Asia Cup 2014

The incredible life of Mohammad Nabi

Like the team he leads, Afghanistan's captain Mohammad Nabi has enjoyed a staggering rise in the world of cricket

Mohammad Isam in Dhaka

February 26, 2014

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Mohammad Nabi hits out, Afghanistan v India, World T20, Group A, Colombo, September, 19, 2012
Mohammad Nabi is eager to challenge the bigger sides © ICC/Getty
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Players/Officials: Mohammad Nabi | Taj Malik
Series/Tournaments: Asia Cup
Teams: Afghanistan

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

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Posted by indianzen on (March 4, 2014, 18:54 GMT)

you guys are true warriors... soon, another dominating Asian cricket country is going to arise...

Posted by   on (March 1, 2014, 16:22 GMT)

Congratulations Afghanistan! well played guys, hope you all can build on this now. From Sri Lanka.

Posted by   on (February 27, 2014, 16:36 GMT)

it is so pleasing and satisfying to see the rise of Afghan cricket and with it some big names from those who are destined to oblivion by Tyranny and destiny itself. There are so much emotions attached with their rise. I pray to God. please help them in fulfilling their endeavors. They also are playing the game in its right spirits. They are aggressive by nature but magnanimous by manners. yeah!!! they are the real representative of real Afghanistan which is always in news for all bad things.

God speed Captain.. Way to go...

Posted by rashivkd on (February 27, 2014, 11:59 GMT)

I remember the six he hit against Zak over the cover, not many can do with that ease. He is a true thinking cricketer and that is what is lacking in even big cricketing nations now a days. Go ahead man..! You deserves to be a well known cricketer at the end.

Posted by Dinkepo on (February 27, 2014, 8:57 GMT)

As an Indian fan and true circket lover, i seen Afghan cricket team has lot of talents in bowling,batting as well as fielding, we can't expect first class finishing with such unmatured team whom played in home only and seldom exposing overseas condition,hope one day they able to lift Asia Cup even WC too but everybody should support them and give opportunity to grown up with international community, as a human this everyones responsibilty,

Good Luck Afghan friends.

Posted by   on (February 27, 2014, 7:50 GMT)

Tears flow in my eyes to see how much hardships these guys have gone through. Respect brother *your fan from Germany*

Posted by Proteas-13thman on (February 27, 2014, 7:26 GMT)

I hope to see Afghanistan grow into a great cricketing nation ;-)

Sport achievement can go a long way to help rebuild a nation. I am south african and have witnesses it first hand as mandela lead the way ;-)

God be with you Afghanistan ;-)

Enjoy every moment

I am sure many South Africans that follow cricket would love to see you guys give the big boys an upset ;-)

Posted by   on (February 27, 2014, 6:26 GMT)

all the best to afghan team show fight against big guns

Posted by Rahul_78 on (February 27, 2014, 5:49 GMT)

I have seen most of Afghan internationals in close quarters playing club cricket in UAE. This is a serious bunch of cricketers at par with anyone in International level. Dont be surprised if you see individual brilliance of a quick fire century or burst of 5 wickets from any one of them. What they are lacking is experience of playing big oppositions in big tournaments. Thankfully they will get that invaluable experience in this tournament. No one should take them lightly specially in sub continent. Dont be surprised if they bat second against Pakistan and dew becomes a factor we might be in for a very close game. Surprised to see the exclusion of all rounder Gulbadin Naib from Afghan squad. He is a class act and a future star.

Posted by   on (February 27, 2014, 3:07 GMT)

Mohd Nabi has been my favourite player from the start. He is a brilliant all rounder and capable of hitting huge shots against any opponent. A very solid captain

Posted by siddhartha87 on (February 26, 2014, 18:33 GMT)

i have seen Nabi live.This guy is a serious 6 hitter

Posted by   on (February 26, 2014, 17:09 GMT)

Nabi is the star player in Afghanistan, and is playing international level cricket. He will be a glittering star in the sky of Asia Cup in both Bowling and Batting sections. Good Luck Afghanistan....

Posted by BAHADURI on (February 26, 2014, 16:19 GMT)

Best of luck to Afghan Team and Afghanistan talented captain "Mohammad Nabi".

Posted by Arif.Dost on (February 26, 2014, 16:08 GMT)

Naib is Great Player . In Shah allah He will be Play Good Game In Asia Cup . . .

Posted by MJ-Sid on (February 26, 2014, 16:00 GMT)

Good luck Nabi. I am a big fan of yours in the US. Keep your head held high and play your natural game without taking any pressure. You have all the skills an allrounder can hope for.

Posted by Azooz-Afgfan on (February 26, 2014, 12:53 GMT)

Nabi is a great leader tbh i'm sure he will shine in Asia cup .

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