I first met Mohammad Nabi in England in the summer of 2007. I had driven from Stoke-on-Trent to Arundel to play a three-day match for MCC against Sri Lanka A. If you’re playing league cricket in England, first-class matches are fairly hard to get by and I was excited at the prospect of my maiden first-class match in England.
It was Nabi’s maiden first-class game too. He was a man of few words, till of course I arrived, for he wasn’t fluent in English. We ended up chatting during the course of the match.
He was spotted by the MCC during their visit to Afghanistan and was given a scholarship for the summer.
The MCC sponsored his stay in England and also gave him opportunities to play at a decent level. He was made to go through a rigorous fitness regimen during the weekdays and would get to play matches for a local club in London on weekends. In between, there were a few matches for the MCC, like the one we played.
It was his first-class debut and I expected him to be nervous. Nabi was anything but that. I realized that I was more keyed up for the match than him.
Nabi knocked everyone for six, and literally. He opened his account with a whopping six and carried on in the same vain to score 43 (3x6) before trying one too many. I’m sure not many players can boast of getting off in their first-class career with a six. If that wasn’t enough, he opened his account in the second innings with a six too.
I happened to be at the other end this time around. He came in and was visibly struggling against some disciplined fast bowling. He scratched around for a while before exploding. He sent the fast bowler way over the mid-wicket fence to get going.
It didn’t take long for Thilan Samaraweera, the Sri Lanka skipper, to put most of his men on the boundary. This is when I told Nabi to take singles and milk the bowling. But his reply left me bewildered.
"I will hit fours and sixes if you tell me to, but singles are not my cup of tea," Nabi told me naively. Eventually, he holed out in the deep for 18 (2x6).
I felt sorry for him since he had built his game differently. More so, because he had not been told the importance of rotating the strike.
I chatted with him a bit more after the end of the day’s play. He told me how most Afghan cricketers actually live on the other side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
They would cross the border to play on concrete surfaces, long to become a part of mainstream cricket and how they narrowly missed out in their last attempt.
I’m happy to see Afghanistan managing to breakthrough on the map of world cricket.
I am backing Nabi to hit his quintessential sixes and also hoping that he’s learnt to rotate the strike.