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Rashid Khan, a journey not a destination

Another googly, another wicket, another stumping.

Rashid Khan
Sunrisers Hyderabad’s Rashid Khan. (Photo by IANS)

For the Afghanistan team, the 2016 T20 World Cup was one to forget. They faced the mighty South African team in the second game of the tournament. For South Africa, the match was pretty straight in black-and-white and on the other hand for the Afghan side, the match was a stage for them to prove what they are worth.

With the tall Afghan pacers striking early in the innings, the match seemed well poised with an average score around the 170 mark. However, the match changed in one particular over of the innings. A 17-year-old leggie was given the ball during the 17th over against the mighty willow of the now-retired-South African AB de Villiers.

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ABD cracked the over open with a huge six over the cow-corner knocking the ranker of a delivery. The next delivery found a similar fate, as the right-hander smashed the ball over the leg-side for a boundary. 3 consecutive sixes and the momentum was swinging in the favour of the Proteas, while a dejected young leggie walked back to his bowling crease.

The tournament did not help to boost the morale of the young leggie, despite him finishing second on the highest wicket-takers list with 11 wickets in the tournament.

A new beginning

Let’s forward the calendar a bit, and go back to the 10th of March 2017. A young Afghanistan team was facing the might of the Irish team on a neutral venue thousands of kilometres away from home. Asghar Stanikzai won the toss for the Afghan side and elected to bat first, in the condition which was slightly overcast and favoured pace bowlers.

The conditions were pretty much spot on, and Afghan’s wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad stoked the ball straight to Kevin O’Brien, with Barry McCarthy picking up the early wicket. Stanikzai too handed his wicket over to the Irish team with a false stroke off the bowling of McCarthy. Apart from his future teammate and all-rounder Mohammad Nabi and Najeeb Tarakai, none of the Afghan players found the sweet spot on the bat.

Afghanistan put up a massive total of 184 runs in front of the experienced bunch of Irish boys, who know how to win games. After a strong start, Ireland crashed down to 68/3 at the end of the 7th over. At 68/3, with a total of 184 in front of them, the match was to be won by the batting side. However, one young lad decided to ruin the Irish party with some pretty bowling.

No prizes for guessing, it was the young leggie, Rashid Khan. A tempting googly resulted in the first wicket for Rashid, with Kevin O Brien going for the hock. What followed in the next few deliveries were similar to what Rashid Khan has proved time and again in the next two years.

Another googly, another wicket, another stumping. A pumped-up Rashid was making all the right noises way away from the limelight in the mainstage. Rashid was thrown into the world stage a year ago against the likes of South Africa, West Indies, England and Sri Lanka where the leggie could not get the right purchase.

With 9 wickets in three T20 innings, the leggie was certainly making the right impact following his heroics in the 50-over format of the game. In the five innings that Rashid had bowled in the ODI’s, he picked up 16 wickets, five more than his teammate and opening bowler Dawalat Zadran. Was it a sign of how well the leggie could change his game or was it a one-off series?

IPL came calling for the leggie

The Sunrisers Hyderabad spotted a talent in the leggie and picked him up in the 2017 IPL Auctions for a mere 4 crores. At that time, the four crores seemed to be way more than what the price seems to be for him in the current scenario. What followed for the Sunrisers, was a proven wicket-taker and a keen observer.

Not only could David Warner fall back on the leggie for his bowling, but also could trust on the leggie to run the mile and pick the ball with a throw as good as the big boys. The leggie picked up 17 wickets in the tournament, at an economy rate of 6.62 striking every 19th delivery in his spell.

With the bat, however, the right-hander could only get 11 runs in the few innings that he took the willow on. For the Sunrisers, the plan was simple that they had to hold on to the gem of the bowler, and a more than able fielder.

Rashid answered the question in a belligerent fashion, in the three-match ODI series against two-time World Cup winners West Indies. In the opening ODI, Rashid picked up seven wickets, yes seven wickets against a two-time World cup winning nation in just 9 overs of pure class spin bowling helping Afghanistan to a huge victory over West Indies.

In the following match, the leggie picked up three wickets for his side, as they played fair and square against a competitive West Indian side. West Indies, on the other hand, bounced back after a dismal loss against the same opposition with a four-wicket win.

A stunner against Zimbabwe and a second IPL

Rashid followed his purple patch with the ball in the series against Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe. In the five ODI’s that the leggie played against Zimbabwe, he picked up 16 wickets with best figures of 5/24. Rashid had grown immensely in both age and confidence that he had gained from the successful Indian Premier League.

In the two T20I’s that he played against Zimbabwe in the same series, he picked up a total of five wickets and proved to be a handful for the home side. The Sunrisers, after having earthed a belter of a talent had to do all it takes to keep hold of the leggie which they did by splurging a whole lot of cash for the 19-year-old.

While a majority of the Indian spinners walked home with a salary close to 5-6 crores, the leggie walked home a massive 9 crores which were way higher than the price that a senior pro in Ravichandran Ashwin had taken home. Could the leggie keep his form, or would Sunrisers make a meal of the deal?

A meal of a deal, or a hell of a deal?

Rashid Khan proved more than worthy for the franchise, and more than handy for the batsmen to read. Not only did the leggie knock over the wickets of AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli who had him on the ropes with their aggression, but also picked up the prized possession of Chennai Super King’s MS Dhoni. A dream IPL said some, while the others credited the constant hard work.

However, the leggie was not done and came back to haunt the Knight Riders with one-helluva batting performance. Rashid Khan never failed to showcase his talent and took the opportunity by its neck and smashed 34 runs off just ten deliveries, while the rest of the teams struggled.

Rashid returned with a vigour in his eyes, and aggression with the ball in the hand. After confidently knocking the ball all over the park, the leggie came to contain the Knight Rider batsmen from a similar knock.

With three wickets, for just 19 runs Rashid Khan managed to turn the game on his head. With the run-out and the two catches that he took, he proved that he is more than just a handy bowler or a handy batsman, and more preferably a perfect player who can field as well for the trust that the franchise had placed on the youngster. Rashid Khan, a journey not a destination.

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