Naveen-ul-Haq: 'I'm backing myself to bowl against anybody and just do what worked for me'
After being the top wicket-taker in the Vitality T20 Blast, and stints in various leagues, the Afghanistan quick bowler is raring to go in his first senior World Cup
As a kid or as a teenager, when you start playing cricket and then you captain your Under-19 side in a World Cup, you dream of all this, representing your country in the men's World Cup also. So, yeah, it was a dream since childhood. I started playing cricket when I watched Afghanistan qualify for our first T20 World Cup, which was in the West Indies, I think [in 2010].
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I remember we played against India and South Africa. It wasn't as competitive as we are now in T20 cricket, but it was our first World Cup and the team qualified, so it was a joy to watch that tournament.
Growing up, I always looked up to him. He inspired me to take up cricket and fast bowling. Not everybody is lucky to play a World Cup with someone who was his hero or idol during his childhood. So it will be a great experience for me.
Nowadays there are stats, videos and footage available, so I don't think it will be a positive or something like an X-factor for me. I'll do whatever I've been doing for the last two, three years. I just have to concentrate on the basics and focus on the things that have worked for me rather than thinking about who has faced my bowling before or hasn't. We haven't played against the Indian players, but we have played against a lot of other teams and some of us have also played alongside a lot of the guys in T20 leagues, so nowadays you know the [opposition] players well.
I've always had this action since I started cricket. I've just done little tweaks on it, adjusted some things here and there because of back issues and injuries coming back in 2015-16.
Yeah, it does [affect the preparation] and does not help the team. But our team was preparing back home earlier - we had camps in Kabul and Nangarhar. The other guys like Nabi, Rashid and Mujeeb [Ur Rahman] were part of IPL teams and I was in the CPL. So there were about five, six players who were busy in league cricket. The Pakistan series postponement we couldn't do anything about, and then Covid struck again in Sri Lanka. They had to go into lockdown and we had to deal with visa issues.
It was actually my first experience playing in English conditions, I hadn't been there for club-level cricket or on national duty for Afghanistan. So I was looking forward to it, enjoyed every bit of it, and luckily finished as the top wicket-taker of the tournament.
To be honest, it has become normal for me to bowl two overs in the powerplay and then two at the death. This has become my role in T20 cricket - that's why Leicestershire brought me in to do this job. Luckily, I did well there and it wasn't a strange thing to me. Wherever I go now, I'm told to bowl in the powerplay and at the death.
Before that [two beamers] happened, I think I had bowled three overs for about 17 runs and I bowled well, but I don't know what happened during that over. I couldn't figure it out, because normally I don't bowl beamers - I don't remember when I bowled one before that game. It slipped out of my hand. I bowled two no-balls and we lost the match.
Yes, I've worked a lot on my slower balls. In the Blast you play a home game and then an away game against the same opposition. Once, when I played one team, they started targeting my slower balls - they were standing back and waiting for them. This stuck in my mind and I worked it out during the tournament that if teams are standing back for my slower balls, then I will bowl fewer.
Yes, we've also been watching the IPL, and the UAE is like a second home to us - we've played a lot of cricket here. All the Afghanistan players know the conditions quite well; you need to come up with slower ones and variations on these pitches. The pitches will only get slower, [as you can see in] the IPL games also. So we need these variations to do well at the back end of the innings or after the powerplay. Whoever varies his pace or length well, I feel their team will do well. As a T20 side, we have that in the back of our minds.
Afghanistan has been known for their bowling attack lately but now we also have a few good batters coming up. So we are a strong side. We have more variations or experience [than some of the other sides]. We have Rashid, Mujeeb, Nabi, and I'm quite hopeful that we will do well with this bowling line-up in these conditions.
I was born in Kabul and then we had to move to Pakistan for some time because of our condition back home. I didn't start playing cricket there, I was just going to school there for five, six years. I started taking cricket seriously and watching cricket when I was back in Afghanistan.
After Covid struck, the only tournament that I played with some [attending] crowd was CPL and there was some crowd in the UK for the T20 Blast too. I was asking other players about the [challenges of] bubble life also. They said it is very difficult and it gives you mental stress and you get tired of it. I earlier felt like I didn't feel any [stress] doing this, but once I came to Abu Dhabi from the UK it struck me, and now I also think it is hard. It is just six days [of quarantine] but I feel fatigued now. So, fingers crossed that I come out, relax a bit and start training. But, yes, the bubble life is now getting to me.
Nothing new (laughs). I think I've finished watching everything on Netflix and Amazon Prime. I don't know what to do next, but I'll find a new hobby for myself to keep me busy in the bubble.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo