The top three – India, South Africa, and Australia – have constructed a cushion for themselves. Defending champions England could not care less about ODI cricket. The likes of Pakistan and New Zealand do, but they are not very consistent.
Herein came Afghanistan – the solitary team to keep the semi-final race alive and not declare around 10 matches as dead rubbers. Moreover, they will also make their maiden ICC Champions Trophy appearance in a couple of years.
Who Are the Khost Quartet?
Among the major reasons behind Afghanistan’s ascendancy – a team that played their first international match only 14 years ago – are their openers, Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran.
With the ball, alongside globetrotter Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman has been influential, while the teenage mystery spinner, Noor Ahmad has also done well.
Barring the obvious that they all are very young, there are a couple of similarities among the quartet.
Firstly, all of them hail from Khost – a province in southeast Afghanistan, only about 50 kilometres west of the Pakistani town of Miranshah. Secondly, they have all been coached by Mohammad Khan Zadran – a former cricketer, whose dreams were not a far cry from that of his students, except that he was a couple of decades too soon at the scene.
“Cricket was the only escape for us. I grew up idolising Sachin Tendulkar and Wasim Akram, and wanted to what I saw them doing on my TV screen,” Zadran says from Afghanistan, during a conversation with The Quint.
Dreaming Cricket, When Cricket Was Banned
Zadran was fortunate enough to have his family’s support, but unfortunate enough to not have that of his nation. When he made it to the Afghanistan team – back in 1997 – there was no team to play for, per se.
The Taliban were yet to rescind the ban on cricket – that would happen three years later, in 2000. ICC were yet to make Afghanistan an affiliate member – that would happen even later, in 2001.
With little to no progress in his homeland, Zadran found a new home in England, where he played for Honourable Cricket Club till 2005. Since his return, he has been working as a coach of Khost province, preparing the unpolished talents for the big stages.
The Talented Cousins – Mujeeb Ur Rahman & Ibrahim Zadran
One of those unpolished talents, till about a few years ago, was Mujeeb Ur Rahman.
Mujeeb was underprivileged in many aspects. He lost his father at a very young age. But he was blessed with talent. As a kid, he started bowling with the tennis ball first, before moving to the hard ball. He used to come to training with his mama (mother’s brother) Noor Ali Zadran, the senior cricketer.Mohammad Khan Zadran
While Noor Ali looked after his cricketing progress, his brother – father of opening batter Ibrahim Zadran – ensured that the off-spinner had everything else that he could possibly require.
Ibrahim’s father was a father figure to Mujeeb as well. The two kids have always had the talent. While Mujeeb loved bowling, Ibrahim was only into batting. What stood him apart was his power, which even at that young age, was discernible. He used to hit sixes and fours for fun.Mohammad Khan Zadran
Contrasting Cases of Noor Ahmad and Rahmanullah Gurbaz
The other spin-bowling student of Zadran, and the youngest of the Khost quartet, was an enigma in himself. The coach explains:
Noor Ahmad was a unique kid, as he bowled chinaman spin (left-arm wrist spin) since Day 1. This is a very rare trait, you won’t see this often in kids. His father was much into cricket, but it was his brother Mohammad, who wanted Noor to be a professional cricketer. He worked as the bank manager and on his way to work, he would drop the kid in his car.Mohammad Khan Zadran
The story of opening batter Rahmanullah Gurbaz is in complete contrast to that of Noor. Seeing his strokeplay at a local game, Zadran was convinced he was meant for the higher echelons. The only problem being, his family wasn’t.
I called Gurbaz into my academy after watching his batting, but his brother, Afsar, was completely against cricket. The kid started crying and it took a lot of convincing to bring him to the academy. He has always been adamant, undoubtedly the most dileer (fearless) of the bunch.Mohammad Khan Zadran
Focus on Gen Next
While basking in the glory of the quartet’s performance at the World Cup, Zadran, who is also doubling up as a member of the Afghanistan Cricket Board’s (ACB) selection committee, is now busy preparing the next generation.
“Five of my players – Ihsanullah Janat, Shahidullah Kamal, Ziaur Rahman Sharifi, Naveed Zadran and Rahmanullah Zadran – have been selected for the national team. Hopefully, they’ll also do well, so that I can share their stories too,” he concludes.
Thank heavens for Afghanistan.