He's only 15 but Noor Ahmad is already turning heads with his left-arm leg-spin. As he prepares for a stint with Melbourne Renegades in the BBL, he talks to George Dobell about his journey so far and his hopes for the future.
Tell us a little about how you got in to cricket?
Cricket is the most famous sport in Afghanistan. I used to watch the Afghanistan national team matches on TV and cheer them. I dreamed that one day I would play for my country and I still have that dream now. I played cricket at home with my elder brothers, some of them had played at the local cricket academy too. When my elder brother, Mohamad Noor, saw my passion, love and talent he told me to join an academy in Khost province. Things took off from there.
Where did your talent for wrist spin come from?
I was playing with my brothers at home and I tried to bowl wrist spin and day by day my bowling was getting very good and also I was watching Rashid Khan bowling on TV and learnt too much that way.
How did you discover you could turn the ball so far?
Playing at home with brothers, school friends or in the village, I noticed the batters found it hard to judge my wrist spin and play me easily. That gave me motivation. Then my family sent me to the cricket academy in Khost province.
Do you see your googly as your big weapon?
At the last Under-19 World Cup, I bowled a lot of googlies but I had lost some trust in that delivery, to spin the ball away from right-handed batsmen. So when I came back from the World Cup, I started to work even harder to turn the ball both ways. Now, I can turn the ball both ways and can bowl the straighter one too.
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Are you working on anything in particular?
As a professional cricketer, like in any sport, I find it helpful to just keep going regularly to practice and playing some local matches too in Khost province along with Afghanistan national, A team, and Under-19 players. Working on lines and lengths in match conditions is very helpful. And target bowling. I work on my fielding a lot also.
What is your ultimate dream? Test cricket? World Cups? To be a T20 franchise star?
I work hard to keep performing well and trying to impress selectors so I can represent my country in all three formats. Test cricket is a big dream for every player. Personally I think if you do well for your country, all the world cricket league franchises' eyes are on you to follow you and buy you in their own leagues. We have a live example in Khost, with Mujeeb. He performed well in the Under-19 World Cup and was then bought by Kings XI Punjab in the IPL. A similar thing happened with me. I was selected by St Lucia in the CPL but because of the Coronavirus lockdown I couldn't get my visa in time to play.
Have you ever been star struck? Are you looking forward to bowling to Virat Kohli or AB de Villiers at some stage?
Not so much but definitely watching guys like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Babar Azam, Steve Smith… they are the big stars around the world and are a big inspiration for youngsters who want to follow their path and become like them. It will be a dream come true when I bowl to them. Hopefully I'll get them out too!
Is there anyone you're testing your bowling against?
I tested myself against our national stars - they're all big-hitters - in the Shpageeza Cricket League. I have now had two good Shpageeza League campaigns in 2019 and 2020 [the first was when Noor was just 14] and had good economy rates and wicket numbers, too. I got the Emerging Player Award at my first Shpageeza before playing the Under-19 World Cup. We Afghans have many big hitters in the cricket world and many of them represent different franchises. Bowling to them on a flat surface with small boundaries in Shpageeza… that has given me confidence having tested myself against them. But still I need to work hard day by day, as those leagues are now history.
Orrrrr pic.twitter.com/xI6axpTtIB— Noor Ahmad Lakanwal (@LakanwalNoor) August 9, 2020
Can you describe how big an opportunity the Big Bash is for you and how exciting is it for your family?
I'm feeling like the luckiest cricketer in the world. I've been selected for one of the best and biggest leagues in the Big Bash. At my age, I'm sure the Big Bash League will be a good for me and I will come back home with a lot more experience. I'll learn a lot of things from this league and it will add maturity and confidence in my cricketing life. Of course, my family is happy about it. Every family wants to see their child on the big stage.
Is it daunting deputizing for Imran Tahir? He has an amazing record and, aged 41, is, I guess, old enough to be your dad. He's 26 years older than you, no?
Imran Tahir is one of the greatest leggies in the world so I'm really excited to meet him and having him in the same squad as me. I'm sure he will share with me his experience and I'll learn some things from him at the net sessions. My father is almost 48-years-old.
Are you excited to play in the next IPL?
My biggest dream is to represent the Afghanistan national team. But of course I would love to play in the IPL also. There is no doubt the IPL is the biggest league in the world and every professional cricketer has a dream to play in the IPL.
As a bowler, you ran out a batsman who was backing up too far at the U-19 World Cup. Would you do same again? Maybe in the Big Bash?
In cricket, it's out, but as a fan watching cricket you feel like it should not have happened. I'm sure it won't happen again from my side but I hope all batters at non-strikers' end don't go forwards before I release the ball. If they are still going forwards before I release the ball, I will warn them and tell the umpire but won't Mankad them.
How does Afghanistan keep producing so many talented spinners?
Afghanistan is the home of talent. There are more talents we have and not only with spinners. You will see other talents there as well, Inshallah.
Have you worked with Rashid Khan yet?
Not yet because he's been busy with national team duties and playing different leagues. I hope I have chance to work with him in a training camp in the future and will learn some things from him.
What would you be doing if you weren't playing cricket? School work, perhaps?
Of course, I'd be at school. I am still at school. I'm in the 11th Grade. I won't stop studying. I'll do my studying alongside my cricket career. By the way, I'm at first position in my class from first to tenth class.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo