Sharjah: The rise of Afghanistan cricket had been one of the most fascinating stories in sport — and it’s the likes of Mujeeb Ur Rahman Zadran who has made it what is. Hardly 18, the lanky Afghan spinner stands with a dream in his eyes as one of the most precocious talents walking onto the global stage.
Mujeeb — playing for the Nangarhar Leopards in the ongoing Afghanistan Premier League (APL) in Sharjah — was last week signed by Brisbane Heat to join Brendon McCullum as the two international players for the next edition of Cricket Australia’s Big Bash. Last year, he made his debut in the Indian Premier League (IPL) as the youngest players with Kings XI Punjab.
"My focus is to just deliver what I am capable of. Whether it is for my country or for any other team, I believe in myself, try my best and try to stay consistent."
- Mujeeb Ur Rahman Zadran
“I am very happy with the way I’ve started. It was always a dream for me to play for my national team and in the IPL and the Big Bash. I am truly blessed and excited that I am realising all my dreams so early in my career. The IPL and the Big Bash are similar. They are big competitions that pose a big challenge. Right now I am pleased to see the way I have started. I just want to go there and play, enjoy my game and see where I stand,” Mujeeb told Gulf News in an exclusive chat.
“Honestly, I don’t think too much. My focus is to just deliver what I am capable of. Whether it is for my country or for any other team, I believe in myself, try my best and try to stay consistent,” he added.
After the demise of his dad with heart complications when he was barely three months old, Mujeeb’s mum moved with her four sons — Habeeb, Khaleel, Jameel and the infant to her parents’ mansion in Khost.
After watching the 2012 ICC T20 World Cup, young Mujeeb was inspired in taking his cricket seriously at his first cousin and Afghan national team player Noor Ali Zardan’s academy in Khost.
The academy had been started to cater to the cricketing needs of the huge Zadran clan in the region and the eager Mujeeb started off as a pace bowler. However, one day at the nets, the teenager foxed his cousin with his variations and turns. The national team player cajoled Mujeeb into trying spin and since then he never looked back.
While honing his skills at the academy, Mujeeb put in the extra effort in watching youtube videos of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ajantha Mendis among others to see how he could improve his art. When former player Raees Khan Ahmadzai, senior advisor to the Players’ Selection Committee on the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) made a trip to Khost, he was quick to recognise the talent.
“I started travelling and winning various tournaments with my cousin [Noor Ali], and in a matter of months everything changed for me,” he recalled.
Last year, just two months after making his debut for the national team, at the tender age of 16 and 325 days, Mujeeb became the youngest player to take a five-wicket haul in a One Day International match. In June this year, he travelled to India to play Afghanistan’s first-ever Test match in Bengaluru.
“There have been a lot of changes in my life and in my lifestyle since the past few months. The idea is to stay simple, smile a lot and enjoy what I am doing. There has been a lot of publicity, and this has led me to curtail some of the things I used to do in the past, like going out with friends. I realise that life will never be the same again for me. But I also realise that I have a full career before me and I will have to make the necessary adjustments,” he shrugged.
“It is but natural that everybody will want a part of me, but my focus is to work hard, play cricket and just be myself and be the best I can,” Mujeeb added.