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Russell Jackson

Shapoor Zadran, cult hero

The Afghanistan fast bowler is an example of the exuberance the Associates bring to the table, but sadly they'll probably not be seen in four years' time

Russell Jackson
Russell Jackson
Shapoor Zadran blows a kiss to the departing batsman, Afghanistan v Sri Lanka, Asia Cup, Mirpur

The sight of long-haired Shapoor Zadran promises to be the one image a fan will remember this World Cup by  •  Associated Press

There is no greater liar than the memory of the sports fan. That's why, as has been the case at probably all of the last four World Cups, this one has added healthily to the literary genre of cricket nostalgia. In the realm of nostalgia, facts blur.
Falling within the 28-40-year-old cricket fan demographic as I do, I place more stock than I should in cult heroes of the 1992 World Cup. My mental image - and that apparently shared with literally millions of others - is of offspinning opener Dipak Patel celebrating wickets, and the pinch-hitting Mark Greatbatch cutting a glorious six at Eden Park. In my memory, he gave every single delivery that treatment.
Never mind that Patel took only eight wickets in nine games, placing him behind 19 other bowlers (poor, neglected Anderson Cummins…), nor that he didn't always open the bowling. It doesn't matter that Greatbatch's apparently whiplash-inducing 313 runs came at what would now be considered a middling strike rate of 87.92; these men still feel deserving of our adulation.
Part of this can be attributed to youth, of course. My most depressing moment this week came upon the realisation that 1992-issue Mark Greatbatch - who looked like mid-'80s Gene Hackman back then - was during that tournament actually three years younger than I am now myself. There comes a point when sportspeople stop looking like the grizzled father of one of your friends. Greatbatch sat in the sweet spot.
What I'm failing to get to here is that the older you get, the harder it is for cult heroes to really imprint themselves on your imagination. You miss out on some of the magic. Or so I thought until I watched Afghanistan paceman Shapoor Zadran marking out his ludicrous run-up at Manuka Oval last week. This tournament is only two weeks old, but Shapoor is my man and that's not going to change. Chris Gayle made 215 against Zimbabwe, Tim Southee took 7 for 33 to embarrass England, but still I haven't wavered and I won't.
Are there kids out there thinking the same thing about Shapoor? Are grown adults as giddy as me about the sight of him charging in like the love child of Shoaib Akhtar and Brendon Julian? I hope so, but more on him in a minute.
The story of this World Cup so far is the Associate nations. I hope that remains the case, even when we lose our minds during the final series in which only Ireland of the Associates is a serious chance to compete. The momentum of the Associates discussion started with a beautiful little book - Second XI by Tim Wigmore and Peter Miller, two true believers in the ability of the Associate nations to thrive against the traditional powerhouses and firm advocates of cricket broadening its horizons.
Released on the tournament's eve, the book got people reading about, thinking about and talking about Associates, which was a very good start. It didn't necessarily change my mind, but it strengthened my resolve that cricket needs to stand up for itself and its entire community, not just the popular kids. I'm sure it strengthened the resolve of others, as did the fighting words of Ed Joyce and Phil Simmons. People are writing about it. People are talking about it.
I want to watch the guy with 1990s Keanu Reeves hair limping back to his 40-yard run-up in agony, turning towards a better-paid and better-prepared batsman and charging back in with fire in his eyes
Even better, though, is the fact that in this tournament so far - a tournament that is being slashed from 14 to ten teams next time, remember - the Associates have in one notable case beaten and always at the very least pushed the Full Member nations. There have been some embarrassing performances in this World Cup but none so far by the Associates. Now there are petitions. Sign them. Make your friends sign them.
Back to Shapoor, though - at the World Cup final this guy needs a podium of his own. We should carry him to it in a sedan chair. With Hamid Hassan - he of the shambolically executed cartwheels, colourful warpaint and Karate Kid headband - Shapoor has formed the most genuinely entertaining fast bowling combination I can remember in World Cup cricket. I struggle to think what both of them would have become, if not fast bowlers. WWE wrestlers? Heavy metal guitarists? Bond villains?
These two embarrassed Sri Lanka, they scared Bangladesh, and they did it not with a smile - because wide eyes and toothy smiles are a trope with which so-called minnows are always condescendingly put in their place - but with rage in their eyes. Big, dumb fast-bowler rage. It made me love them. It made me fearful of leaving my seat lest something dangerous or remarkable happened. I was right to think that, because remarkable things did actually happen. If these two are on TV, settle in.
When this World Cup is done I'm going to remember Shapoor just like I remember Patel and Greatbatch - exactly like a kid does. Cricket can stick its statistics and it can stick its commercial imperatives. I want to watch the guy with 1990s Keanu Reeves hair limping back to his 40-yard run-up in agony, turning towards a better-paid and better-prepared batsman and charging back in with fire in his eyes, earnestly trying to remove his head from his shoulders.
If we don't stop them from taking that away - from robbing us of unlikely heroes and making us feel like children again - who exactly are we?

Russell Jackson is a cricket lover who blogs about sport in the present and nostalgic tense for the Guardian Australia and Wasted Afternoons. @rustyjacko