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Adil Rashid, the man who removed Babar Azam and strangled England in the T20 World Cup final

Rashid’s journey from a self-doubting kid who re-found his faith to a champion leg spinner in the World Cup through the eyes of Mushtaq Ahmed and Cheteshwar Pujara.

T20 WCEngland's Adil Rashid (AP Photo/James Elsby)

The story goes that when Adil Rashid was just 13, he took 10 wickets for 55 runs in a senior game in the Bradford league. Impressed, the local council of Bradford, a multi-racial district in England with Muslims forming a quarter of its population, brought in the great Pakistani leggie Abdul Qadir to give five coaching sessions to Adil. The love for leg spin would kick into Rashid and soon the boy began to move up the ranks in cricket.

It would spike up further when Shane Warne’s mentor Terry Jenner would land up at an opportune time. Jenner, a maverick coach, would tell Adil’s father, who had moved to Bedford from Mirpur in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir when he was 13: “Mr Rashid, you’ve got a good leg spinner there. You’ve done a good job with his wrist. I will work with his head and delivery stride.”

The father Abdul was indeed a cricket romantic who not only threw a cricket ball to an eight-year-old Adil but also told him to bowl leg spin. He would take his son to a neighbourhood hockey pitch where the ball would bounce well on its artificial surface to practice the leg spin.

 

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Money wasn’t an issue in the household of Rashids, and Abdul built a room in the basement — 23 feet by 28 feet — for practice. The father and three sons — Haroon, a fast bowler, Amar, and Adil — would practice with a proper leather ball. The walls were dented and its plasters peeled off but the ball continued to ricochet off them for quite some time before they re-did the place and started using tennis balls. Abdul would hang balls on ropes from the ceilings and make his sons practice. The passionate dad would organise cricket training with clubs in Lahore even on family holidays to Pakistan during Christmas vacation.

Abdul watched over the teenage years of his sons and used cricket to prevent them from straying in life. The father would have his sons engaged in matches and it would be late in the day, 9 to 10 pm, by the time the four would return home. On non-match days, he would take them to the nets.

“I didn’t even let them think. Sometimes I would take one to play at Taunton, to play at Yorkshire representative level, then come back to Bradford and take another up to Newcastle while the third needed transport playing somewhere in the east,” Abdul said in an interview once.

Haroon was a medium pacer who could bat in the top order, Amar was a batsman who bowled leg spin but it was the youngest Adil who began to make a name for himself.

In July 2006, he became the first Muslim cricketer to play for Yorkshire. On a hot day with a dry pitch aiding him, the boy took six wickets, immediately cueing up a lot of attention on him.

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The early years, however, won’t go according to how the father had dreamed. Adil would flit in and out of the team, at times it felt he was flitting in and out of love for the game itself. He was even dropped by Yorkshire in 2012 and Geoffrey Boycott had been blunt in his assessment. “He’s never progressed, that’s the sad part. You can’t just pick people because they are legspinners.”

Enter another Pakistan spinner, Mushtaq Ahmed. He had worked with a young Rashid, and had seen him improve but also then fade.

Then, one day in 2014, he was surprised by a call. It was Mark Robinson, England Lions’ coach, wanting to speak to Mushy, who was England’s bowling coach then, about Adil Rashid.

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“Mushy, happy news, Adil has improved.” How? “He has got his Allah back.”

England bowler Adil Rashid reacts during the T20 World Cup cricket match between England and Sri Lanka in Sydney, Australia, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Mushtaq told The Indian Express that he was surprised and blurted out, “Why do you say that?” Robinson’s reply nailed the problem that was pushing Rashid back until then.

“He no longer fears failures. That mental weakness seems to have changed. He told me that he now leaves the results to Allah, and that has freed him to bowl well and focus on his bowling. He has really bowled well here,” Mushtaq recalled Robinson’s reply.

Mushtaq started to watch and work with Rashid on his return to the England side and noticed all the improvements.

“His action had become very compact. Nothing that can break down now. By that I mean, it’s a repeatable action. Everything is well-aligned, and he uses the body a lot more. And because of his high-arm action, his googlies are deceptive,” Mushtaq told this newspaper a couple of years back.

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Around that time, India batsman Cheteshwar Pujara, who played with Rashid in county cricket, also told this newspaper about the challenges in Rashid’s bowling.

“Unlike some other legspinners whose googlies slow up as they loop it up from the back of the hand, Adil maintains the same pace on it as his normal leg breaks. He has sort of a quick action too and that also helps. Adil likes when batsmen go after him and that’s why he has been successful in T20. His googlies and flippers then come into play more, and with the batsmen looking to hit, they sometimes miss to pick the variations.”

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England’s Adil Rashid reacts after a missed catch chance during the T20 World Cup cricket semifinal between England and India in Adelaide, Australia, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/James Elsby)

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Rashid takes out Surya to sucker punch India

Mushtaq’s and Pujara’s assessments proved spot on yet again in the semi-final against India. The quick arms, and the big heart were all in view.

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No Indian batsmen really had any answers to him. Not Rohit Sharma, who almost hacked the ball to him once, not Virat Kohli, who couldn’t stretch to the pitch of the dipping ball to drive, barring once, no one.

Not even Suryakumar Yadav.

It was one thing troubling Rohit, who was trying to go too hard, and Kohli, who was trying to stretch himself inexorably hoping for an error in length that never came, but that Suryakumar Yadav ball would be replayed at his home in Bradford for a few times at the very least.

Surya had just tonked two fours off the seamers – not hacking, but timing them superbly and looked in great nick when Rashid started to run in.

For starters the pace on it. Loopily slow, as if it were drugged. Surya came out with his bat raised, but must have realised he would have to slow down every movement of his. Not easy as he had already charged out.

Next, the loopy dip. To his credit, Surya did his best to hold his shape, adjust his bat swing, but the ball wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Instead, it fell down, anaesthetised, a stretch away from him. Now, Surya had to somehow get closer to it, under it, and also impart power. Not easy.

Then came the spin. If it was just a straight ball, Surya might still have managed to do all of the above. But once it spun, to adjust, he had to lose his shape. Already dragged out of his comfort zone, he still managed to connect but couldn’t get the distance. Gone. Rashid would pump his fists and roar in joy. A wonderful legspinner’s wicket, that. One for the ages.

Adil Rashid vs Babar Azam was always going to be the battle of the final. In the past, Rashid has taken him down with his googlies. For four balls, over two different overs, Rashid kept it pretty full and on the middle stump line. Babar would keep working them to the on side.Then off his first ball of the 12th over, his third, Rashid would rip across a googly from a length. Babar would shape for a cut. Mistake. And be surprised by the extent of the turn on this, get cramped up, and attempt a stab. The ball skewed back to an alert Rashid who dived forward to grab his man.

He nearly had Iftikhar Ahmed too in the same over. Two stinging leg breaks beat the hesitant poke. Then he fired a front-of-hand slider on the off stump that had Iftikhar just about stabbing away from the stumps. Then came the googly, which nearly broke through Iftikhar’s off drive. Rashid would drop his head, disappointed that he hadn’t snared another victim. It was the over of the world cup final, thus far, and one that he would remember for a long time.

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One for the Bradford faithful to remind Rashid when he lands up there after the world cup. The last time he returned from a world cup, in 2019 after his captain Eoin Morgan had quoted him as saying ‘It’s Allah’s hand’ after England’s famous win over New Zealand, he was mobbed by his Bradford people. Plastic garlands were thrown on his neck at a celebratory event, and a moved Adil would say, “I didn’t expect this”. This time around, he better expect it.

First published on: 10-11-2022 at 16:57 IST
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