In a national side with a pair of IPL stars, the talk of the town following Afghanistan’s thumping 138-run win over Ireland on Tuesday was not Rashid Khan or Mohammad Nabi but 16-year-old debutant offspinner Mujeeb Zadran.
Following in the footsteps of Rashid and left-arm wristspinner Zahir Khan, Mujeeb became the latest teenager to make a splash for his country. Afghanistan coach Raees Ahmadzai had no hesitation picking Mujeeb in the XI because, regardless of his junior-level success, the way he had bowled in the nets to the senior squad demonstrated he was ready for the next stage.
“I think it’s a very simple message to everyone. Cricket is like fruit that’s ready to eat. Once you think he can do it, [you pick it],” Ahmadzai said after Afghanistan’s win. “But not one or two games. If you think that he’s ready to play, then give him confidence with not one or two matches but a full series to bring him more confidence. It’s a very bad habit in some countries that some youngster plays one or two matches and then no one can give you any guarantee.
“The best thing is you should give confidence, especially the selection committee, the captain, the team members. Everyone was very friendly with him and supporting him.”
Not only did Mujeeb make his international debut, he was also given the new ball and by the end of his opening seven-over spell he had returns of 4 for 12. Mujeeb’s success at the Under-19 Asia Cup, which included a pair of six-wicket hauls, came by opening the bowling. Speaking through Ahmadzai as a translator, Mujeeb said he had continued to practice bowling with a new ball in net sessions with the senior squad, and was thus comfortable when given the opportunity to open the bowling.
“Thanks to the senior players and they supported me very well,” Mujeeb said through Ahmadzai. “I use the new ball lots of the time in the nets so I have very good control. If I want to bowl offspin or the carom ball or the legbreak, we just focus to bowl wicket to wicket.”
Ahmadzai added: “I saw him for the first time in Khost province two-and-a-half years ago, and I discussed it with Nawroz Mangal [current head of the selection committee], who was then the captain of the provincial side. At the time, I told Nawroz that guy looks like he must be in in the future if he works more on it. He did very well for the junior side and now in his debut match, four wickets is good for him.” Mujeeb’s selection meant experienced left-arm spinner Amir Hamza, who had returns of 1 for 9 in the famous win against West Indies in the 2016 World T20, was pushed out momentarily. Afghanistan also have in their ranks the 18-year-old Zahir – their leading wicket-taker and second overall in the Intercontinental Cup with 31 wickets in six matches – highlighting the depth of slow-bowling options in the national set-up.
Ahmadzai said Mujeeb’s emergence made the competition among spinners more intense, even as he stated he had identified another two or three bowlers in Afghanistan’s domestic tournament who are good enough to play international cricket but are stuck waiting for a turn.
“We are very lucky that we have a good bunch of spinners like Rashid and another option is Nabi and Mujeeb is a young guy,” Ahmadzai said. “He was picked for the national side because of what he did at the Under-19 tournament, twice he took six wickets. In the future we should go with a good combination of spin bowlers and fast bowlers also. We knew Sharjah was very suitable for spinners and that Mujeeb had good ability.
“The good thing is that when I talked with him that maybe it would be your debut match today, he just gave me a very nice smile and I realized he had confidence. It’s good and he showed himself that ‘I’m good enough to play for the national side.’”On the opposite side, Ireland captain William Porterfield said that other than statistical data, they did not have much information on Mujeeb. Having now gotten “60 balls to look at him”, Porterfield said it was up to Ireland to study the footage and come up with a way to counter him for the second ODI.
“We obviously knew they had the young lad potentially coming in,” Porterfield said. “We knew he was in the squad but didn’t know a lot about him. But we’ve got a fair bit now to go on. It’s all about how the other lads prepare, come up with some kind of game plan to play him between now and then. I don’t think it’ll be as big a mystery as it seems. He’s obviously a very good bowler and I think he’s pretty effective potentially with the new ball as well.
“But the lads need to have a method. We’ve got enough information to take through. We didn’t have a lot before today but take nothing away from him. He’s done it in the Under-19 Asia Cup. We know he got wickets in that competition and he’s gone across to the BPL so he’s obviously got something about him but we’ll have to come back stronger and better come Thursday.”