The incredible life of Mohammad Nabi
It is hard not to appreciate Mohammad Nabi's candor as he shares the story of his life. You can get carried away with the excitement, find moments of humour and also a few instances of dread.
In Dhaka, leading Afghanistan in their maiden appearance in the Asia Cup, he gives the media some first-hand knowledge of his side and their goals in the tournament, before moving on to speak about his cricketing journey, that extends to more than the 27 ODIs and 22 T20Is.
Nabi's story is so dramatic it needs little embellishment and the Afghanistan captain recounts it simply, without much emotion. For the everyday cricketer, perspective is not routine. But when you are a cricketer from Afghanistan and you have to head back home, even a celebration can make you a little nervous. He speaks in a matter-of-fact way about how the team was concerned about security, even as they were soaking in the ecstatic celebrations following their qualification for the 2015 World Cup.
"It was a lot of fun as we went back to Kabul," he says. "The path from the airport to the stadium was filled with people. The stadium was packed, people stood in the road with flags in hand. They were chanting Afghanistan zindabad [Long live, Afghanistan].
"We were all under security. We were a little fearful of a bomb blast but nothing happened, because the government had arranged for very good security. And then the Afghanistan Cricket Board threw a big party."
He turns grim when he speaks about his father's kidnapping last year, an ordeal that spanned two months. Travelling in Ireland at the time, Nabi was advised by his family to stay away.
"I don't know why he was picked up and held to a ransom of $2 million. They were just local goons, no political connections.
"I was in Ireland at the time and badly wanted to come back. My family told me to stay back. The government helped find my father, because they caught the kidnappers. They saved my father."
Nabi hails from a well-to-do family that moved to Peshawar in Pakistan, seeking a safe haven from the Soviet War at home. An efficient allrounder - a strong middle-order batsman who can bowl flighted offspin - Nabi's rise, like Afghanistan's, has been staggering. He has been at the centre of the side, whether they played in Pakistan's domestic competitions or during the ICC's World Cricket League Division Five, from where Afghanistan began their rise to the international stage.
Nabi has remained the backbone of the side that qualified for the World Twenty20 in 2010, 2012 and 2014 and, recently, the 2015 World Cup. At 29, and sporting a Mitchell Johnson-esque moustache, Nabi is in his second stint as captain, after taking over in March last year. He has overseen rapid changes in Afghanistan's cricket but has remained calmer than most.
He made his competitive debut against Rahim Yar Khan Cricket Association in Pakistan's erstwhile Cornelius Trophy in 2003 and made 61, after having just met most of his team-mates.
"I don't remember it too well. I think I made 61, the highest score," he said. "The others couldn't play well. It was a new team. I only knew Nawroz Mangal and a few others. I had heard their names but never met them before."
Four years later, he blasted 43 in just over an hour in his first-class debut for Marylebone Cricket Club against Sri Lanka A. He made a century in his maiden first-class match for Afghanistan too, 102 in just 97 minutes. Making a habit out of starting well, Nabi's 58 was Afghanistan's top score in their inaugural ODI against Scotland, in 2009.
Nabi has also played club and domestic cricket in England, Pakistan and Bangladesh, where he has enjoyed varying success but has gained in experience. He remembers how he followed the star players who played at Lord's when he was with the MCC.
"I never knew I would play in such tournaments. I was in MCC for two years," Nabi says. "We used to play matches at Lord's. We used to see the big stars, learn from them. Last year I played in the Bangladesh Premier League, it was such a great experience. I played well, was in the top two bowlers."
Expanding on his experience of the BPL, he talks of how he planned to avoid a Chris Gayle onslaught in the tournament last year. He didn't concede any sixes that evening, going for just 17 runs in four overs and later picking up the prized wicket of Gayle after he had plundered to a century.
"Ahead of our knockout game against Dhaka Gladiators, I told myself that whatever happens, I won't get hit by Chris Gayle. I bowled well that day, and got him out in the end."
Nabi also credits the contributions of current and former team-mates who played a part in the rise of the Afghanistan side and his own development as a cricketer.
"This is the fruit of all our hard work," he said. "We couldn't have reached this level had the boys worked any less. We would have been languishing in any of the ICC divisions, had we not worked hard enough.
"We are happy with our effort of the last few years. We have done something to reach this level. We wouldn't have been here otherwise."
He has fond memories of working with former national coach Taj Malik, described by Tom Wigmore in this piece as: "the temperamental, eccentric but supremely enthusiastic national coach who is regarded as the father of Afghan cricket for his insatiable commitment to it". Malik was a mentor to Nabi and the two often catch up in Kabul.
"He is a great man. He introduced me to the team for the first time. He has gone into Tableegh now," he says. "I meet him from time to time when I go back to Afghanistan. We don't talk about cricket."
In a way, Nabi and the team are living Malik's dream. When Afghanistan played Pakistan and Australia, their first matches against Full Member sides, they lost both games, but the defeats, according to Nabi, helped them judge their position as a cricket team. Against Pakistan, Afghanistan were out for 197 and eventually went down by seven wickets, while Australia beat them by 66 runs
"We played well against them. Those were not one-sided games, which was a good sign," Nabi says. "But there is a huge difference between teams with 50-60 years' history and a team that has played for a few years in international cricket.
"There was a lot of difference, they have a lot of experience. We are talented and although we lost out to experience, I am sure within the next five to seven years, we will be challenging them."
Nabi now wants his team to have the experience of playing in the Asia Cup and then the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand next year.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here