Naveen-ul-Haq on social media trolls: It gave me motivation to play well in IPL 2023 and also during ODI World Cup

As Afghanistan looks to impress in its maiden white-ball series against India, Naveen talks about his journey and emphasises on the need for more bilateral series.

Published : Jan 14, 2024 07:35 IST , INDORE - 6 MINS READ

FILE: India’s Virat Kohli and Afghanistan’s Naveen-ul-Haq exchange gestures during an ICC ODI World Cup match.
FILE: India’s Virat Kohli and Afghanistan’s Naveen-ul-Haq exchange gestures during an ICC ODI World Cup match. | Photo Credit: PTI

FILE: India’s Virat Kohli and Afghanistan’s Naveen-ul-Haq exchange gestures during an ICC ODI World Cup match. | Photo Credit: PTI

It’s a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon at the Holkar Stadium and Naveen-ul-Haq has just finished his training ahead of the second T20I against India. As the young fast bowler from Afghanistan takes a break, he obliges a few fans with selfies and autographs, before joining his colleagues in a team huddle.

Featuring in its maiden white-ball bilateral series against India, Afghanistan suffered a six-wicket defeat in the opening fixture in Mohali a couple of days ago. In the biting cold, it was not a memorable outing for the 24-year-old as he conceded 43 runs and even went wicket-less.

However, with the improved weather conditions, Naveen is hoping to bounce back. “It’s a pleasant weather here. The visibility is better as compared to Mohali, so it should be easier to bowl, bat and field. It’s going to be a good game of cricket and we are looking forward to it,” he says.

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The fixture will also see the return of Virat Kohli to India’s T20I team after 14 long months, and Naveen is looking forward to bowling to him. In a chat with  Sportstar, the Afghan fast bowler talks about his journey and emphasises on the need for more bilateral series.

From leading Afghanistan’s U-19 team to emerging as the pace spearhead of the senior side - you have come a long way. If you could take us through your journey?

It has been a great journey and I am humbled to have achieved whatever I could thus far and hopefully, I will be able to work harder to achieve many more things for my country. The main aim is to work hard, be disciplined and stay focused on whatever you have in hand. In the past, these are the things that have worked for me. Apart from that, the support of my family and friends have been immense. They have been really kind towards me and have contributed a lot in this journey so far.

Your decision to quit ODI cricket at the age of 24 surprised many. Was it a forced decision or a planned move?

(Smiles) Just before the ODI World Cup, I had a knee injury and the decision to retire from the one-dayers was subject to that.

Despite making its Test debut against India back in 2018, it has taken Afghanistan another six years to play its maiden white-ball bilateral series against the same opponent. Being part of the historic series, how do you motivate yourself?

The series itself is motivating for all the players who are part of it. This is historic and I hope many more come for us on this journey, so that we can play India and other major teams more often. That way, we can gain a lot of confidence as a team. This is the T20 World Cup year, so hopefully, we can have something out of this series and that will be helpful for us during the T20 World Cup (in June).

Afghanistan head coach Jonathan Trott has urged the cricket boards around the world to play more bilateral series against your side. What are your thoughts? 

As the coach has said, it has been an issue with many of the teams, including Afghanistan. Not all the major teams are willing or they don’t have any space in their FTP to play against us.

It’s a great initiative that BCCI and the Afghanistan Cricket Board have taken to organise this first-ever bilateral series against India. Hopefully, it’s the first of many more series against India and bigger nations. If that happens, it will help us perform better in the ICC events.

Do you think that other top boards should also take a leaf out of BCCI’s book and organise bilateral series against Afghanistan?

Absolutely. It’s a global game and things should be equal for every full-member side. That’s what many cricketing nations also think, so I feel, this is a new start for Afghanistan cricket and after our performance in the ODI World Cup, many big teams will now be willing to play against us, and hopefully, we can have many more such series going ahead.

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Would you say that the 2023 ODI World Cup took Afghanistan cricket ahead by a mile?

It was a historic World Cup in many ways. Since the 2015 World Cup, where we just had one victory against Scotland, we were not able to win in any other editions. But in the 2023 edition of the tournament, we had four wins and we narrowly missed out on the semifinal spot. It’s a big step for Afghanistan cricket. Earlier, Afghanistan cricket was only known for its expertise in T20 cricket, but this was quite a big and significant change for people to see during the ODI World Cup.

Ever since making your debut for Afghanistan, you have never hidden your emotions on the pitch. How do you see it?

As a cricketer, it’s an individual’s choice whether to show his emotions on the ground or not. Every time I play for my country, or club or franchise, I play with a full heart. That will be with me till I play my last game. Ups and downs are bound to happen in a cricketer’s career and we need to accept that and just play the game in a way so that we can enjoy it.

It will be different for each individual, but this is the way I play my game and this is what I am known for. So, I won’t change my playing style and the way I have been on and off the field. It might feel different for the people who are watching it from outside. But we can’t justify to them or go and tell them how I am on and off the field. It is what it is.

You have often found yourself in the middle of controversies. During IPL 2023, you got into a heated argument with Virat Kohli, and that created a huge furore on social media. Being a young cricketer, how do you handle trolls on social media? Does it affect your game?

I don’t dislike trolling, nor do I see it in a bad way. We have a friends and family group on WhatsApp and the memes that I was getting during the IPL last year, I would share it all with them. Those were just memes for me and I wasn’t bothered. It gave me motivation to play well in that IPL and also during the World Cup. It doesn’t bother me.

But eventually, you and Kohli patched up…

(Laughs) Yes. I had a bit of a chat with him during and after the game in the ODI World Cup. So, there was nothing personal between us. It all happened at the heat of the moment, and I am surely looking forward to bowling to him in this series.

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