Photo Credit: Cricket Scotland
As the Scotland Men’s U19 squad fly to Netherlands today, nobody will have a bigger smile on their face than Bahadar Esakhiel.
The 17-year-old all-rounder will be an important player for the young Scots as they try and qualify for a third successive ICC Men’s U19 World Cup, and his story to reach this point is nothing short of inspirational.
While Bahadar’s journey is an incredible one, he’s relishing the pressure of helping Scotland shine on the global stage once again.
“It really means a lot, honestly, to wear the Scotland badge,” said Bahadar. “It’s like some kind of dream, you know. To win this qualifier and to have the chance to represent Scotland at a World Cup would be a very big thing, especially having come from another country. It’s just a great dream.
“I arrived in Scotland from Afghanistan in 2016. I don’t talk much about my time there, but there were problems. I had never played cricket there, and there wasn’t much social media to see what was going on in the game.
“When I came here, everything was great. The first couple of weeks I was in Scotland, I didn’t really know where I was! But once I went to school, and made friends, it was better.
“I started playing cricket in 2018. I actually liked football more than cricket at first, but then one of my friends said, why don’t you try playing cricket instead? I went along and it just happened.
“When I moved to school in Glasgow, there the love of cricket just grew. I had played for Ferguslie for a couple of seasons, and then I joined Clydesdale for a few years. I was at Langside for a season where I first got the opportunity to play premier league cricket, and I have to thank all the management and the captain there for that chance. This year I went back to Paisley and re-joined Ferguslie.
“The first thing I would say [to anyone in a similar situation] is, believe in yourself and do what you enjoy. Stick to the plan, work hard, know what you want to get from life, and I think you can achieve anything, basically. Anyone can do this – if they really want to, they can do it.”
The Scotland squad, captained by Owen Gould from RH Corstorphine, go into the qualifier as favourites to progress, and games against Guernsey, Jersey, Netherlands, Norway and Italy will determine if they reach next year’s World Cup in Sri Lanka. Bahadar believes the team spirit will drive the U19s towards success if they face any adversity in the competition.
“We get on really well as a squad, and the spirit and the banter is very good! We are all ready for this challenge. We are a team that sticks together and looks out for each other. That’s what’s going to help us in the Qualifier.
“Who’s got the worst chat? That’s a tough one… can I include me in this? I think it’s me! I think if you asked the rest of the squad, most of them would say it’s me! I just love to chat, even on the field, sometimes I make a daft joke and it just gets everybody going. I’ll do anything to just keep everyone going and motivated.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge. The last eight weeks or so, we’ve played a few friendly games, and we’re ready now, so we’re just going to go at it hard and try to qualify. I’m sure the Netherlands, Jersey and the other teams we face will be up for it as well, so it would be great if we can make it through.
“For us, it’s a good example that for the last two World Cups, the U19s have qualified. They’ve done well to get to that stage, so now it’s our turn to show what we can do, and just take those next steps.”
Last year Bahadar scored a memorable century for Scotland U17’s against Ireland; this year he heads into the U19 Qualifier on the back of a strong season with his club.
M8 Driving Ferguslie sit second in Western Premiership One, with Bahadar a key contributor to their success having amassed nearly 400 runs so far, with three half-centuries.
“In the first half of this season, I was doing great and averaging over 40 which was excellent. The last couple of weeks, I’ve dropped off a bit, but overall, I’m very happy. It’s been a big, big improvement from last year, so I’m happy with the way it’s going just now.
“I’ve scored a lot more runs than last year. If you look at my averages and strike rate, I think I’ve improved a lot. I’m also batting for longer as well now; last year I was often getting out early, but now I play a longer game. I give myself some time at the start of an innings and then get it going at the end.
“I think I believe in myself a bit more now. I just get in and try to do what I’m good at. Last year I wasn’t entirely sure of myself, but this year I back myself fully for every challenge, and just go for it. Playing in a successful team like Ferguslie and playing with good players, it helps a lot. It definitely gets the best out of you.”
A world of opportunity awaits Bahadar and the Scotland U19’s in the Netherlands over the next week. A World Cup berth would put these young players on the biggest of stages, much like the Women’s U19 squad in South Africa earlier this year. Beyond this, Bahadar has even bigger dreams.
“The first ambition for me is to get into the main national team, that’s where I want to be. Hopefully after the U19’s setup, I can continue to move forward. I want to try and play for the national team as soon as possible.
“The men’s squad are doing so well just now. They obviously just missed out on the ODI World Cup recently, but in the T20 Qualifier last month they did really well. I think it’s a very tough task to get into that squad, but if you believe in yourself, you can do anything. There’s a few guys who played in the U19s recently who’ve now got central contracts, so I think if you work hard and believe in yourself, you can break into any team.”