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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Hamidullah Qadri: Derbyshire bowler aiming to inspire Afghans by climbing the English cricket ladder

The 17-year-old off-spinner wants to emulate his cricket heroes and has already made an impact internationally at Under 19 level

Hamidullah Qadri bowls for England's Under 19s against India Under 19s. Getty Images
Hamidullah Qadri bowls for England's Under 19s against India Under 19s. Getty Images

For a British Asian child growing up aspiring to represent England as a spin bowler, there are no shortage of potential role models.

Hamidullah Qadri picked some good ones. Saqlain Mushtaq and Saeed Ajmal. Graeme Swann and Jeetan Patel were particular favourites, too.

So much so that, even though he is now a professional and has already represented England at Under 19 level, he still has links to them bowling saved on his mobile phone.

And yet he borrowed things he liked from other players, too, including a number from beyond cricket’s mainstream. Players for whom it is not quite so easy to mine YouTube to imitate.

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“Growing up, we were always talking about Mohammed Nabi, Nawroz Mangal, all of those players,” Qadri, the 17-year-old Derbyshire off-spinner, said. “They were role models who were doing so well for the country.”

Qadri was born in Kandahar, the city in the turbulent south of Afghanistan, in December 2000. Last year, he became the first player born in this millennium to play county cricket.

He moved to England with his family when he was 10, and has worn the blue of the national team in age-group competition already. Last summer, after taking five wickets in the second innings of his county debut aged 16, he was picked for the England Under 19 side for a one-day series against India.

Although he is intent on greater honours with his adopted nation, he retains an unwavering affinity for his birth country, too. Hence the regard he has for the likes of Nabi, who he is looking forward to playing against when the Afghan all-rounder plays for Leicestershire in Twenty20 cricket this summer, and Mangal.

Mangal, in particular, is fondly regarded in Afghanistan for his role in overseeing the country’s rise in cricket. He was the first captain when the new national cricket team was first initiated after the Taliban were removed from power in 2001.

When he retired at the start of 2017, Mangal was given a hero’s send-off at the Desert T20 tournament in Dubai. Qadri said there could be few better role models.

“It is because of the way he carries himself, you have respect for the individual,” Qadri said of Mangal, who is now the chief selector for the Afghanistan national team.

“He is the same on and off the field, and has great leadership skills. I have never met him, but you can just see all these things from watching him on telly. He seems like he has a cool head, and likes to be himself.”

Qadri’s birth predated the United States-led removal of the Taliban from Kabul by a few months.

His early life has therefore coincided with the rise of Afghan cricket from tape-ball matches in refugee camps across the border in Pakistan to, last week, acceptance into the Test-match elite.

He admits to only having seen a little cricket before his father moved the family to England, and that he “hadn’t played with a hard ball before”.

He points out that Kandahar was, and probably still is, a place interested in football before other sports. He only took to cricket once the family had moved to their new home.

“I just went to the local park, half a mile from my house, with friends and Afghan relatives,” Qadri said. “They were playing for a local club, and I started playing with them at the park.

“A few weeks after I started, a few other guys who used to come to the nets saw me. They said I was good enough, and should join a club. It grew from there.”

He said his father initially did not want him playing cricket. He is not unique there. Often parents would prefer their children to focus on studies than sport, while Rashid Khan, the Afghanistan leg-spinner, offered an alternative reason for having his passion frowned upon.

“My parents even forbid my siblings and I to play cricket outside our home," Rashid, who is one of 12 children, was quoted as saying before Afghanistan’s one-off Test against India this month. "But no amount of war stopped me from sneaking out to play cricket with my brothers."

In a similar way, Qadri’s father’s misgivings were based on safety, too – although of a rather different fashion.

“My dad really wasn’t sure about it,” Qadri said. “He didn’t know much about the sport. Neither did I.

“He doesn’t know fully the rules. It is a new sport and he is finding out how it is played, and he’s getting used to it. He didn’t have much knowledge of the game. He is still learning.

“Because it was played with a hard ball, he was worried I would hurt myself. He was being protective.

“Then my brother and mum said, ‘Let him play, let him enjoy himself’. A year later, I was playing for the Derbyshire county side.”

He learnt much about spin bowling from studying videos of Swann, Ajmal and Patel on his phone.

“At the start, it was a few technical things that I worked on for the first year,” Qadri said. “For the second year, I moved on to learn the doosra. I learnt it within five months, and within six months I was bowling it in a game.

“I learnt about how they set their fields, how they played with the batters. It was all about learning how to get a batsman out, getting into their brain and working out how they do it.”

Even though his allegiance is altered now, Qadri hopes to make Afghanistan proud by what he might achieve in England colours.

“Afghanistan is my first country,” he said. “Of course, it has a special place in my heart. I follow them closely, and whenever they do well, it makes me happy.

“It motivates me as well. If I do well, hopefully for England, it brings pride on the Afghan name.”