CHENNAI: The Afghanistan cricket team might have participated in a few World Cups, but for their players Monday will always stand out. The induction of two Afghan players -leg-spinner Rashid Khan, 18, and all-rounder Mohammad Nabi, 31 into IPL, is recognition of the fact that the country belongs to the big league of the game.
Though it was BCCI that had allowed five Afghan cricketers to be part of the auction at the "request" of their CEO Shafiq Stanikzai, the bidding indicated the move to pick two of their players wasn't just about promoting the sport in the country .
While 32-year-old off-spinning all-rounder Nabi (Rs 30 lakh) became the first to be picked by Sunrisers Hyderabad, his teammate Rashid set the stage on fire with teams bidding fiercely for him. Set at a base price of Rs 50 lakh, Rashid was finally bagged by SRH for an incredible Rs 4 crore. There's a sense of the unknown about the Afghan players which may have helped them clinch their deals.
While South Africa's world No. 1 ODI bowler Imran Tahir went unsold, 18-year-old Rashid from an associate country, with an experience of 18 ODIs and 21 T20Is, got the nod. The fact that Rashid had impressive numbers in the recently-concluded Desert T20 championship and in the ongoing ODI series against Zimbabwe helped his cause.
"I feel on top of the world right now. It's been a dream come true. We have faced a lot of struggles coming from Afghanistan. We have worked extremely hard to be where we are now. It's a great day for Afghan cricket and our country . I certainly didn't expect that much. It was a surprise. I thank Sunrisers for picking us. I'm really looking forward to playing in IPL," Rashid, who is currently playing in Zimbabwe, told.
Nabi, who has been one of the pillars of Afghanistan cricket over the last decade, feels cricket will become more popular in their country after this. "It's a massive day for us. We all wanted to play in the elite league. Now we have the opportunity to play. We are eagerly looking forward to it.We have been playing well at the international level for the last two years. Now that two Afghan players are part of the IPL, it will help spread the game in our country," former skipper Nabi, who has played 72 ODIs and 52 T20Is for Afghanistan, said.
As soon as the Afghanistan cricketers woke up to the news, it was celebration time in Zimbabwe and back home. Congratulatory messages flooded in from all quarters. "I have seven brothers and we have our own business back home. I spoke to my family and all of them are so happy about it," said Rashid.
Rashid, who most of his teammates say is "mature" beyond his 18 years, is itching to interact with legendary Anil Kumble and bowl to Virat Kohli.
Stanikzai said Afghanistan cricketers needed this "recognition" and "respect" for the giant strides that they had made in international cricket. "The entire nation is celebrating this day," Stanikzai said.(TOI)
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