'We are a lesson to youngsters back home in Afghanistan'
On April 5, Mohammad Nabi, 32, was visibly thrilled to see his Afghanistan team-mate Rashid Khan, the first player from the country to play in the IPL, take his first wicket, against Royal Challengers Bangalore. The teenaged Rashid regards Nabi as an older brother. Aside from the mutual respect, though, there is plenty of good-natured banter between the two, who are both part of the Sunrisers Hyderabad franchise in the IPL, as was evident through this laughter-filled conversation.
After both of you were picked up in the IPL auction, who was the first to give the other a treat?
Nabi: (laughs) I think when we were selected for IPL, it was early morning six o' clock [in Zimbabwe, where Afghanistan were playing]. I went to Rashid's room to congratulate him for being picked up for Rs 4 crore [approximately US$615,000]. He was in shock. He was like, is it a dream or what? I said it was a part of cricket, part of life.
Didn't your Afghanistan team-mates ask you for a party?
Rashid: Actually, they didn't. We were busy for the last three months; there was continuous cricket. So we didn't get enough time to celebrate, to throw such parties. Hopefully after the IPL, we will have some.
Since you were constantly on the road, did you have a sense of how people back home reacted?
Nabi: Everyone in Afghanistan was waiting for the IPL auction. When we were selected for Sunrisers Hyderabad, everyone was calling and messaging, especially people from our cricket board - the chairman, the CEO. There were calls and messages from family and friends to congratulate us, and tell us that it was a wonderful achievement for us as well as the country.
Who was the first person from the Sunrisers Hyderabad franchise to congratulate you?
Nabi: I think Tom Moody, the coach, congratulated me on Twitter on behalf of the Sunrisers family. He was the first.
Rashid, do you remember your first day with the franchise when you got here? What was the welcome like?
Rashid: When I landed here in the night of the first of April, they came to the airport and took me to the hotel. It was a nice gathering here in the hotel and they gave me a good welcome. It was a good night and I really enjoyed it.
What have your interactions with the rest of the Sunrisers team been like? Have you made new friends?
Nabi: All team-mates are very good and very supportive. It is like a good family. Starting from the players - the big names like [David] Warner, Yuvraj [Singh], [Shikhar] Dhawan and [Kane] Williamson - and the support staff, everyone is very good and keen to talk to you.
Nabi, when Rashid took his first IPL wicket against Royal Challengers Bangalore the other night, the cameras were on you. We saw that your arms were aloft and you looked absolutely delighted.
Nabi: It was a very good feeling to see an Afghan playing in the IPL for the first time. He would have been under a little bit of pressure as well, because it was a huge crowd and it was a good opposition. When he got his first wicket, I don't know what happened to me. I started celebrating. It is a good start for his tournament and for his career.
Nabi tweeted saying he was flooded with happiness when you were picked in the auction. Is he like an older brother to you in the team, Rashid?
Rashid: Yeah, exactly. I have been with him in the national side for the last one and half years, and he has supported me from that time. He always motivates and supports the youngsters who come into the team. He gives us time and supports us to play good cricket. He has supported me through my career and I really enjoy playing with him and spending some time with him. So it is great for me to have Nabi in the IPL as well.
Nabi, Rashid looks like a calm fellow, but does he have a mischievous streak?
Nabi: No. Right from the time he came into the team, he has been very quiet. He is a really nice guy as well and not that much naughty at all. All the time he is just focused on his cricket. Off the cricket field, he is just a silent guy.
Rashid, tell us something about Nabi that the wider world doesn't know about - some sort of an inside secret.
Rashid: I think there is nothing secretive about him, nothing that people don't know. What you see is what he is. I don't think there is anything he hides from his people.
What are your first memories of meeting Nabi? Do you have recollections of watching him play before you met?
Rashid: I met him when we were in the academy and he came there. We had already watched him in the T20 World Cup. The innings which I really love is the one he played against Australia in Sharjah. I have great memories of him from that innings. When I met him, it was again a wonderful day because he is like a star in Afghanistan.
Nabi, did Rashid tell you that he was a big fan of yours?
Nabi: Ah, yeah. The coach said he was a good talent and a promising youngster. When he was bowling to me, I could see that he was very quick through the air but the line and length was not in the correct area. I just told him, you have good talent and you must work hard and get into the national side very soon. After a few months, he was selected in the Under-19 team.
Did you also tell him that his action was similar to Shahid Afridi's?
Nabi: (laughs) Yeah, when he gets a wicket, he goes like Shahid Afridi [in unleashing the Starman celebration].
Have you ever had a chat with Afridi, Rashid?
Rashid: I actually had a chat with Afridi while I was playing in the BPL.
Actually, it is just my own style [of celebration], you know. He celebrates with two hands and I celebrate with one hand, so it is a little bit different. Yeah, I like him and grew up watching his bowling and that of Anil Kumble. Both were good legspinners and were quick through the air, so I was always watching their videos and learning from them.
Who were your heroes growing up, Nabi?
Nabi: Many heroes, yaar. Kevin Pietersen is my idol, and then MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli.
What's the story behind your Twitter handle, Nabi? There is a 007 in there. Are you a James Bond fan?
Nabi: Ah, no, I was looking for 07 but 007 popped up as an option. That's why I picked it.
But, you are a big fan of Aamir Khan, aren't you?
Nabi: Yeah, Aamir Khan is good.
Do you guys do anything together when you have some downtime?
Nabi: When we are not training at the nets or swimming, we are resting in our rooms. Otherwise we are with our families.
Speaking of family, your wife said some time ago that she wasn't very impressed with you being away for long periods of time. Now that you are also going to play in the CPL, you will be away for longer. How is she taking it?
Nabi: Ah, the wives of all the players are unhappy that we are away all the time, playing cricket! Also, my kid is going to school, so the family can't travel with me. That's why it's a little bit of a problem. It's a busy year for me this time. From here I go straight to the West Indies for three ODIs and three T20s. After that we will be back home for a month before going to Lord's for a match in July. After that I have a little bit of time at home before the CPL starts.
You also have home games in Greater Noida [outside New Delhi]. How are you coping with all the travel?
Rashid: We have been busy for the last two years with continuous cricket. We played in the UAE and we went to Zimbabwe for five ODIs, and then came here and spent one month [in Greater Noida for Afghanistan's "home" matches] and now the IPL. So it has been quite a long journey for us. But, you know, too much travel is difficult only in the beginning. Once we got used to it, we became more relaxed, and now we are actually enjoying it.
The Afghanistan practice session usually features many intense football games. Who is the best player in the team?
Nabi: Football isn't allowed in our warm-up sessions any longer; it has been banned. Some players picked up injuries, so we didn't want to take the risk.
Have you ever played buzkashi [the national sport of Afghanistan which resembles polo, but with ball replaced by the carcass of a goat]?
Nabi: Not so far. It is a very tough game. You have to be a good rider and have a good pick-up as well.
If you guys could play football for a club side, which one would you pick?
Rashid: I think I will pick up… I forgot the name.
Nabi: [I will pick] Barcelona.
Rashid: [I will go with] Real Madrid.
So you will go up against each other?
Rashid and Nabi: Yeah, yeah. (laugh)
If a Hindi film were to be remade with both of you in it, which film will you pick and which parts will you play?
Rashid: I will choose Dangal.
Nabi: Yeah, Dangal is the best.
And Nabi will play Aamir Khan?
Rashid and Nabi: Yeah.
So Rashid, you get to play the nephew who gets beaten up and chided by Aamir Khan throughout the movie?
Rashid: Yeah, exactly. (both laugh)
I am going to put you on the spot here, Rashid. Both Nabi and Hamid Hassan have developed a lovely new hairline. Whose hair transplant do you think worked better?
(both laugh) Rashid: I think… both are nice.
Okay, Nabi is sitting right next to you, so you have to be diplomatic.
Rashid: No, no, I think both are looking good with that.
Is that a cue for everybody in the team that is losing hair to go the Nabi or Hassan way?
Rashid: Exactly, it is a good message for all. Once you lose your hair, you have a good example to follow. (both laugh)
Nabi, tell us how popular Rashid is with the girls back in Afghanistan.
Nabi: I think he isn't popular. He is studying now. He is a star hero only from the last one year.
Nabi, you seem to be enjoying playing snooker with the Sunrisers team. You seem to have done well.
Nabi: Not that well, but it's a team game. There were three teams playing against each other. But I was looking good. (laughs)
Rashid: He can play well.
Do you think you are a better player, Rashid?
Rashid: No, I don't think I am good. I can only hit the white ball.
Which other game do you like play?
Rashid: I love playing badminton and also football.
Do either of you cook? Who is the better cook?
Nabi: No, but I barbecue sometimes.
Of the places you have travelled to, which ones do you like best?
Rashid: I have visited Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and all those places, but I love Scotland. I think when we were in Scotland, it was the Ramzan month and we were fasting every day. So we were unable to go outside and enjoy things. We were in the room all the time.
Nabi: It is good, yeah. Dubai is best.
On a more serious note, how big an influence do you think you are on the kids growing up in Afghanistan?
Nabi: It is a big lesson for the youngsters back home in Afghanistan. We are both good examples to them that Afghanistan have good talent as well, and if there is no violence in Afghanistan, everyone will come up.
Rashid, you tweeted a video a few months ago of you joining a group of fans for a game of street cricket in Afghanistan. What is it like to be appreciated at such a young age, as you are?
Rashid: When we were travelling for a match, I saw on the way that kids were playing with the tennis ball. I told the driver to stop so that I could enjoy a game of cricket with them. When I went there, it led to many great moments and they really enjoyed the game with us.
Being a youngster, it is always good to perform. It is a great message to all the youngsters back in Afghanistan that if you work hard and believe yourself, you can reach wherever you want to. So it's a good example for all those youngsters who have just started playing cricket. They should believe in themselves, and not think that it is Afghanistan and nobody is watching me. If you play well and work hard, you can achieve everywhere.
Have both of you learnt the Sunrisers team song?
Nabi: It is very difficult.
Rashid: When we won the match, they were singing [the team song] in the dressing room. But, we didn't understand, so we were just shouting with them. (both laugh)
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun