There’s more mystery to Rashid Khan than just his bowling. He’s 18, making his foray into the T20 league of the biggest boys in cricket, and yet the self-confidence is unmissable. But initial jitters were bound to take him over, when he arrived with a hefty price tag and had the task of impressing cricketers within the Sunrisers Hyderabad group who he had grown up watching on television.
‘I am bowling to them, how will it be? how will it happen? how will they play? what will be the reaction of coaches and skipper?’ – his mind turned into a question bank, without a definite answers section.
“I had a lot of things in mind, but when the season started, their motivation and support started, they told me you can do it, that’s why you’ve been selected in this team,” he tells Cricbuzz. That wasn’t mere lip service from the stalwarts at SRH, there was a sound reason behind splurging INR 4 crore on the youngster, and they needed him to be match-ready as soon as possible.
Even before he showed his wares in the early stages of the IPL, Rashid had established himself as one for the future. He was Afghanistan’s second highest wicket-taker in the 2016 World T20 in India, he had the best wickets tally in the Desert T20 challenge in January this year which Afghanistan won, he was a central figure in Afghanistan’s record unbeaten run of 10 games in T20Is that stretched till March, and has always appeared to be wise beyond his years.
You can spot a hint of media training in his expression of gratitude for his opportunities in the IPL, based on how cynical you are about these things, but the heart of the conversation lies in talking about his art form – leg spin. Rashid is not a throwback to the previous generation of bowlers of his ilk, most of who believed in giving the ball a few extra revs and hang time that Michael Jordan would be proud (and even envious) of. Rashid loves the idea of hurrying the batsmen by zipping his deliveries through the air – not offering the batsmen the gift of time.
“Actually, from the beginning, I love to watch all those leg-spinners who are quick in the air. Like Shahid Afridi, Anil Kumble… those are the leg-spinners who are quick in the air. I always love to watch them,” Rashid says. He is perhaps one of the very few amongst leggies who grew up in 2000s and didn’t get enamoured by the things Shane Warne could do with a cricket ball in hand. Why would he, for he genuinely believes that his kind of leg spin is the future, and the reason for his success so far.
“If you look, they (other leg spinners like Warne) are quite slow in the air, and I am little bit faster. Quick-arm action doesn’t allow the batsman to judge it quickly. That’s what really helps me to be quite different from other leg spinners. And it really helps me in the game, and has brought me to this stage and to this big league,” he says.
Rashid has picked up 17 wickets in the 13 group-stage matches in the IPL, and the sheer inability of the batsmen to read him off the hand has become one of the talking points of the season. He throws in a mean wrong ‘un every now and then that has befuddled batsmen even more, putting the idea of ‘reading him off the pitch’ out of question. But, T20 is so quickly-evolving that lots of players, and good ones at that, often get left behind. The ones that bring a surprise element at the start are the ones researched and prepared against the most by oppositions. And with technology and video analysis making its presence felt like never before, the expiry date of the ‘mystery’ is always lurking. But Rashid doesn’t entertain notions or fears of being ‘found out’.
“So far, I think I haven’t faced any problem like that. I’m playing a lot of cricket. I played in the World Cup (World T20 2016), played lots of series and now in IPL, I’ve played 13 matches. So far it is going well for me. I think one thing that’s really helped me is my quick-arm action. That doesn’t allow the batsmen to judge it (the ball),” he says. Rashid is also not perturbed by the idea of men behind computers breaking his bowling down, frame by frame.
“Yes you can see on the video, it will show you in slow-motion, you can read it. But in the middle, the quick-arm action I think puts a little bit of pressure in the mind of the batsmen, that now it is very difficult to judge it. I don’t bowl leg spin with one grip, I am bowling it with five grips. I am mixing it up to put something in the mind of a batsman, that, ‘what is he going to do next’.”
But what about the longest format of the game? History is evidence to the fact that leggies in the mould of Warne are the ones that succeed in Tests. The common belief is that the lure of delivering slower through the air is more potent than firing them in flat and quick, while battling against batsmen who will operate without the pressure of scoring quickly. Rashid, once again, has an alternate theory. “When I was not playing for four-day cricket for Afghanistan, most of the people were telling me, ‘you are not a four-day bowler. You are quick in the air. In a four-day match, you have to bowl slower and keep it in the air, so that’s what people were telling me – you are not capable of playing Test cricket’. But first time I was selected for the four-day game against England A team in Abu Dhabi, in the first match I got 12 wickets – four in the first innings and eight in the second.
“If I am troubling the batsman with my quick-arm action, it doesn’t matter if it is four-day match, 50-over or a 20-over game. The main thing is troubling the batsman and getting the wicket. That’s what I am doing and that’s what I did against Ireland in Noida before IPL. We played a four-day game and I took eight wickets in that as well. I think if you are mentally-prepared for it, if you are mentally ready for it, it doesn’t matter whatever format it is, I think it will work for you,” he says.
IPL has opened up a new world for Rashid, where limelight and media attention is commonplace. There’s a chance it could all be a little overwhelming, but provides takeaways aplenty. Rashid, as is his wont, is looking to tap into the latter.
“Actually, IPL is making me more mentally stronger. That helps me in bowling under pressure and how to bowl in the situation when the team needs wickets, when the team needs dot balls. In IPL you will bowl to all the big players and big names. That’s what I learnt that if I am bowling to the big players, what should I have in mind, what should be my idea and how do I control my nerves and how do I control the game. So that will hopefully help me in the upcoming matches for Afghanistan little more.”
Rashid’s instant success in the IPL has earned him a lot of accolades – from the Afghanistan government, the cricket board and a host of well-wishers. He’s delighted by it but it still isn’t time for over-indulgence in revelry. There’s a big world outside of IPL and bigger dreams to chase. His sights are particularly set on batsmen from Test-playing nations. “I would love to take the wicket of AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli – the modern, wonderful batsmen. I am working hard. One day will come, we will face and we will see.”
One day, for sure.