Teenage leg-spinner takes four wickets to help Balkh Legends beat Kabul Zwanan in Sharjah finale
Qais Ahmed the surprise home hero of the inaugural Afghanistan Premier League final
Everybody knew there was a young Afghan leg-spinner who was bound to sweep all before him in the first Afghanistan Premier League.
That is precisely what happened. But it was not that guy.
Rashid Khan, the great star of Afghanistan cricket, was upstaged when the platform appeared set for him in the finale of his country’s first franchise-league season.
Instead, his Kabul Zwanan side were undone by an 18-year-old leg-spinner who was little known beyond his borders before this tournament started.
Qais Ahmed had never even taken four wickets in a T20 innings before. And then, in the final of the biggest tournament he has yet featured in, he took five to set Balkh Legends on the way to the first APL title.
“He is a brilliant find,” Ravi Bopara, one of Balkh’s experienced overseas players, said of Qais in a television interview.
“He spins it both ways, bowls at a good pace, is confident in his ability, and plays with a smile on his face. He is a brilliant cricketer.”
The emergence of young players like Qais was universally lauded as being the biggest success of the debut season of the APL.
Chris Gayle, who scored four successive half-centuries for Balkh, including the one that settled the final in their favour, said Afghanistan will be a force to reckoned with based on the evidence of the APL.
“There is some great young talent,” Gayle said. “Afghanistan cricket can only get bigger and better.
“The youngsters are growing very fast, and the experienced players like [Mohammed Nabi, Balkh’s captain] can help make them comfortable, and that will be important for Afghanistan cricket in the future.
“Other international teams are going to have to be wary of Afghanistan, and take nothing for granted [playing against them].”
Balkh’s success was a remarkable effort given the build-up they had to the competition.
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The day before the event, the group of mostly strangers who had been assembled under the banner of Balkh Legends had to train together in their own casual gear.
The fact the team’s kit had yet to arrive was indicative of a greater malaise. Earlier that day, Herschelle Gibbs, the former South Africa batsman who had initially been announced as the team’s coach, said he was not actually going to be involved after all, as the team’s owner had pulled out.
Simon Helmot was placed in charge instead, and the Australian, along with his savvy captain Nabi, quickly fashioned a competitive outfit.
“I’m really rapt for our team and the ownership for this win,” Helmot said.
“We had some great overseas talent this year, and Nabi led us beautifully throughout the tournament with a good group of Afghan players.
“I hope this competition continues to grow, and get bigger and stronger, because we saw some cracking cricket.”
According to Shafiq Stanikzai, the chief executive of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, the league succeeded in its aim of giving chances for the country’s emerging players.
“The Afghanistan Premier League is one of the biggest projects nationwide,” Stanikzai said.
“In the initial few years, the objective is not to make this a business venture. It is to give opportunities for our young talents in a global arena.
“That has been done fantastically well. The standard of cricket is very high, and lots of players have put themselves in the shop-window. There are lots of franchisee queries still happening for some of these players.”