By Jeremy Casey
The world’s top-ranked T20 international all-rounder was the club’s marquee white ball signing over the winter, and hopes were high that the 36-year-old would be the final piece in the Steelbacks jigsaw as they targeted Vitality Blast glory. But things haven’t quite gone to plan.
Covid-19 travel restrictions meant that Nabi’s route into the UK was a difficult one, ending with him arriving in time for the start of the competition – but he then had to spend 10 days in a London hotel room in quarantine.
That meant the Afghanistan star missed the Steelbacks’ first four games, and they lost the lot.
After being released from quarantine last Thursday morning, Nabi was rushed into action and was handed his Northants debut on a cool and cloudy night at Derbyshire Falcons just a few hours later, which was something of a culture shock for the player.
“I was straight into it, and the next day my body was totally stiff! But it is fine now,” said Nabi, fresh from a net session at the County Ground on Tuesday afternoon. “But I am still trying to adjust to this cold weather and the conditions!”
Nabi’s introduction didn’t immediately change the Steelbacks’ on-field fortunes as they lost to the Falcons, and then again at home to Leicestershire Foxes on Sunday. But Nabi has shown glimpses of what he is all about with a couple of quickfire cameos with the bat and some tight bowling, and on Wednesday night he took two wickets as the Steelbacks finally claimed their first win of the season at Durham.
And as he better adjusts to UK conditions, Nabi is confident his, and the Steelbacks’, performances will continue to improve in the second half of the 14-match competition. “The welcome has been fantastic, and I have really nice team-mates,” said Nabi.
“I am really enjoying it so far, and I think we have a great team, but we just need to find the right combination, and work hard to find the winning moment.
“If we believe in ourselves and look forward to winning every single game, then there is a chance (of qualifying for the last eight). “It is cricket, and anything can happen, and we will try our best.”
Looking back on his struggles to actually get to the country, and then that quarantine spell, Nabi said: “It is a little bit tough to reach the UK because of Covid and quarantine, as people from red list area countries aren’t allowed to come here. “We were searching for the right way to come early for the Blast, but we couldn’t get here before we did, and I missed four games.
“Unfortunately, the team hasn’t started very well, but I am still looking forward to it. “In my first two games I wasn’t too satisfied with my own performance, especially in the bowling, and my batting will be much better. “But it is really tough when you go straight from a hotel room to the game.
“So I am trying to adjust as quickly as possible, but it is fine. “I have been here around one week and played some games, so it is good.”
So, how was that spell in quarantine?
“I couldn’t do that much,” he admitted. “I managed a little bit of training outside in the parking yard, I could do around 45 minutes of running and sprinting. “Then in the room there were rubber bands for exercising and strength work, and nothing more really.
“I was able to talk to home, with the kids, and that is about it. It was hard.
“After one week, when the days until you get out are less, it then becomes even harder. So it’s really good to get out and play cricket again.”
His stint in the Blast with the Steelbacks is only the first half of a busy English summer for Nabi, who will be playing for London Spirit when The Hundred is launched next month.
It is a competition that has split opinion across the cricketing world, but Nabi for one is very excited at the prospect of playing a new form of the game – and also returning to an old haunt in the shape of the Spirit’s home ground, Lord’s.
“I missed the PSL (Pakistan Super League) so I can adjust to the weather, and the conditions,” said Nabi, who is due to play his second home game of the Blast on Friday night (June 25) when Lancashire Lightning are the visitors to the County Ground.
“It is tough to come from the conditions in Asia to come straight into UK conditions. Also, the 100-ball game is a big league, it is new, and it will be a lot of fun here. I am really excited, as I am playing for London Spirit, so it is an old home ground of mine from my MCC Young Cricketer days in 2006 and 2007. I am looking forward to going back there.”
And the excitement won’t stop there for a player who travels to globe playing white ball cricket.
It means he no longer plays the longer form of the game, so does Nabi miss getting that red ball in his hand?
“When there is a lot of energy in the body, you want to play all formats,” he said.
“As you get older, it is then a little bit tougher to play red ball cricket.
“It was my dream to play Test cricket, and I achieved that for my country and for me.
“I managed to help Afghanistan reach Test status and I only played three games, but that is fine.
“We don’t have that many games in a year, only one or two matches, and I think it is better for the country to play a youngster to get more experience of Test cricket. “That is why I only play white ball cricket.” And he is certainly pretty good at it!
Nabi is a regular performer in the Big Bash in Australia, the Indian Premier League and other tournaments, but his focus later on this year will be on the ICC T20 World Cup in India in October.
Afghanistan are in the mix, and Nabi is really looking forward to that. “I do a lot of travelling in a year, but it depends on my national duty,” he said.
“If there are no Afghanistan games then I will still travel all over the world playing in T20 leagues. But we have the T20 World Cup coming up and we will try to do really well in that. We have a good T20 team, and I hope we can beat some teams in that competition.”
For the next few weeks though, Nabi’s focus is on doing the business for the Steelbacks, and Northants supporters will be hoping he can work his magic and inspire his new team-mates to qualification for the Blast quarter-finals.
That will certainly be a challenge – but one that the ultra-competitive Nabi will meet head on.
By Jeremy Casey