“Mujeeb is not even 17, but he already has taken the Afghanistan flag high in the air”!
What were you doing at 16?
Talking precisely, at this time when I was 16, I was muddling about with my books for the upcoming grade 12’s board examinations. I was not sure what I really wanted to in the future.
Meanwhile, there is a 16-year-old who has grown up in a way, unlike the usual teenagers. At a very young age, he knew what he wanted to pursue. By the time, he turned 16, he already was living his dream and in fact, with every passing day, he has been working hard to become better than what he was the previous day.
Remember the name, Mujeeb Zadran – Afghanistan’s cricketer, who became the first male to play international cricket who was born in the 21st century. He will be counted among so rare cricketers who played for the Under-19 and senior team at the same time. On Friday, Mujeeb became the youngest cricketer to bag a five-for in an ODI. His maiden five-wicket haul helped Afghanistan dismantle Zimbabwe in the fourth ODI and seal the five-ODI series 3-1 with the final match yet to be played.
Zimbabwe opted to bat first and like always, Mujeeb opened the bowling for Afghanistan and immediately pushed the Zimbabweans to the backfoot. In his first spell, he dismissed both the openers, Solomon Mire and Hamilton Masakadza, leaving Zimbabwe at 15 for 2. He returned to action in the 28th over. In successive deliveries, he removed Graeme Cremer and Kyle Jarvis. Late in the innings, Ervine and Blessing Muzarabani shared a 31-run stand before Mujeeb dismissed the latter to finish his five-for.
The teenager hails from a country that is not calm on the majority of the times. In the past few years, according to the annual report from the United Nations, approximately 10,000 civilians have been killed every year. Just a few weeks back, there were three bombings in the capital Kabul, with more than 130 people dead, and more across the country. It clashed with the same time when their Under-19 team were all set to play their maiden World Cup semi-final. The Afghan boys, whenever an incident like this took place, wore black armbands. Although the armbands were temporary, they had more or less became a significant part of their uniform.
Apparently, in Afghanistan, early mornings are the most dangerous times to venture out in the streets because that’s when there is more of a chance of a bomb going off. Afghanistan’s head coach, Moles, whenever are out for training, travels in an armoured vehicle along. Growing up literally in life-threatening situations like these, Mujeeb managed to make it to the higher level, majorly because of the support he received from his family. Born in Afghanistan’s city, Khost, Mujeeb lost his father when he was a three-month toddler. The responsibility of the family business eventually fell on his mother’s shoulders, who by no means let any trouble come Mujeeb’s way.
The culture of Tape-Ball Cricket from Pakistan was passed on to its neighbouring country Afghanistan too. Every cricket-playing youth was exposed to it in one form or another and Mujeeb was no different. While growing up, he mastered the Tap-Ball-game and spent hours watching YouTube videos of Sunil Narine, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ajantha Mendis on how they grip the ball and flick it. If the videos taught him the art of carom ball, his family members introduced him to googly. He has a big family and most of them are into cricket. His uncle, Noor Ali Zadran, has been a regular member of the national side since his debut in 2009.
“I have a big family and all of them are in cricket, so one day I was batting against one of our family members and I saw him bowl a ball that looked like a leg-spinner, but it actually turned back into me. So then I asked him how did you do that? He explained to me how you flick it from the back of the hand, so I learnt that delivery and started practising in the nets along with my carom ball and off-spinner,” Mujeeb said in a recent interview.
Mujeeb came into the limelight during Afghanistan Under-19’s tour of Bangladesh in 2017. The visitors were thrashed by 145 runs in the opening Youth ODI which prompted talks of a whitewash they would suffer on the tour. The second match ended in no result due to rain. However, Mujeeb turned around the situation with his mysterious spin as he led his side to a win in the final three matches to clinch the series 3-1. He finished the series with 17 wickets, the most by a bowler in a bilateral Youth ODI series.
Afghanistan have always taken their cricket seriously and they have gone out of their way to make their cricket visible. Despite being unstable on the financial conditions, they ensured the Under-19 World Cup was given a live telecast on cable TV in Afghanistan, and the semi-final was shown by the national broadcaster. Although the matches started well past midnight in Afghanistan’s winter, the tournament had an excellent following. In the meantime, the Afghan board decided to elevate Mujeeb to the senior team even before the youngster played a First-Class game. Mujeeb made his senior team debut in an ODI against Ireland, where he finished with match-winning figures of 4 for 21.
Since his debut, Mujeeb has featured in seven ODIs for his country and has not gone wicket-less in even one match so far. From seven innings he has bowled in the 50-over game, Mujeeb already has 18 wickets to his name. Apart from the ODIs, he has played two T20Is as well. After he went wicket-less in his maiden T20I against Zimbabwe, he grabbed two wickets against the same side in the next game.
Mujeeb played the quarter-final of Under-19 World Cup 2018 against New Zealand. With his ability to move the ball both ways, he dismantled the strong BlackCaps side with his superb figures of 4 for 14. Mujeeb’s stars were definitely shinning and thus, one of the teams in a domestic league in India signed him to play. He will receive plenty of cash.
No, Mujeeb is a not a rag to riches story. He spent a lot of years in a haveli during his formative, which had a cricket academy inside it and as well as a zoo. However, Mujeeb has turned out to be a new face of Afghanistan cricket who has dared to dream big. Afghanistan as a country has begun to divert its attention from football to make cricket its No. 1 sport. Now, Mujeeb has begun following Rashid’s footsteps and cricketers like these two will certainly inspire more and more youngsters from the country to fearlessly take up the sport.
Mujeeb, who was inspired by watching his country play in the 2010 World T20, is on the TV himself. From watching Ashwin’s videos on YouTube, Mujeeb decided to spin the ball like his mentor. Mujeeb is not even 17, but he already has taken the Afghanistan flag high in the air!