'Tears came into my eyes' - Nabi
Afghanistan allrounder Mohammad Nabi could hardly contain his emotions upon becoming the first player from his country to secure an IPL deal, going for his base price of INR 30 lakhs to Sunrisers Hyderabad. Nabi previously played in the Bangladesh Premier League and Pakistan Super League, but said that getting a chance to go to the IPL would be entirely different.
"This is the happiest day in my life," Nabi told ESPNcricinfo from Zimbabwe, where Afghanistan are currently playing a five-match ODI series. "I'm very happy [Sunrisers Hyderabad] picked me. A little bit of happiness tears came into my eyes as well when I was selected. It was my dream to play in the IPL and for my dream to come true, that's why I was so happy at that moment."
Nabi woke up at 5.30am in Harare for his prayers right around the time the auction began, and followed the action on a web stream alone in his hotel room. He said he "couldn't control my feelings" when his name first came up on the screen, followed by a bid from Sunrisers management.
Equally pleased for Nabi was Afghanistan Cricket Board chief executive Shafiq Stanikzai, who Nabi says was one of the first to congratulate him. Stanikzai said 150 staffers had gathered at the ACB headquarters in Kabul to watch the auction and that the mood was initially dampened when the first two Afghanistan players - captain Asghar Stanikzai and ICC Associate & Affiliate Player of the Year Mohammad Shahzad - received no bids. But all that changed when Nabi was picked, a moment Shafiq described as "third time lucky", followed shortly by the signing of Rashid Khan.
"I leaped from my chair when the first bid was made for Nabi," Shafiq said. The shouts in other ACB offices only grew louder during the bidding war for Rashid. Shafiq felt having both players make it into the IPL may prove to be a transcendent moment for cricket in the country.
"It is huge, not only for Afghanistan cricket but for the entire nation. Since cricket is the number one sport in the nation, we are on the verge of increasing our participants and making parents allow their children to invest their time more in cricket. This is a huge morale boost and motive for cricket to emerge more.
"Such achievements are giving us more energy and more motivation that we are right in our appeals and our application at ICC level that we want to become a Test nation and a Full Member. The IPL is the No. 1 T20 league in the world, and playing with the likes of David Warner and some of the other greats, being mentored by Muttiah Muralitharan and VVS Laxman, we are quite hopeful and very sure that both of them will perform better and will be ones to look at in the IPL."
Nabi said there may now be increased expectations on him to perform. However, he was hopeful that his BPL and PSL experience would help him, and was looking forward to sharing a change room led by Warner.
"I think there's a little bit of pressure," Nabi said. "The IPL is big, but I have played a few times in the BPL and once at the PSL. It has given me a lot of experience, and inshallah, it will not be difficult to play at the IPL. Maybe the first two games, there will be a little bit of pressure, but after that I hope to play well in the league.
"After the BPL, I played PSL first time and it was my dream to play with Kevin Pietersen in the same team. I think I was lucky to be the first Afghanistan player selected in the IPL auction. It's a dream to get to play with big names like Warner, Williamson, Yuvraj, Jordan and Mustafizur and also a nice coach in Tom Moody and Laxman. Playing with those big names and experiencing that, it will help me in my career and also to share the experience with my team-mates back home."
Having a familiar face in Rashid alongside him may ease that pressure as well. Nabi tweeted his enthusiasm at Rashid's bid and said the 18-year-old legspinner's presence on the global stage to lead the next generation of talent shows where Afghanistan's cricket is heading.
"It's good news that Rashid also was selected in the same team," Nabi said. "He's a nice guy, nice cricketer and also a nice human being. He is elite, and maybe he is showing the whole world there is a rising star in Afghanistan, so I'm very happy he is my team-mate in the IPL.
"Afghanistan cricket have a lot of achievements from the last few years. We're in Zimbabwe and have won the first two games in this series. It's good for the Sunrisers that Rashid will be there and it means that Afghanistan's future is very bright that this kind of youngster is coming through quickly and shining in front of the world. It's a bright and proud future for cricket in Afghanistan."
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna