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Afghanistan's two-year leap

13 Jun 2018 CricBuzz

Afghanistan's phenomenal cricketing journey has been replete with instances of them rising up the ranks through unconventional methods, and against the odds. But through it all they've managed to grow in stature rapidly. The year was 2016... A day before the first-ever Pakistan Super League game, Mohammad Nabi posted a selfie with Kevin Pietersen on his still-to-be-verified Twitter page. His excitement at putting the picture up was given away by the questionable resolution of his frame. A week later, in a chat with Cricbuzz, Nabi revealed that he'd been waiting for that moment since December 22, 2015. Nabi remained unsold till the last round of the silver category on the second day of the first-ever PSL draft despite Peshawar Zalmi owners' pre-draft indication of interest. Nabi followed the auction from his hotel room in Dubai, where Afghnistan were training ahead of an ODI series against Zimbabwe. Then Quetta Gladiators drafted Nabi in, uniting the affable Afghanistan all-rounder with his "always favourite player". Nabi, like many others before him, found himself levitating towards the KP phenomena post Ashes 2005. A year later he bowled "a few deliveries" to Pietersen while playing for the MCC Young Cricketers in 2006 and there he was, a decade later, on the same team as Pietersen. Nabi set out to milk every little ounce of his three weeks with the Quetta franchise. He shadowed Pietersen at practice, usually pairing up with the England cricketers at the net session. When he bowled in games, he had Pietersen at mid-off or mid-on to chat with and fondly recollected even the little nuggets of information the Englishman passed on. "Pietersen reminded me of Misbah-ul-Haq's reverse sweep and got me to take a fielder away from the leg side and bowl with both point and short third-man. We could keep Misbah quiet that way" Nabi recollected. Later in the tournament, when Nabi scored 15 off the final over with a last-ball boundary to help Quetta chase down Lahore's 201, Pietersen was among the first to run in and offer his congratulations. It was, as Nabi recalled, a moment of great fakhr (pride) "I felt so lucky that I could get praised by own hero." Nabi's cherubic enthusiasm during PSL 2016 intrigued even Sir Viv Richards, Quetta's team mentor, who sought Nabi out to learn about the cricketing state of affairs in Afghanistan. Even in 2016, with Afghanistan just about beginning to get regular international games and real star players like Rashid Khan or Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Nabi set his vision clear for the team. "Whatever I can learn from all the big players in PSL I can then take it to Afghanistan. I can then tell our players in Afghanistan this is what is international cricket. Because our main target is to become a Test nation." Fast forward to June 2018... A surprise visitor to the Indian training camp a couple of days before their Test match in Bengaluru was Shivil Kaushik, the chinaman bowler with a unique frog-in-a-blender action who has played for Gujarat Lions in the IPL. On a request from the Indian team management, Shivil turned up in the morning in a bid to help the Indian batsmen get accustomed to picking mystery spinners from their hands. For Afghanistan have a few in their line-up for the Test match and Shivil would probably be good practice to pick the spinners from their hands. Little did Shivil know that by the end of the day, it was he who would leave spellbound. His duty with the Indian team done, Shivil stayed back voluntarily to watch and train with the Afghanistan team. There was one man in particular that he was keen on picking the brains of. No surprises that it was Rashid Khan, widely acknowledged as one of the best going around. Shivil got his chance at the end of the day, a good ten minutes with the man himself in a chat. During that time, Rashid with the help of a cricket ball, showed him just why he is so successful. "He has five different grips! He showed me all of them and it was amazing," Shivil told Cricbuzz before excitedly explaining what he had seen. There is one with the thumb, index and middle finger being dominant. There is one more where the ball is held primarily between a widely split middle and ring finger, there is one where he holds the ball with four fingers but keeps the thumb out of play, there is one where he holds it 'seam up'. The fifth one is something that Shivil says he can't even get a grip of. "In no over does he bowl the ball with the same grip," says Shivil with wide-eyed amazement. When prodded if he thought he'd be able to replicate something like that, Shivil was honest in admitting that he wasn't even thinking about it. "He's [Rashid] had no formal coaching and he's picked all of this right from his younger days," Shivil says. And on a more thoughtful note, he adds, "With training, maybe (I can too)." Rashid, like Nabi, is no stranger to picking the brains of his peers. During the IPL last year, it was South Africa's Imran Tahir who he exchanged notes with. But his graph, much like Afghanistan's has gone on an upward surge quite rapidly. In a tweet, Sachin Tendulkar called him the best spinner in the world in the shortest format. Now, the learners have also become teachers. ShareTweetShareRELATED STORIES

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