Under-19 World Cup 2014 February 19, 2014

'Learned English since I knew I'll have to give interviews'

Mohammad Mujtaba knew cricket would be his ticket to fame, and ensured he would be ready when the world's media came calling. Just as well, because his consistent batting has made him a post-match staple
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Mohammad Mujtaba saw it coming and he had prepared for it. The Afghanistan Under-19 opening batsman knew, as a teenager, that cricket would be his ticket to fame. He knew that one of the attendant demands of an international cricketer would be to face the media not just from his country but from overseas too. This was why Mujtaba made a conscious effort to learn English, not just to communicate better but also to leave a lasting impression that goes beyond his cricket skills.

The hours of practice were proving fruitful for the 18-year-old, who had already had the spotlight on him for two matches in a row. His knocks of 75 and 50, against Australia and Namibia respectively, won him Man of the Match awards, and its recipient, as is usually the protocol, fronts up to the media after the game. The confidence which his batting radiated bounced off in the way he articulated himself in a language that's alien to many in his country.

"I was always learning English because I knew that one day I will play for Afghanistan and I will have to give interviews," Mujtaba said. "At home, I would talk in English with my brothers and sisters, and with anyone who could speak the language, in order to improve my English. I even took private lessons."

Private coaching was more important than school itself, for he dropped out at 15 to focus on his cricket. His parents wanted him to balance cricket with studies, but he was "adamant" about his preferred career choice. Therefore, he moved from his hometown of Lashkar Gah, in southern Afghanistan, to the capital Kabul, to further his cricket.

Mujataba stands out from the pack in his family as none of them are into sports. His parents gradually accepted that his stubbornness would lead to something rewarding.

"Cricket was in my blood when I was in school. I wanted to play professional cricket from childhood," Mujataba said. "I started with the tennis ball. When I got permission from my parents I went on to play professional cricket."

Being media savvy is something many sportsmen can take for granted. There are several examples of shy, tongue-tied cricketers who overcame the language barrier over time, some gaining enough confidence to do commentary stints after retirement. A high-profile recent example is Sri Lanka's Dinesh Chandimal, who sat out last year's IPL to work on his batting and media training by working on his English. Chandimal, who hails from a humble background, was made the T20 captain and knew that speeches in presentations and press conference were inevitable.

Mujtaba's bigger impact has been with the bat. His 75 against Australia set up a stunning 36-run win which gave Afghanistan the belief they could make it to the quarter-finals after all, following their sorry showing against Bangladesh. The next opposition, Namibia, may have been easier, but a challenge was thrown open to Afghanistan. Having restricted Namibia to 192, they needed to chase it within 34.4 overs to ensure qualification as it would help them edge ahead of Bangladesh's net run rate.

Mujtaba smashed 50 off 30 balls, 44 of his runs coming in boundaries, and though he couldn't stay till the end, he set the platform for the rest to build on. Afghanistan needed just 25.3 overs to storm into the quarter-finals for the first time in the U-19 World Cup and give Bangladesh a few headaches just a shouting distance away at the Zayed Stadium.

"The coach gave me the message straightaway that this is the target and these are the overs you have to chase it," Mujtaba said. "Whatever it is, if we win the match in 35 to 40 overs we will be out of the tournament so we had to chase it in 31 overs, and just play our shots.

"The plan was to get them (Namibia) out below 150 but their captain (Gerhard) Erasmus played a magnificent innings of 84."

Mujtaba said the relief was palpable that the juniors had done some justice to their ability by making it to the next round. The senior team recently qualified for the 2015 World Cup.

"It feels great because this is the third time we have qualified for the World Cup and we couldn't go past the second stage earlier," Mujtaba said. "This is the first time it is happening so we're feeling good. We are ready for the challenges. The conditions are in our favour. We are competing with every overseas team."

The team recently lost a three-match series in Pakistan in the lead-up to the World Cup and Mujtaba said complacency was to blame in their opening defeat to Bangladesh, against whom they failed to pick up a wicket. He said his side failed to play its natural game.

As the team started winding up at the Nursery Oval pavilion, a few of his team-mates teased Mujtaba while they walked past him during the interview. So long as he continues winning awards, he will remain the team's unofficial spokesperson.

Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on February 25, 2014, 23:02 GMT

    Focus on your cricket not English Inzimam scored 20,000 International runs and was not well versed in the English language. Wish Asians will stop judging each other based on how well we speak English.

  • mshyder on February 21, 2014, 1:57 GMT

    I am pretty sure that if given enough chances the Afghan senior team will do much better the BD in a very short time.

  • shiviverma on February 20, 2014, 14:00 GMT

    great performance by these young lads... i'm hoping to see firework performances from them...

  • Udendra on February 20, 2014, 12:36 GMT

    Ya, at least he'll be left with English, if cricket takes him nowhere.

  • on February 20, 2014, 12:28 GMT

    great job young men we are proud of you!!! but the job is far away from done.i hope we do well in quarter final.. Good luck

  • sabee66 on February 20, 2014, 10:09 GMT

    Far better than bangladesh

  • DRS_Flawed_NeedsImprovement on February 20, 2014, 7:58 GMT

    if hard work along with little luck favours him, he could open for afghan seniar team in upcoming asian cup. Sure!

  • on February 20, 2014, 7:17 GMT

    keep it up bro. You've a bright future and by the way, thanks for making us proud. We've showed that Afghanistan is not only about war but it's a counry full of love & talent. Respect :)

  • Meety on February 20, 2014, 6:31 GMT

    Wow, blown away by the maturity if this young man. Would love to see cricket clubs around the Test playing worlds give him a go for a season or two. He would be a good addition for the MCC. What a credit to Afghanistan!!!!!!!

  • on February 20, 2014, 5:55 GMT

    Love and respect from India. Time for Afghans to raise again after their tragic past. The power and cash hungry cricket boards and politicians can do whathever they want, but they should realise its GAME OF CRICKET that brings success stories like these and not them.

  • on February 25, 2014, 23:02 GMT

    Focus on your cricket not English Inzimam scored 20,000 International runs and was not well versed in the English language. Wish Asians will stop judging each other based on how well we speak English.

  • mshyder on February 21, 2014, 1:57 GMT

    I am pretty sure that if given enough chances the Afghan senior team will do much better the BD in a very short time.

  • shiviverma on February 20, 2014, 14:00 GMT

    great performance by these young lads... i'm hoping to see firework performances from them...

  • Udendra on February 20, 2014, 12:36 GMT

    Ya, at least he'll be left with English, if cricket takes him nowhere.

  • on February 20, 2014, 12:28 GMT

    great job young men we are proud of you!!! but the job is far away from done.i hope we do well in quarter final.. Good luck

  • sabee66 on February 20, 2014, 10:09 GMT

    Far better than bangladesh

  • DRS_Flawed_NeedsImprovement on February 20, 2014, 7:58 GMT

    if hard work along with little luck favours him, he could open for afghan seniar team in upcoming asian cup. Sure!

  • on February 20, 2014, 7:17 GMT

    keep it up bro. You've a bright future and by the way, thanks for making us proud. We've showed that Afghanistan is not only about war but it's a counry full of love & talent. Respect :)

  • Meety on February 20, 2014, 6:31 GMT

    Wow, blown away by the maturity if this young man. Would love to see cricket clubs around the Test playing worlds give him a go for a season or two. He would be a good addition for the MCC. What a credit to Afghanistan!!!!!!!

  • on February 20, 2014, 5:55 GMT

    Love and respect from India. Time for Afghans to raise again after their tragic past. The power and cash hungry cricket boards and politicians can do whathever they want, but they should realise its GAME OF CRICKET that brings success stories like these and not them.

  • Lees_Legends on February 20, 2014, 5:49 GMT

    Cpt.Meanster Afghanistan has ODI status. Thanks!

  • on February 20, 2014, 5:18 GMT

    they are the romantic story of world cricket, well done kids. I hope them more & more success in future, because it will start giving a better signal back home and it will be crucial to change gun culture to sports culture. I believe in 10 years from now, Afg will be a team to reckon with. Whatever issues with Big-3 proposal were, but biggest positive is that Afg has real shot to get Test status

  • DAfghan on February 20, 2014, 4:21 GMT

    Proud of Guys, Keep it up and come back with the Shining Trophy

  • class9ryan on February 20, 2014, 1:43 GMT

    Afghanistan on the rise at all levels, I hope they can get better than teams like Ireland, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and start playing Tests atleast from 2020.

  • Cpt.Meanster on February 19, 2014, 23:02 GMT

    Well done young man. Afghan cricket has a bright future. The ICC should give ODI status to Afghanistan soon.

  • on February 19, 2014, 22:45 GMT

    i wish all the best to afghanistan..u guys have a great future...you will be one of the top teams one day...just work hard...good luck to afghanistan..

  • on February 19, 2014, 19:10 GMT

    we r proud of you brother.

  • on February 19, 2014, 19:01 GMT

    Future star of Afghanistan .Good luck in Quaterfinal

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • on February 19, 2014, 19:01 GMT

    Future star of Afghanistan .Good luck in Quaterfinal

  • on February 19, 2014, 19:10 GMT

    we r proud of you brother.

  • on February 19, 2014, 22:45 GMT

    i wish all the best to afghanistan..u guys have a great future...you will be one of the top teams one day...just work hard...good luck to afghanistan..

  • Cpt.Meanster on February 19, 2014, 23:02 GMT

    Well done young man. Afghan cricket has a bright future. The ICC should give ODI status to Afghanistan soon.

  • class9ryan on February 20, 2014, 1:43 GMT

    Afghanistan on the rise at all levels, I hope they can get better than teams like Ireland, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and start playing Tests atleast from 2020.

  • DAfghan on February 20, 2014, 4:21 GMT

    Proud of Guys, Keep it up and come back with the Shining Trophy

  • on February 20, 2014, 5:18 GMT

    they are the romantic story of world cricket, well done kids. I hope them more & more success in future, because it will start giving a better signal back home and it will be crucial to change gun culture to sports culture. I believe in 10 years from now, Afg will be a team to reckon with. Whatever issues with Big-3 proposal were, but biggest positive is that Afg has real shot to get Test status

  • Lees_Legends on February 20, 2014, 5:49 GMT

    Cpt.Meanster Afghanistan has ODI status. Thanks!

  • on February 20, 2014, 5:55 GMT

    Love and respect from India. Time for Afghans to raise again after their tragic past. The power and cash hungry cricket boards and politicians can do whathever they want, but they should realise its GAME OF CRICKET that brings success stories like these and not them.

  • Meety on February 20, 2014, 6:31 GMT

    Wow, blown away by the maturity if this young man. Would love to see cricket clubs around the Test playing worlds give him a go for a season or two. He would be a good addition for the MCC. What a credit to Afghanistan!!!!!!!