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From Peshawar To Afghanistan, Being Shapoor Zadran

03/03/2015 5:02 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Afghanistan’s Shapoor Zadran celebrates after taking the wicket of Sri Lanka’s Lahiru Thirimanne during the Asia Cup one-day international cricket tournament in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, March 3, 2014. (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad)

This article is from Wisden India.

Wisden India

By R Kaushik

Shapoor Zadran cuts an impressive figure. Tall - not frightfully so like Mohammad Irfan or Curtly Ambrose or Joel Garner - but taller enough than your average Joe to stand out. Dreamy. Angry. Flowing hair. Piercing eyes. Majestic on the cricket field. A new-age action hero, the modern-day answer to John Rambo.

Meet Afghanistan's pace spearhead. A maverick on the cricket field if there was one, gentle and thoughtful and almost child-like off it as he speaks about Shah Rukh Khan and Shoaib Akhtar as if they were from another planet.

"He is no pushover, this Shapoor. He symbolises everything that Afghanistan stands for, this Shapoor. "

Shapoor Zadran. 27. Six foot two, officially. He has been around for a while now - some five and a half years in international cricket. Left-arm over, mean and ferocious, tall and loping, quick and capable of getting good bounce. He is no pushover, this Shapoor. He symbolises everything that Afghanistan stands for, this Shapoor. And he doesn't just smile and kowtow and carry himself like a little nobody, this Shapoor.

shapoor zadran

Well into his sixth year in One-Day International cricket, Shapoor is rapidly making people sit up and take notice. His is one of the many heart-warming tales to come out of Afghan cricket - escape from the country of his birth to Peshawar in Pakistan when war enveloped Afghanistan, return to the land of his forefathers, lured back by the prospect of a life in cricket whose pressures and challenges pale in comparison to being constantly surrounded by gunfire and shelling.

These are stories that never cease to amaze and intrigue, but these tales alone don't define Afghanistan's cricketers. Truth to tell, once the initial novelty of sharing their formative days had worn off, many of them would have yearned for the questions to change, for the focus to shift from what was to what is. And what can be.

What is, is that in their first tilt at the 50-over World Cup, Afghanistan have already registered their maiden victory. Against previously winless Scotland, playing in their third World Cup, in Dunedin exactly four days back. It was a win achieved with much drama and pomp, by one wicket in the final over, the last pair successfully adding the 19 runs needed for history to be rewritten. One half of that last-wicket stand was Shapoor, our Shapoor, nonchalantly flicking Iain Wardlaw, Scotland's ace paceman, for the winning boundary that set off wild, cartwheeling celebrations.

It was a victory that was hailed by Ashraf Ghani, the Afghanistan president who congratulated the team on its accomplishment. "'Good mate, I follow you', he said to me," Shapoor informs you at the WACA ground on Monday (March 2), as he prepares for Wednesday's match against Australia, the co-hosts and the No. 1 ODI team in the world. "I will sleep well. I will not be thinking of how I will bowl in Perth, on this pitch. On match day, I will focus on the match. Inshallah, I will do well.

"There was too much pressure that day," Shapoor recalls of the Scotland game. "When Afghanistan play, all people see match on TV, there is no traffic on the roads. Last over, we need five, then Hamid (Hassan) runs a single and I am saying, 'Ok, I will do it'. And I did it. The World Cup is fantastic. It is a great learning place, to learn about cricket and bowling. I saw the New Zealand-Australia game on TV. I am big fan of Mitchell Starc. I like reverse swing. And I like MS Dhoni." Just like that. No sequence, no chain between thoughts. Just.

"Shapoor is a huge Akhtar fan, starting from his 38-yard run-up to the flowing hair. "I am copying my friend Shoaib Akhtar's run-up."

Shapoor speaks like he bowls, rapidly, occasionally without rhythm. His English isn't the best, but you can see - not imagine, but actually see - defiance as he scans your face to see if you are amused at his lack of command of the language. "Cricket has given me everything - I am really happy because my name is known all over the world."

Shapoor is a huge Akhtar fan, starting from his 38-yard run-up to the flowing hair. "I am copying my friend Shoaib Akhtar's run-up. When I started playing cricket, I ran like this when I was a small boy too. I love running in from that far. In Afghanistan, everyone likes too much speed, long run-up and hitting sixes."

shenwari Associated Press

He ticks the first two boxes that his countrymen like, but in the sixes column, he is a little light. He has only three sixes in 33 ODIs, but then again, he has made only 56 runs in all, including that crucial unbeaten 12 against Scotland. "Maybe I popular due to my height," he says, relegating his cricket to the background. "Too much people support me, my long hairstyle -- they all like me. I copied this hairstyle from Shoaib, my six-year-old son Mohammad is copying my hairstyle. What you say - Like father, like son? I like Akhtar because of his style, because of his pace, because of very aggressive. I like aggressive."

Shapoor has six sisters and four brothers, one of whom, Gamay, plays for the Afghanistan A team. Gamay is a batsman, but beyond that Shapoor will only talk about bowling, pace bowling. "My fitness is good, so I will bowl fast. Speed I will reduce when I am not fit, then I will bowl slow. It is my job to listen to the coach. If he says reduce speed and focus on offstump, then I will do so because if there is too much speed and I bowl wide, then they can hit me for six. So offstump is good. I have heard of WACA, of Dennis Lillee. I have heard of Courtney Walsh. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, I have seen on television."

Shapoor is coming to India soon, he says, but isn't sure where. "I am coming to India next month for a break, for enjoying. I don't know whether I am coming to Delhi or Bangalore, but I am coming," he announces, excitedly. "I like Shah Rukh." Maybe a date with King Khan during the IPL? And possibly, a Bollywood offer or two as well?

"I don't like very noisy songs," he smiles. "I do Islamic study, I pray and I study." And work batsmen over, he might have added. 36 wickets from 33 ODIs, the joint fourth highest wicket-taker in ODIs for Afghanistan. But Shapoor, our Shapoor, he will never be about the numbers.

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