Cricket World Cup 2019: Afghanistan's Mohammed Nabi and Hamid Hassan dream of unlikely Lord's return

Thirteen years after being granted scholarships to train at Lord’s, duo are making bid to play there once again - in cup final

Afghanistan fixtures
  • v Australia, today
  • v Sri Lanka, Tuesday
  • v New Zealand, Saturday,
  • v South Africa, June 15
  • v England, June 18
  • v India, June 22
  • v Bangladesh, June 24
  • v Pakistan, June 29
  • v West Indies, July 4

If Afghanistan are going to get to play at Lord’s in this World Cup, there is only one way they can do it: by going all the way to the final.

Logic dictates that is a long shot. They are the lowest ranked side in the competition, are playing in just their second World Cup, and have won just once in the competition before.

But this is Afghanistan. They have faced tougher challenges before. Do not discount them entirely.

If the impossible dream did happen, it would provide a neat bookend to the careers of two of Afghan cricket’s greatest servants.

In 2006, Mohammed Nabi and Hamid Hassan left their homes in Kabul and spent three months training at Lord’s after being granted scholarships on the MCC Young Cricketers programme.

The scheme, which is designed to be a finishing school for talented cricketers, has an impressive list of alumni, such as Ian Botham, Martin Crowe, Mark Waugh, plus a string of current internationals.

Few of those who have passed through it will have had quite the grounding in the game as Nabi and Hamid.

Cricket - ICC Cricket World Cup warm-up match - England v Afghanistan - Kia Oval, London, Britain - May 27, 2019   Afghanistan's Hamid Hassan in action   Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs

When they arrived at the home of cricket 13 years ago, it was the first time they had spent any length of time away from home.

Cricket had taken hold among their compatriots in the refugee camps of Pakistan, after millions had been displaced by war.

The duo were part of the first officially-recognised Afghan national team, set up after the overthrow of the Taliban, and had caught the eye in beating an MCC touring side in Mumbai. They were invited to Lord’s, and their eyes were opened.

“What we learnt in Afghanistan was something different,” Hamid said, ahead of their first game of the 2019 World Cup, against Australia in Bristol.

“When we went to MCC, we saw new cricket, new facilities, new everything.

“It was like we had been sitting watching a TV that didn’t have colour – then when we came to UK, it was fully colourful. Our eyes were getting bright, and we thought that this was the real life of cricket.”

The cricket, unsurprisingly, was a dream. But life away from the ground took some adjusting to.

The duo shared a room in a hostel in Hamstead, an affluent suburb not much more than a Nabi six-hit away from Lord’s. Salubrious though Hamstead is, Hamid says it took some getting used to.

“It was very different,” the fast bowler said. “In Afghanistan, there are big houses with big rooms.

“That was the first time I had spent a long time away from home. That tour was almost three months away from home.

“In my room, there was enough space for my kit bag, but not any other bags. Nabi was also in the room, and there was barely any space to walk.

“If you stretched your legs, you could touch the door. They were small beds, and we were like patients in hospital.”

Afghanistan's Mohammad Nabi bats during the 2019 Cricket World Cup warm up match between Pakistan and Afghanistan at Bristol County Ground in Bristol, southwest England, on May 24, 2019. / AFP / Glyn KIRK

Diet was also different to back at home, with fish and chips quickly becoming a staple for the young Afghans.

“In the hostel, when we got back there was a time we had to eat by,” Hamid said.

“There was veg and rice. If there was nothing for us, nothing halal, we had to go out and eat something.

"It was always fish and chips. At that time, we didn’t know any people here, and we were very new to cricket also.”

Even if there were the odd challenge off the field, Nabi cannot conceal his happiness when he looks back on his time at Lord’s.

“At that time, it was fun, a big adventure,” Nabi said, with a broad grin.

“We didn’t have any international duties at that time, and me and Hamid were able to travel to play the next level of cricket.

"We learned a lot, from the county games. It helped my cricket career a lot. It gave a lot of confidence to us.

“Living away from our home, we still missed Kabul. Now, we are travelling all over the world, we are used to different food and conditions.

“And nowadays we have lost of fans, and the Afghan communities all over the world knows us. So it is easy to find food now.”

One of the duties the young MCC professionals have is to bowl at international teams on major match days.

Nabi’s favourite recollection is of bowling to his hero, Kevin Pietersen – a player who subsequently became a teammate during a career that has taken Nabi to all the leading competitions in the game.

“My best days at that time were when we got to bowl at the India, Pakistan and England teams,” Nabi said.

“I can’t remember getting anyone specific out, but I bowled really well. At that time, Kevin Pietersen was my favourite player. I bowled a lot to him at that time – and he smashed me a lot.

“I learnt a lot from that, about how to play bigger-stage cricket. Since then, I have been a teammate of his with Quetta Gladiators in Pakistan Super League.

“And I played against him as well, in Big Bash. He was playing for Melbourne Storm, and I was playing for Melbourne Renegades, and I got him out. That was good fun.”

The two players have been back to the UK plenty of times since, but to play in the World Cup there might be the crowning glory to their careers.

Nabi has played county cricket, while Hamid had a few years playing as an amateur overseas player in league cricket, “three years in the Central Lancashire League, and one year for Skegness – which is a very beautiful place,” he said.

“When I heard we were going to be part of MCC Young Cricketers, and get to practise at Lord’s, to be honest it felt as though what I had been dreaming had suddenly come to me. You cannot imagine how happy it made me,” Hamid said.

“All the time it was my dream to play on big stages. I have spent a lot of time in England since.

“I have been coming to UK for almost 14 years, playing cricket. But playing in the World Cup is fantastic, one of the best moments for every player.

“I have to say I am the lucky one, because I was away from the team for three years [because of injury]. Luckily I have come back strongly.”

Afghanistan's players celebrate after taking the wicket of Pakistan's Mohammad Hafeez during the ICC Cricket World Cup Warm up match at The Bristol County Ground. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 24, 2019. See PA story CRICKET Pakistan. Photo credit should read: Nigel French/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. Still image use only.

____________________

MCC alumni

Mohammed Nabi and Hamid Hassan are among many graduates of the Lord's finishing school who have excelled in international cricket.

  • Ross Taylor (New Zealand): One of the leading one-day batsmen in the world at present is one of many New Zealanders to have been an MCC Young Cricketer, with Martin Crowe, Rob Nicol and Matthew Bell preceding him.
  • Alex Hales (England): The troubled batsman is the most recent graduate of Lord's to have represented England.
  • Darren Sammy (West Indies): Arrived from the Caribbean on a scholarship at Lord's, and soon after became the first St Lucian to play for West Indies. Subsequently captained West Indies to two World T20 wins, and has the cricket stadium on his home island named after him.​​​​​​​
  • Daan van Bunge (Netherlands): Played at World Cups for Netherlands. Sammy's oldest child – Darren Dan Sammy Jr – was given his middle name because of the close friendship he had with Van Bunge during their time at Lord's.
  • Kevin O'Brien, Will Porterfield, Gary Wilson (Ireland): Three players who have been central to Ireland's rise in the sport were on the Lord's groundstaff at the same time together.
Afghanistan fixtures
  • v Australia, today
  • v Sri Lanka, Tuesday
  • v New Zealand, Saturday,
  • v South Africa, June 15
  • v England, June 18
  • v India, June 22
  • v Bangladesh, June 24
  • v Pakistan, June 29
  • v West Indies, July 4
EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS