“It will be interesting to notice how Asgar Stanikzai uses Mujeeb in the game, but he and Rashid bowling in tandem is certainly going to be a sight to watch out for in this historic fixture”
So, here comes the greatest day for Afghanistan cricket. The war-trodden nation is all set to play at the highest level against the No.1 one Test team in the world. As the world looks forward to Bengaluru’s M Chinnaswamy Stadium, the spirited Afghans are hoping to give India a tough challenge. And their best chance of troubling the Indians is through their three quality spinners — leggie Rashid Khan, off-spinner Mohammed Nabi and the teenage mystery spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman.
Amongst the trio, the 17-year old Mujeeb, who had an impressive maiden Indian Premier League (IPL) season for Kings XI Punjab (14 wickets in 11 matches) earlier this year, is also making his First-Class debut on Thursday. Hence the occasion is even more special for him.
Recently, the author got in touch with the youngster on the sidelines of Afghanistan’s T20I series against Bangladesh in Dehradun. Mujeeb can’t speak English or Hindi. So, he communicated through an interpreter and revealed his excitement for the much-awaited Test debut.
“I was in Bengaluru during IPL [ahead of KXIP’s second match of IPL 2018]. I was confident that my name will be there in the Test squad. So, at that time I prepared myself for the Test match. I saw the wicket, got used to the conditions. I prepared my mindset for the Test match, because I had been thinking of the Test match even during the IPL, and had practised for four days in at the ground,” Mujeeb was quoted as saying by his interpreter.
Mujeeb’s teammate, Rashid is arguably the best leg-spinner in the world right now. In white ball cricket, he has been a revelation of late. So, bowling alongside him must be a privilege for a 17-year old. Well, the soft-spoken tweaker revealed his emotions.
“He [Rashid] is world No. 1 [in T20Is] bowler. So, you get the feeling that you are playing alongside world No. 1. And in the team, I am very close of Rashid and Nabi. So I will continue to learn from them,” Mujeeb said.
In an earlier interview, the Afghan finger spinner explained how he learnt to bowl the ‘Carrom ball’ through watching videos of Ravichandran Ashwin on Youtube. Fortunately for Mujeeb, in IPL he played under Ashwin for Kings XI Punjab. And by his own admission, the Indian off-spinner ‘mentored’ him throughout the season.
“Ashwin told me ‘You’re bowling very well. You’re going quite well.’ [He] Told me the areas where to bowl, which a captain normally does,” Mujeeb said. “He also taught me a new delivery, one that he told me would come in handy on the long run. So I’ve been working on that ball after the IPL. He told me it might hurt my fingers a bit and might take a while for me to adjust. Ashwin was like a mentor,” he explained.
Undoubtedly, the IPL exposure has made the youngster a better bowler. He bowled against the best and succeeded. The cricketing world still remembers how he castled Virat Kohli, through his bat and pad. It was arguably one of the balls of the tournament. Now, in his maiden Test, unfortunately, Mujeeb won’t be bowling to the Indian captain as Kohli has decided to opt out of this fixture.
However, even without Kohli, India still have a strong batting line-up and Mujeeb already has his ‘target’ in sight.
“The entire Indian batting line-up is star-studded. So, any wicket will be pleasing. But, to be honest, I would like to target KL Rahul, Ajinkya Rahane as their team relies heavily on them.”
It will be interesting to notice how Asgar Stanikzai uses Mujeeb in the game, but he and Rashid bowling in tandem is certainly going to be a sight to watch out for in this historic fixture.