UAE bowler will compete in the inaugural tournament at his 'home' stadium and hopes for a better showing than his misfortunate spell in Canada
Mohammed Naveed aims to make his mark in Afghanistan Premier League
The last time Mohammed Naveed shared the stage with international cricket’s great and good, it did not go quite as planned.
The fast bowler was excited about being selected to play at the Global T20 Canada in Toronto back in July. It was the sort of opportunity he, and his fellow UAE teammates, crave but are so rarely afforded.
It was the chance to test himself against the likes of Chris Gayle, Evin Lewis, Andre Russell, and even the great Australian duo, David Warner and Steve Smith, who were making low-key comebacks after Sandpapergate.
The lead-up to the T20 event in Canada was, though, chaotic. Naveed’s visa was not processed until the day before the first match, meaning a late rush to get there in time.
He made it, just, and was thrown straight in to the starting XI for Toronto Nationals against Vancouver Knights. Meaning an immediate duel with Gayle and Lewis, the West Indian powerhouse openers.
After getting hit for 60 off four overs, Naveed might have been left hoping his flight had been delayed just a little bit longer.
“I’m hoping for a better performance this time,” Naveed said, ahead of playing for Kandahar Knights in the Afghanistan Premier League.
“In Canada, at that first match, I was very tired as I’d been travelling for 26 hours, finished the flight, went to the hotel, then two or three hours later was the match.
“But even then, Darren Sammy [his captain] was happy with how I performed.”
Happily for the UAE’s leading fast-bowler, his next assignment in a big league should not be beset by anything like the same issues.
The APL, which starts on Friday when Rashid Khan’s Kabul side play a Paktia Panthers including Mohammed Shahzad and Shahid Afridi, is taking place on Naveed’s doorstep in Sharjah.
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Naveed, who has been on the fringes of the top 10 in the world rankings for T20 bowlers for some time now, was selected as one of just five players from beyond the Test sphere to play in the APL.
He has played tournaments in Hong Kong, Canada and Nepal in the past, as well as the T10 League in Sharjah last year.
This, though, will be the first he has played in a tournament officially administered by a full Test-playing nation – even though the Afghanistan Cricket Board are, as has often been the case with matches involving their national team, hosting the game in Sharjah.
“This is my home stadium, and I want to perform well for all UAE people,” Naveed said. “Playing in a league like this gives you so much confidence. We are not a Test nation, but to play in a competition like this is a big stage, where you get to learn from big stars.”
The desire to impress is a theme of this tournament.
“It is good for us to have this tournament, especially for our young cricketers,” said Asghar Afghan, Afghanistan’s national team captain, as well as that of Kandahar Knights.
Another theme so far, however, has also been that of the sort of last-minute teething issues faced by Naveed and the Global T20.
Clearly, all the players and coaches are new to each other in what is a brand new event, which will take place over the next three weeks in Sharjah.
Balkh Legends took newness to extremes, though, after their original owners pulled out on the eve of the competition, with Herschelle Gibbs, who was initially named as coach, going the same way.
“Just a heads up on the [APL], the owner of the team I was meant to coach withdrew from the league so I have been replaced by someone else,” Gibbs announced on social media on Thursday. “Hope it goes well nonetheless.”
Simon Helmot, the former coach Melbourne Renegades franchise in Australia, was installed in Gibbs’ place. He addressed a group of players dressed in whatever they could find at their training session at the stadium on Thursday. At least by the end of practice, their uniforms had arrived.
Further to that, a number of the biggest names will be absent for the opening weekend. West Indians like Gayle and Andre Russell are not due to arrive until October 9.
Despite the problems, the imported stars are hopeful they can help make a difference.
“The main thing about league’s like this is to help improve the local players,” said Tymal Mills, the England left-arm fast-bowler. “It is important as foreign players, we try to help.”
Captain: Mohammed Nabi (Afghanistan)
Coach: Simon Helmot (Australia)
Star player: Chris Gayle (West Indies) While the West Indies Test side take on India, their celebrated T20 export will be adding a new shirt to his collection in the APL.
Captain: Rashid Khan (Afghanistan)
Coach: Heath Streak (Zimbabwe)
Star player: Luke Ronchi (New Zealand) The shorter the format, the more destructive the former New Zealand wicket-keeper batsman is. A star of the T10 League in Sharjah last year.
Captain: Asghar Afghan (Afghanistan)
Coach: Kabir Ali (England)
Star player: Kevin O’Brien (Ireland) Relatively rarely-spotted in T20 franchise leagues, despite having the big-hitting capabilities that brought him the fastest ever World Cup hundred, in 2011.
Captain: Andre Russell (West Indies), Ben Cutting (Australia, interim)
Coach: Venkatesh Prasad (India)
Star player: Mujeeb Ur Rahman (Afghanistan) Andre Russell is perhaps the best-known star of the Nangarhar squad, but 17-year-old spinner Mujeeb could well be their most effective.
Captain: Mohammed Shahzad (Afghanistan)
Coach: Dawlat Ahmadzai (Afghanistan)
Star player: Shahid Afridi (Pakistan) With Shahzad and Afridi in their line-up, Paktia could well turn out to be the most explosive and entertaining side in the APL.