Among the countless congratulatory messages that Rashid Khan received after his IPL debut on Wednesday, there was one particular notification that caught his eye. “Great start to the IPL… keep going,” it read. The message came from Lalchand Rajput, Afghanistan’s head coach. Like others, Rajput too had been waiting for the 10th season of the IPL to begin. The glitzy opening ceremony and the razzmatazz notwithstanding, he was keen to see how Rashid, the young and highly prolific leg-spinner from Afghanistan performed for his franchise Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Rashid did not disappoint. His impact was instant. Brought into the attack in the final over of the Powerplay, Rashid struck with his fourth delivery to remove Royal Challengers Bangalore’s opener Mandeep Singh. The wicket came off a googly. Seven overs and exactly 30 minutes later, the leg-spinner would get his second scalp with yet another googly, this time eliciting a false stroke from Australian Travis Head. The two timely dismissals pegged Bangalore back and paved the way for the defending IPL champions’ convincing 35-run win. Rashid finished with figures of 4-0-36-2.
His display won him accolades from several quarters. It’s the first time a player from Afghanistan got an opportunity to perform in the IPL and Rashid performs admirably on debut. Sunrisers captain David Warner heaped praise on the youngster. “He was fantastic. He has the talent and seems to be a fantastic prospect for Afghanistan cricket.”
Moments later, Rashid was trending on Twitter and other social media platforms. “This is huge. A few years ago, you couldn’t have imagined a bowler from Afghanistan bowling in the IPL. And getting a wicket in his 1st over!” cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle tweeted. “I thought he was fantastic. To keep your composure and perform like that in front of such a huge crowd only shows how fast he is maturing as a player. I don’t think he has ever played in front of such large crowds before,” Rajput said. It’s a fair point if you consider Rashid’s humble origins.
An Afridi fan
Nangarhar. It’s a province on the eastern fringes of Afghanistan. A nondescript place known more for saffron production than cricketers. Rashid grew in this nick of the woods in a family comprising seven brothers and four sisters. It was cricket, more specifically Shahid Afridi, that kept Rashid going. “Mein Shahid Afridi ka bahut bada fan hoon. Unko dekhke mein leg-spinner bana hoon. Bachpan mein unko TV mein khelte dekhta tha.” While his friends and brothers wanted to be either batsmen or fast bowlers, Rashid wanted to emulate his childhood hero. Due to lack of facilities, Rashid made the trip to Kabul more than five years ago when his cricketing dreams took flight.
Rashid is coming into this IPL on the back of pretty consistent performances across three formats for Afghanistan. He was the highest wicket-taker in the recent T20 and ODI series against Ireland at their home base in Greater Noida. He followed it up with eight wickets in the four-day Intercontinental match, which Afghanistan won. The Nangarhar native reckoned it was a combination of hard work, skill and team bonding that has made him prosper ever since he broe into the Afghanistan senior squad over 18 months ago. “Inshah Allah, bahut mehnat kiya hoon…mere game pe, aur fitness par. When I had joined the senior team, we were at the stage where we could not afford to lose even a single game. Harne ka koi sawaal hi nahi tha. Ek junoon ke saath hamesha khelta hoon,” he said.
It’s this junoon that kept this unabashed Afridi fan ticking. Rajput puts things in perspective. “He bowls at a good pace, and can spin it both ways. Having said that, his stock delivery is the googly. Even mentally, he is pretty strong and doesn’t let the situation get the better of him,” he added. All these traits were on display at Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi Stadium.
At 18, Rashid has made a name for himself. He made heads turn at the auction when he was snapped for Rs 4 crore.
Following his IPL gig, Rashid will head to the Carribean to play in his first season of the CPL for the Guyana Amazon Warriors. As things stand, he could soon turn into Afghanistan’s new-age poster boy. The quintessential globe-trotting cricketer plying his trade in various T20 leagues across the world, while at the same time churning out match-winning performances for his country.
There is, however, a flip side to this. Rashid has been out of Afghanistan since December. He has crisscrossed the globe from Dubai to Harare to India playing one series after another.
“I have not met my family since December as I have been constantly travelling. After the IPL, I head to the Carribean and from there I go to Ireland in June-July. I will return home in August,” Khan said.
More than the money and the fame from these T20 leagues, it’s his performances for Afghanistan through which he wants to chalk out a legacy for himself. “I want to be remembered as Afghanistan’s best spinner,” he gushed. If his performance against RCB is anything to go by, he surely is getting there.