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An interview with Rashid Khan

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Rashid_Khan_Afghanistan_Cricket“Always felt @rashidkhan_19 was a good spinner but now I wouldn’t hesitate in saying he is the best spinner in the world in this format. Mind you, he’s got some batting skills as well. Great guy.”

Sachin Tendulkar tweeted this after Qualifier 2 of IPL 11, between Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad. The one in which Rashid Khan alone knocked KKR out of the tournament and took SRH to the final.

The ‘all-rounder’ scored 34 not out off just 10 balls to help SRH post 174/7 and then claimed three crucial wickets to help his team reach the final.

For Rashid, a leg-spinner from Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province, the tweet from the God of Cricket has still not sunk in. At only 19 years of age, he is the world’s best bowler in the shorter formats, and has achieved a lot more than his family would have envisaged.

“The constant turbulence in Afghanistan never really interfered with me playing cricket. There was no such financial hindrance too, since fortunately God has been kind to my family and given us enough. But initially, my parents were hesitant about me pursuing cricket professionally. My dad wanted us to become doctors or engineers,” said Rashid.

“We are seven brothers and four sisters, and bowling leg-spin is in my family’s blood. All my brothers can bowl leg-spin without any formal coaching. It comes to us naturally. I haven’t been coached either. I used to watch Shahid Afridi and Anil Kumble play, the two greats who inspired me to make a career out of leg-spin,” he added.

Rashid was the most unplayable bowler of IPL 11. He ended the season with 21 wickets, second only to Purple Cap winner Andrew Tye, who claimed 24 wickets. However, what stood out was that he bowled the most number of dot balls this season – 167. The best in the batting business were unable to read Rashid’s deliveries, and would prefer to just play him out during his quota of four overs.

When asked what makes his bowling so unpredictable, Rashid said, “Well I think my wrong-un is the toughest of all my deliveries because it comes in the same action as legs-spin, which is helping me immensely.”

During the Qualifier between SRH and KKR at Eden Gardens, fans of the home team, despite their team being at the receiving end of Rashid’s brilliance, were in awe of the bowler’s performance. A placard at the stadium’s prestigious ‘Club House’ box read, “Dear Rashid, India loves you.”

For Rashid, the feeling is mutual. “I love playing in front of Indian crowd and at Indian stadiums. They give me a lot of respect and treat me like one of their own national heroes. Besides, we are really thankful to the BCCI for helping Afghanistan cricket reach new heights, and giving us a new home ground in Dehradun. I hope that they continue supporting and helping us in the future too.”

Though Kane Williamson’s Sunrisers Hyderabad missed out on their second IPL title, they arguably had a side much stronger than the winning team, Chennai Super Kings. For the runners up, having made it to the finals was a big achievement in itself.

“We [the team] had a good long chat after losing the finals. We were proud of the way we played throughout the tournament, and backed each other to continue performing the same in the future. There was no point in talking about what we lost, so we discussed what we gained.”

Rashid will spearhead a heavyweight spin attack for Afghanistan in their first-ever Test against India next month in Bengaluru. With fellow spinners Mujeeb ur Rahman, Amir Hamza and Zahir Khan, Rashid is ready for the historic one-off Test that starts on June 14, 2018.

Replicating his performances from the shortest formats in whites will not be easy for Rashid. Test cricket is a different ball game. The batsmen do not go after every ball, choosing to wait and punish loose deliveries. Rashid is aware that getting the better of the world No. 1 Test team with the red ball will be a mighty challenge.

“If we win the Bengaluru Test, it will be the perfect Eid gift for fans back home. However, Test cricket is completely different from the limited-overs, hence it will be difficult to dismiss every single Indian batsman, let alone the main guys,” he said over the phone from the UK, where he is preparing for the West Indies vs World XI game that is raising funds for stadiums in the West Indies damaged by hurricanes in 2017.

“I am not making any special preparation for the [one-off Test]. As of now I am hoping to perform well in the T20 against West Indies, and carry the same form with me to Bengaluru.”

For Muslim cricketers, playing cricket or even practicing in the nets during the holy month of Ramadan can be extremely challenging, due to the day-long fast (roza). But for Rashid, observing a fast during Ramadan makes him feel more energetic than on days when he consumes all three meals.

“Ramadan is going on and I don’t skip my rozas. We don’t feel drained out or tired, but in fact, fasting makes us feel more energetic and active on the field. It is all the magic of Allah,” Rashid concluded.

 

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