Mujeeb Zadran: Found in Khost and Upward Bound

Rewind to 28th January 2018, when a host of relatively unknown players were up for bidding at the VIVO Indian Premier League player auctions. Proceedings were lazy to say the least, until a certain 16-year-old Afghan came under the hammer. Kings XI Punjab and Delhi Daredevils were all in, raising the paddle almost instinctively. They had their target set on the man - or should we say boy?

In the end, the Punjabi Kings came out on top, landing the player for an astronomical fee of INR 4 crore. But who was this mystery man from Afghanistan and why did he invite so much interest? His name was Zadran. Mujeeb Zadran.

Goldfinger

Sure, he is no James Bond, but this youngster from Khost, Afghanistan is no less of a mystery when it comes to his bowling. Name a weapon, and he has it in his armoury – off breaks, leg breaks, googlies, and also the carrom ball for extra measure. Everything he touches with those crafty fingers of his turns to gold, which for a bowler is wickets. He picked up 17 wickets in an U-19 series against Bangladesh, which included a seven-wicket haul, and then spun his side to a title win in the U-19 Asia Cup with 20 wickets, before going on to impress for Comilla Victorians in the Bangladesh Premier League. Slowly but steadily, the yet unknown spinner was starting to create quite a reputation for himself on the international stage.

Of relatives and YouTube

Mujeeb Zadran comes from a well-to-do family and lives with his maternal uncle after losing his father early in life. With a makeshift cricketing facility within the house’s premises to help his first cousin, the Afghani international, Noor Ali Zadran, cricket was always at an arm’s length away from young Mujeeb, like some low-hanging fruit ready to be plucked. He honed his skills casually bowling to Noor Ali and then went on to learn how to bowl the googly from a relative. Cricket, for him, was like a drug which he just couldn’t get enough of. Watching the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin, Sunil Narine and Ajantha Mendis on YouTube, the ambitious colt perfected the art of bowling the carrom ball with deadly precision. A spark was born within him, and a thunderstorm was looming on the horizon…

Up and up

Zadran didn’t just excite the onlookers, but forced the ones looking the other way to turn around and take notice. With all eyeballs on him, it was now about showing consistency and building on an already impressive curriculum vitae.

He did that by rattling Ireland with figures of 4/24 on his ODI debut. He also broke the back of hosts New Zealand at the recently concluded U-19 World Cup with bowling figures of 4/14. With the amount of maturity and skill this youngster has displayed one might easily forget that he is yet to celebrate his 17th birthday. His exponential rise culminated in an all-out bidding war at the auctions, before the Kings snapped up the level-headed youngster.

“I don’t need to say much about him, except that he is a mystery spinner, and you wait and watch. He is 16 years old, and I am sure he is going to surprise a lot of heavy stalwarts of cricket, so looking forward to that,” said KXIP co-owner, Preity Zinta about the Afghani sensation.

Afghani players – specifically Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi – have made huge waves in previous edition of IPL, and Mujeeb Zadran is well in line to be the next big thing to come out of this new warehouse of raw talent. From being a self-taught individual, he will now go on to share dressing rooms and rub shoulders with some of the absolute best of the game.

Growing up (he still is!), he watched Ashwin on YouTube, and could well be bowling in tandem with him in a few months. The past has been bright, but the future seems all the more resplendent for this Afghani enigma.

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