Javed Ahmadi loves to watch Dangal. The movie appeals his emotions. The fight of the Phogat sisters, Geeta and Babita, and their eventual triumph inspire the Afghanistan opening batsman. (India vs Afghanistan Live Cricket Score)
Ahmadi was born in a refugee camp at Peshawar in 1992. His father owned a variety store at Kunduz but the Civil War in the early 1990s forced an exodus across the border. As Afghanistan play their first-ever Test in Bangalore from Thursday, Peshawar deserves an honourable mention as the breeding ground for rich Afghan cricket talent.
“I played cricket in Peshawar. But I learnt the game a lot more after returning to Afghanistan,” Ahmadi said, speaking to The Indian Express at Chinnaswamy Stadium on Wednesday. But like many other Afghanistan cricketers, his love affair with cricket began in the refugee camp.
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For the underprivileged, tenacity and fighting spirit are probably the two biggest currencies. Ahmadi learnt that quickly. The hard grind made him mentally tough. In fact, when the refugees returned home, after Hamid Karzai assumed power at the turn of the century, they brought in a positive vibe to a war-torn country. “Afghanistan had been going through the post-war trauma. People were nervous,” Ahmadi recalled. Cricket gradually became an antidote to despondency.
“We participated in various tournaments (ICC League) and started winning. Every Afghanistan victory lifted the mood of the Nation. It kept our flag flying. Consistency made cricket Afghanistan’s No.1 sport. Everyone started loving this game. As cricketers we earned a lot of respect in our country, which we didn’t have in Peshawar.”
In 2006, Ahmadi left the refugee camp and went to Kabul to be part of the Afghanistan U-15 team. That was when his journey began as a cricketer.
Six years later, he was captaining the Afghanistan colts in the ICC U-19 World Cup in Australia. He finished as the highest scorer for his team — 285 runs in six matches at a strike-rate of over 100.
Former Australia fast bowler Geoff Lawson was the Afghanistan U-19 coach for the duration of the tournament. Ahmadi still holds him in high regard. “I have seen many coaches. But Geoff Lawson was one coach who struck an instant camaraderie with the players. The effort he put in to make us better cricketers was simply amazing.
We always had talent. Geoff Lawson helped us realise our full potential. He gave us confidence. To me, he is easily one of the best coaches in the world,” Ahmadi voiced in unfettered praise. He debuted for the Afghanistan senior team at the age of 18, in an ODI against Scotland at Rotterdam. Batting at No.3, he was dismissed after scoring only three runs off seven balls. In the next eight years, though, Ahmadi has played 38 more ODIs and three T20 internationals. He is now settled as an opener, modelling his game on Rohit Sharma.
Ahmadi speaks four languages. Pashto is his mother tongue, while Farsi is also an official language in Afghanistan. Cricket tours have made his English workable and the Bollywood films did a serious value addition to his Hindi. The interview to this paper was a jolly mix of English and Hindi.
On the cusp of history, he considered himself lucky. “I’m a very lucky man. I have enjoyed being part of this team and tomorrow hopefully I will play my first Test match, against the best Test side in the world. I’m just a little concerned about the weather.”
Afghanistan had to curtail their practice session on the match eve because of a sharp shower. Forecast for the next five days is not very encouraging either.