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Noor Ahmad: Meet the 15-year-old signed by Melbourne Renegades for the Big Bash League

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Noor Ahmad (right)
Noor Ahmad (right) took seven wickets at an average of 24 for Afghanistan at the Under-19 World Cup last year

There was nothing unusual about Melbourne Renegades announcing they had signed Imran Tahir for the Big Bash League.

Even at 41, Tahir remains a reliable T20 performer. However, he is only available after Christmas, so the Renegades moved for another spinner to fill the void.

This is where the story gets interesting.

Noor Ahmad is comfortably young enough to be Tahir’s son. The left-arm wrist-spinner from Afghanistan will be lining up in one of the world’s most high-profile T20 leagues alongside some of the best players on the planet at just 15 years of age.

It is the latest success story from a nation whose rise from the horrors of war to global cricketing force is well known.

For Ahmad, entering the franchise world is a step towards emulating Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi, heroes both to the teenager and the rest of Afghanistan.

“I used to play cricket with my elder brothers where we live in Khost,” Ahmad, who has seven brothers and sisters, told BBC Sport.

“I would watch the national team play on the television and dream that one day that could be me on there.

“Because I was always under age while playing with my brothers and others, it was clear after some time that people had difficulty when playing my bowling.

“One of my brothers suggested that I should attend the local cricket academy because he could see my talents. Allah has given me a gift and it is something natural.”

Ahmad was born four years after the US invasion of Afghanistan and has little memory of the conflict having an effect on his childhood.

Like leg-spinner Rashid, he bowls at a relatively quick pace. Left-arm wrist-spinners are a rare commodity as it is, but Ahmad comes with the added weapon of turning his googly further than his stock delivery.

He made his first-class debut at the age of 14 and was playing in Afghanistan’s domestic T20 tournament at the end of last year. With all-rounder Nabi, a Renegades stalwart, acting as a mentor, Ahmad caught the eye of the Melbourne outfit.

“The coaches and player recruitment staff in the Big Bash are prepared to take a punt on talent if they see someone who excites them,” said his agent, Richard Sydenham. “More there than in most other leagues.

“Renegades have been aware of Noor for close on a year so they are excited to give him an opportunity to develop his game and hopefully make a contribution if and when he makes the team.

“The fact he’s in the same team as Mohammad Nabi is no coincidence, as the added benefit of having a mentor who speaks the same language in the same hotel and team is huge.”

Signing a deal to play in the Big Bash at such a young age is not the first time Ahmad has attracted headlines.

At the Under-19 World Cup earlier this year, Ahmad was at the centre of a Mankad controversy when he ran out Pakistan’s Mohammad Huraira at the non-striker’s end after he left his crease too early.

Even though he now admits he learned much from the incident and would not do it again, it detracted from a return that left him as Afghanistan’s second-highest wicket-taker, often taking on opponents four years his senior.

Now comes the next step up in class for a bowler who has already managed to stand out in a nation full of wrist-spin and unorthodoxy, inspired by Rashid, the world’s best T20 bowler.

“Like when West Indies had a lot of fast bowlers, there are a lot of wrist-spinners in Afghanistan,” said former Afghanistan coach Andy Moles. “Every day there seems to be a new one turning up.

“Because of the lack of facilities and coaching in rural areas, a lot of lads teach themselves. You get to see interesting players coming through. It is to their credit that they are self-made.

“Rashid is someone they idolise and want to copy.”

By making his bow in the Big Bash, Ahmad is emulating Rashid, who has long been starring for Adelaide Strikers.

Ahmad, though, is looking to forge his own path.

“I learned so much about wrist spin from watching Rashid Khan bowling on the TV and even now I watch him,” he said.

“It will be great to be in the same team as him one day if I am given that honour of playing for my national team.

“But there can be only one Rashid Khan. I will be happy to be Noor Ahmad, his team-mate.”

The Big Bash League started this week with Melbourne Renegades facing Perth Scorchers on Saturday, 12 December.

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