No-one embodies the captivating rise of Afghanistan cricket more than Mohammad Nabi, the captain and heartbeat of a team that is winning the admiration of everyone at the World Cup. (Full Coverage| Points table| Fixtures)
Afghanistan may be one the weakest teams at the World Cup with no real hope of winning the tournament but that hardly seems to matter.
Just making it to the sport’s greatest spectacle is a victory in itself for a country torn apart by war and with little cricketing heritage.
Adversity is a part of life for Afghanistan’s cricketers and for many, including Nabi, the sport became their salvation.
Like most of his team mates, Nabi grew up in a Pakistan refugee camp during the Soviet War in Afghanistan.
It was there that he first learnt the game of cricket, spending hours each day playing on dirt fields with a tennis ball.
“You play cricket a lot in refugee camps,” he told reporters when he first arrived in Australia this month for the World Cup.
An all-rounder, the long days he spent honing his skills in the dust soon paid off and he began to rise through the ranks of Pakistan cricket.
In 2007, he was invited to play for the Marylebone Cricket Club in England, making his first-class debut that year, scoring 43 and taking one wicket against the touring Sri Lankans.
In 2009, Nabi made his one-day international debut for Afghanistan against Scotland during the qualifying tournament for the 2011 World Cup.
Nabi was named man of the match after top scoring with 58 runs. Afghanistan won the match but did not qualify for the World Cup. That would have to wait another four years.
Afghanistan had more success in Twenty20, qualifying for the 2010, 2012 and 2014 World Cups. They did not make it past the first round but Nabi made an impressive 31 against India in 2012.
In 2013, Afghanistan clinched their place in the 2015 50-overs World Cup, after a two year qualifying tournament, sparking wild celebrations back home.
But Nabi was given a first-hand reminder of the reality of the hardships in his troubled homeland. At the same time as he was trying to help his country qualify for the World Cup, his father was abducted and held to ransom.
The armed kidnappers demanded a seven-figure payment for his release but were eventually caught after three months and Nabi’s father was freed, unharmed.
It was a worrying time but the 30-year-old Nabi is looking forward not behind, hoping his team’s unlikely appearance at the World Cup will inspire more of his compatriots.
“Now I am the captain of Afghanistan in the first World Cup,” he said. “I am very happy to represent Afghanistan in the World Cup and hopefully I’ll enjoy the whole tournament.”
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