Dubai teenager living the dream as he rubs shoulders with Rashid Khan and Virat Kohli

Wrist spinner Caleb McLaren picked the brains of some of cricket’s greats after being recruited as net bowler for Afghanistan at Asia Cup

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Given the age of the children at the Rajasthan Royals Academy open day at The Sevens on Saturday morning, Caleb McLaren was not required to offer up much of his new-found expertise.

The South African left-arm wrist spinner has only just turned 17 himself, but was enlisted to help oversee training at the academy of which he is a member.

As it was, the 4- to 8-year-olds were mostly taken with the rudiments of how to hold a bat, as well as making sliding stops across judo mats covered in water.

If any of the kids had asked him for tips on how to bowl leg-spin, he might have said, ‘Well, Rashid Khan was telling me the other day to do it like this’.

Or, ‘This is one of the seven variations Imran Tahir taught me’. Or, ‘When I was bowling at Mohammed Nabi, he suggested I should try this’.

It has been quite the week for the Dubai-based teenager. In his role as a net bowler for Afghanistan ahead of the Asia Cup, he met a number of his heroes in the game.

Although he had a job to do, McLaren acknowledges he was star struck.

“For the first three sessions, Rashid Khan wasn’t there,” McLaren said. “When he arrived, it was a shock. He is a lovely guy and he helped me a lot.

“When I first saw him I was shocked. I was like, ‘This guy is not human, how is he stood in front of me?’ Then, as you get to know them you realise they are just human like anyone else.

“The same with Virat [Kohli]. Yesterday I was bowling and Virat was standing two metres away from me.

“I was literally shaking. He is my idol, and I have always looked up to him. I love Virat Kohli so for him to be there is incredible.”

In his short time in Dubai, McLaren has already had the benefit of a training session with Imran Tahir, the South Africa spinner who is also a resident of the city.

This week he has been chuffed to pick the mind of another great purveyor of wrist-spin.

“I have good days, then I have a session where I can’t land the ball,” McLaren said.

“When I worked with Afghanistan, I asked Rashid Khan questions about what they do when they are in those situations.

“He watched me bowl and I went to speak to him after practice. We spoke for a good half an hour. I asked him questions like, ‘Do you get nervous before you bowl?’

“He said it is normal, and that you just have to back your ability. The one piece of advice he gave was, don’t worry about the batsman, just focus on where you want to land the ball.

“I could have spoken to him for hours, but I had to say to him, ‘You have to go and chill, you are playing soon. Go and relax.’

“Everyone in that environment is like a family. The Indian and Pakistani players love each other. I was shocked.”

McLaren has lived in Dubai for the past six months. He was recommended to the Afghan team by Dougie Brown, the director of Rajasthan Royals Academy in Dubai.

“Caleb is still very, very young, but he has a skill that not many people have,” Brown, the former UAE coach, said.

“He is a really good batter, too, and is an absolute cricket tragic, which is brilliant.

“I wanted him to have an opportunity to bowl in an environment like that where he could bowl to really good players, and learn himself there is a pace, style and way he needs to bowl.

“If he is going to excel at the top level, he might as well learn from the toughest environment possible.

“Here, he is bowling against some of the world’s best batters, in conditions which suit them, so you have to adapt pretty quickly.”

Updated: August 27, 2022, 1:11 PM