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Mohammad Nabi Interview by Anis Sajan: Fitness, Afghanistan cricket’s progress, MS Dhoni, Steve Smith and more

25 Jun 2020 CricTracker

Mohammad Nabi – It is a household name in Afghanistan for years now. The veteran cricketer has been there for Afghanistan cricket forever and has been through its ups and downs as well. He is the only player to play for more than 100 ODIs for the country and is still going strong in the limited-overs formats. Recalling memorable moments of an illustrious career, Nabi talks about the moments when the Afghanistan team got the ODI status back in 2010. He also speaks about his dream to play Tests for his country and how happy and proud he was when the team took the field against India to make its debut in the longer format. Afghanistan couldn’t win a single game in the World Cup last year but they came extremely close to beating the teams like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and West Indies. Nabi rues the missed chances and feels that they lacked experience. However, he is also confident of turning the tables next time around. The 35-year-old is also quietly confident about doing well in the T20 World Cup scheduled to take place in Australia later this year (if it happens). All this and much more in this interview. Here are some excerpts from the interview: Anis Sajan: How is everything in Afghanistan? Mohammad Nabi: Everyone is in quarantine, but not being strictly followed by the people here. The Afghanistan Cricket Board has started the Camp here for the players. Only 5 players at a time are training in the camp. You can see how tanned my skin has become. Anis Sajan: How do you feel for not being able to play cricket from last 3 months? Mohammad Nabi: Very difficult for someone who plays cricket throughout the year and then asked to stay at home. It is very difficult. And you can’t even do anything about it. Not doing anything for 3 months it is really tough. Started light training from last one week. So the body gets used to it. Anis Sajan: For a sportsperson who plays cricket for 12 months and all of a sudden he doesn’t get to play cricket because of COVID-19 and now he is getting urges to get back on the field. Mohammad Nabi: Absolutely right! Just waiting for any series or tournament to start. So we could get back on the field and start playing again. Anis Sajan: I heard that you did a lot of charity during this Ramadan. Would share more details about it? Mohammad Nabi: We started this charity MNF a couple of years back. I have 3 friends who are also associated with this and we work together. This Ramadan we worked really hard and got funding from our friends as well as from people outside. This Ramadan we managed to distribute food to over 2000 families. So, our foundation is trying to do regular work like this for people over here. We will make a strategy on how do we continue to do this with proper funding so people could support their families. I have a few more friends who will be joining us and we will try our best to do whatever possible. Anis Sajan: You are doing a good job. I remember you did something similar in January during the winters in Afghanistan. Mohammad Nabi: Yes, we did something similar in winter. We raised funds to help people. We do small things like this regularly. And one day we will have a bigger foundation than what it is today. Anis Sajan: You made your debut in 2009 and it’s been 11 years this April. And you are the first Afghanistan player to get the man of the match in the first match itself. Do you remember that innings with Scotland? Mohammad Nabi: Yes, I do remember the match and in the same series our team got the ODI status. So, our first match against Scotland and felt very proud to get the man of the match in the first match itself. Anis Sajan: What is that one thing that Afghanistan did that other teams in the Middle-East like UAE, Oman who have been playing cricket for a very long time now? Afghanistan is the only team that came amongst the rank of big teams quickly. Whom would you like to give this credit too? Mohammad Nabi: Firstly, all our players are professional cricketers who only play cricket and not work somewhere else. Secondly, we had this unity between 15-20 players who have been playing together since 2004. A combination was already set at that time. So, even when new players come into the team there are still those 5-6 players to guide them. We are trying to keep our unity intact amongst the players. When there is no unity in the team, they can’t win any matches. Since then we had this unity amongst players and we were only playing for our nation. And whenever we used to go play any ICC tournament, we never used to go just play but win. We never used to look back, but look always ahead and go with the spirit of winning. This used to keep us motivated and it was always team effort not only by the ones playing but also by the ones who were on the bench to support the team and win matches. So, the combination, the unity and the spirit for the nation which was present. Because of this, we succeeded so quickly. Anis Sajan: I would like to ask that you are the only one player for Afghanistan to play over 100 matches. To be precise 135 ODIs. What is the secret behind fitness? Mohammad Nabi: Now I have become old, Anis bhai! (Giggling) Since 2014, I have been playing non-stop cricket. Whichever league I used to play I used to try and keep myself fit. Initially, I used to be a spin bowler which didn’t put any pressure on my body but used to get exhausted while I used to do batting and bowling. Whenever I used to get a week off in between, I used to train very hard. Currently, I am doing the same thing. Whenever I used to travel to play any leagues I used to still practice even when I was not playing on a particular day. I used to give my 100% on the field and because of which my body got used to it. Anis Sajan: It has been an 11-year journey you have played so many leagues Like IPL, CPL, Big Bash, Bangladesh league and almost all leagues in the world. Every league has its own identity but which is that one league that you would like to talk that made Nabi and International star? Mohammad Nabi: It is Afghanistan that has made me a big star which showed the world there is a player by the name Mohammed Nabi. Then IPL. But first Afghanistan because of which I got to play in IPL and got a lot of exposure even after I didn’t play enough matches initially compared to other leagues where I played more matches. I kept on performing there which also justified my selection in IPL. Anis Sajan: Important thing that I would like to highlight to our viewers. In whichever league Nabi has played his team has gone to the knock-out stages. Would you like to call yourself as a lucky mascot to the team you represent? Mohammad Nabi: Yes, It’s true where ever I have played the team has qualified for the semi-final or at least till knock-out. Even in IPL, the team ended in finals or knockout in top 4. In CPL played twice and ones qualified for the final another knockout. Big Bash the same way. Maybe it was luck. Anis Sajan: Then it would not be wrong to say Nabi is the lucky factor for whichever franchise he is playing? Mohammad Nabi: Maybe, luck plays an important role but whenever I play whether it is for my country or for any franchise I give my 100% and the almighty gives me success. Anis Sajan: Afghanistan has started qualifying for the World Cup since 2010 if I am not wrong in the T20 World Cup. Mohammad Nabi: Yes, It was the T20 World Cup in the Caribbean. Anis Sajan: In the last ODI World Cup in 2019 there was a time where you were about to win 3 matches against the 3 Asian teams Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan? Mohammad Nabi: We nearly won against Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India and even West Indies but lost those games because of lack of experience in the squad. We could have won our match against India and even Pakistan we had a good chance. Like I said earlier, we lacked experience and towards the end we were not able to win the game with our bat or with the ball when the team needed and because of which we lost those games. Insha’Allah next time we will try and win those games. Anis Sajan: I am very much sure in the next world cup you will change this trend. Like you said you were close to winning. Now the T20 World Cup future is uncertain and up to the almighty but if  ithappens what role would you like to play? You usually bowl in the power play what is that quality that makes you bowl so well? Mohammad Nabi: Insha’Allah if the world cup happens this year in Australia, Our team will definitely perform well because most of the pitches over there are suited for batting. There are pitches for bowling but majorly favours the batsman. The ball comes on to bat properly and most of our players are power-hitters. So if we score over 150-160 runs then our bowling is good enough to defend the score. As many T20 matches I have played I have bowled in the power play. I bowl 1 or 2 overs in power play as the ball is new and I get 2-3 variations with that I see that is a strong position and judge how he is going to play and at the last minute, I change the bowling style. In an over I can bowl all 6 balls in different styles. Anis Sajan: You have enough experience of the Australian wickets because of playing so many matches in the Big Bash. Mohammad Nabi: Yes, not just me 3-4 other players from our team have played over there. Zahir Khan has played. Rashid Khan has played, Qais and even Mujeeb Ur Rehman from the national team. We have experience of playing on those pitches from last 2-3 years and InshaAllah the team will perform well. Anis Sajan: Just like Pakistan is known for producing the best fast bowlers, India is known from best batsmen. How Afghanistan does manage to get such amazing spinners? Like now we have Rashid, Mujeeb, Qais and you have always been there? Mohammad Nabi: Bowlers like Rashid and Mujeeb have not learnt the skill anywhere. Even Zahir, the china-man bowler he is also a natural spin bowler, even the other bowlers are not learning the skill form anyone. If you look at Mujeeb, he has so many variations like carrom ball, Googly, off-break. Rashid is a normal leg-spinner but he is quick in the air. Zahir Khan bowls quicker than Rashid. His wrong-one. These qualities are unique and because of which they have been successful Anis Sajan: So, is Cricket now number 1 sport in Afghanistan because I remember football used to be number 1? Mohammad Nabi: Now cricket is number 1 sport in Afghanistan because we have now played World Cup 4-5 times and because of which the game has got a lot of exposure. The more number of youngsters these days are playing cricket these days. Anis Sajan: Afghanistan, has also got the Test status now. So, how was the experience of playing the first Test? Mohammad Nabi: Playing Test cricket was always my dream. In many interviews, I have always said that it is my dream to play one Test match before I retire. And thanks to the almighty I played 3 matches and out of which we won 2 games. It is a very proud moment for me and after which I took retirement from Test Cricket. So, the youngsters get a chance to make them self-ready for the future. Anis Sajan: If you take retirement from the white ball cricket in 3 years would you like to take up the coaching role for Afghanistan? Mohammad Nabi: Have not planned yet, If I want to be a coach or not. I am trying to get as much International experience and pass on to the young generation. From the 20-22 years’ experience, I have of playing cricket at the highest level in the academy which I am planning to start. Train the youngsters from now or later. Anis Sajan: I would like our viewers to know that Nabi has a strike-rate of 140+ in T20 cricket. And Nabi is also known as a finisher! What is that thing that you do that puts bowler under pressure when you are batting? Mohammad Nabi: Finished only a few games and got it close the winning many times. I had no idea about the strike-rate, till the time you mentioned it. Anis Sajan: International 142 and in general the strike-rate is 145. Mohammad Nabi: Oh that’s quite a lot. Anis Sajan: That is the reason I am saying the bowler must be scared when he is coming to bowl to you that Nabi can score 15 runs in an over. Mohammad Nabi: I always look at the run-rate required and always start taking singles from the first ball. First to settle in and the score at a run-rate of 10-15 in an over. And when you are in a flow you tend to get one lose bowl from the 6 balls. Rapid Fire Anis Sajan: Who according to you is the no. 1 batsman? Virat, Steve, Williamson or Joe Root? It is Smith these days, I guess! Anis Sajan: Who is your favourite Bollywood star? Shahrukh, Salman or Aamir Khan? Aamir Khan Anis Sajan: What is your favourite Afghanistan food? Kabuli Pulav or Afghan Kebab? Both Anis Sajan: Rashid Khan as a leg spinner of Afghanistan or China-man Kuldeep Yadav from India? Who do you think is the most difficult to bat against? Rashid Khan. Sometimes, I am also not able to pick his deliveries while playing. (Giggling) Anis Sajan: One fast bowler you found difficult while facing? Someone who would surprise you with their pace, swing and deliveries? I have played a lot of fast bowlers. But till now I have not got that fear that he will hit me or dismiss me. But never felt that fear till now. You die when you fear….it is that simple. Anis Sajan: What is that one thing that makes Sunrisers Hyderabad, the IPL team special? It is known for its team unity, not very big names in the squad. Is it Tom Moody, VVS Laxman or Warner who keeps the team together? The team officials always try to keep united. They make the team keeping the opposition in mind even if the player is in form will be dropped to get the player who is needed more the next game. So, that player also tries to perform and because of which the team has been successful. They provide you with proper training, proper fitness and other activates to gel players with each other. Anis Sajan: Your favourite player from Sunrisers Hyderabad? Kane Williamson. Anis Sajan: Dubai or Melbourne? What do you like the most? Both are nice. But Melbourne has amazing weather. It changes 4 times a day. The heat will get you in Dubai when you come in June-July. Nov-Jan is fine for Dubai. Anis Sajan: Who gave you this title “Mr President”? It was Kevin Pietersen. We both were playing for Quetta Gladiators and I won 1 game for the team where we needed 16 runs in the last over. It was my last match as I was going for the Zimbabwe series while we were going back to the team hotel. Kevin said Nabi is the next President of Afghanistan. He used to call me as President while he was doing the commentary. Anis Sajan: Who is the World’s best coach? I have played under Tom Moody, Phil Simmons and even Stephen Fleming during T10 for Delhi bulls and everyone has the same pattern for coaching because all the players that came to play for the franchise are professional cricketers. So, there is hardly anything you have to do. I have played with all 3 coaches and they follow a similar coaching style. Anis Sajan: Your favourite Bollywood actress? Not a fan of any. Anis Sajan: One thing you carry on the ground to eat with you when you go to play…to keep you fit? Dry fruits or something? When I leave from Kabul, I carry 12-14Kg of dry fruit with Zafran. I have it after the game so it helps me relive the body and mental stress and helps me relax. Anis Sajan: If you would have to say about MS Dhoni in one line what would that be? Mohammad Nabi and MS Dhoni. (Photo Source: Twitter) MS Dhoni is the best, calm and a great human being. The doors of his room are open 24*7 for everyone where he has tea with people and talks to them. I have met him 2-3 times and he is really a nice man. Anis Sajan: How are you keeping yourself fit during this quarantine period? Didn’t do anything in the last week of Ramadan and have gained weight, after Eid started training again and lost the gained weight. We are getting our body used to it as we might play against Zimbabwe in July. Anis Sajan: One last message you would like to give to everyone. Follow the guidelines given by the health authorities. Wash your hand regularly, Maintain social distancing, wear mask, it is very important. The number of cases are increasing, so the only message that I would give is take this seriously.

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