn a lot more in these last few days remaining in the IPL,” Khan mentioned, while Nabi shared, “There are different situations [in matches], to which the players have to adapt. I have got to learn from the way, the bigger players handle pressure in different moments. I have learnt how to take the game forward in tough situations.”
Going by their words, it’s not hard to guess that, while there’s a lot of action awaited in the IPL for the Sunrisers, Khan and Nabi can’t wait to carry on their IPL lessons onwards into the regular cricketing season. And, along with Afghanistan cricket being at the receiving end of their IPL narrative, the rest of the game’s lovers will also enjoy the newly improved side to the still-growing cricketing nation.