18 November 2019

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Sunday June 3, 2018

Kabul (BNA) In the improbable story of Rashid Khan’s rise to world domination, perhaps the most improbable thing is that in this age of standardization, specialized coaching and big data, he is a self-taught bowler. “Up until now, the way I bowl has been natural.
I’ve always bowled this way,” he told Mumbai Mirror when we met him after an awards ceremony in South Mumbai earlier this week. Rashid collected the CEAT award for the world’s best T20 bowler and danced on stage with India batsman Ajinkya Rahane. “I had no facilities growing up. Mostly, I played with my brothers. We played with a tennis ball. I haven’t even played that much domestic cricket. All my practice took place in the house with my brothers... that’s how I improved ...” At this point, his voice trails off, as if even he can’t fully explain how he got from there — bowling on roads and in backyards in Jalalabad — to here in the cricketing equivalent of a blink of an eye. Rashid made his ODI and T20I debuts for Afghanistan against Zimbabwe in October 2015, even before he played first-class cricket. He has played 44 ODIs, 109 T20s and 30 T20Is but only four first-class matches. Since Afghanistan did not have a first-class set-up until 2017, in effect, Rashid has made his name in T20 leagues around the world, from the Big Bash in Australia to the Caribbean Premier League to the IPL.
This was Rashid’s second IPL. Last year, he created a flutter when he was bought for Rs 4 crore by Sunrisers Hyderabad as a relative unknown, but went on to take 17 wickets. He was ranked the sixth-best bowler in 2017. This year, he was retained for Rs 9 crore, and there was more pressure because he was no longer an unknown quantity. “To perform to the same level was tough,” he admits. But just as the batsmen knew more about him, he knew more about them too, and so he used those insights and simply focused on bowling in the right areas. “Taking wickets is not in my hands,” he says. “I can only bowl good deliveries and dot balls.” If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then Rashid’s method worked brilliantly. He was the second leading wicket-taker in the tournament with 21 wickets and had an economy rate of 6.73, fourth-best in the league. While it is still very early in Rashid’s career, and batsmen will learn how to play him better, especially in the longer formats of the game, he has the potential to be at the top of the game for a long time because he works hard and his fundamentals are sound. Kane Williamson, his SRH captain, called him the “the full package” after the season and Sachin Tendulkar backed up that assessment with a tweet stating, ““I wouldn’t hesitate in saying he is the best spinner in the world in this format... (and) he’s got some batting skills as well.”
Rashid grew up in Jalalabad, in Afghanistan, and he says it was a childhood free of violence and war. Though his family moved to Pakistan in the aftermath of 9/11, it was a shift made largely as a precaution rather than any imminent threat. They would return to Jalalabad a few years later and resume their lives. “From the beginning, my family was fine. We had everything. A house. A car,” he says. Initially, Rashid saw himself primarily as a batsman who bowled legspin part-time. Most of his brothers also bowled legspin and it had become a family tradition, which he is why he picked it up. His brothers cautioned him that playing with a cricket ball would be different but in his first three domestic (club) matches in Afghanistan, he took 21 wickets and quickly found himself demoted in the batting order. “I reached No. 8 and No. 9. So then I thought, if I am getting ahead because of my bowling, I should focus on it.” Rashid speaks softly with an even tone, much like his temperament, but his eyes are expressive, lighting up when he talks about his family, who he misses when he travels, or a particularly memorable performance.
Displaying a rare confidence and sense of conviction for a 19-year-old, Rashid says it wasn’t a difficult decision to switch focus from batting to bowling. “I was good at both. Whichever one I chose, I thought, God willing, I would get ahead in my career.” Of course, getting anywhere in professional sport requires hard work. So Rashid set about learning all he could about leg-spin in the only way he knew how: by bowling for hours in the nets once he started playing club cricket, often from the start of a practice session all the way through to the end. In this way, he gained control over line and length to a degree rare for a wrist spinner. His idol is Shahid Afridi, whose aggressiveness with the ball he admires and has chosen to emulate. He has also watched videos of Anil Kumble bowling, and there are signs of the Indian legend’s influence in the speed at which Rashid bowls, which is generally in the 90 to 95 kph range — quick for a leg-spinner.
The confidence he gained from putting in the hours to hone his craft allowed him to rebuff efforts to change the way he bowls from coaches of the many teams he has played for, both back home and around the world. “Up until now, the way I bowl has been natural,” he says. “Many coaches have told me to bowl slower, but I told them, ‘If I bowl slow, then I won’t be able to land the ball on the right length. I will bowl full tosses or half trackers.’” Still, he admits he did try bowling slower in the nets one time, but it went so badly, he decided never to try it again. According to Rashid, the response from some coaches was that he might get away with bowling this way in T20s, but in ODIs, he would be found out. When he tormented batsmen in the 50-over format as well — he is currently the No. 2 ranked ODI bowler in the world and is the fastest ever to take 100 wickets, doing it in just 44 matches — the coaches said he would struggle in first-class cricket. Once again, Rashid let his cricket do the talking by taking 12 wickets in his debut first-class game against the England Lions in Abu Dhabi in 2016.
Thus far in his career, he has taken 100 wickets in ODIs at an average of 14.40, with 7 for 18 against the West Indies his best single-game performance (a performance he rates as his most memorable so far). In 30 T20Is, he has taken 49 wickets at an average of 14.14, with 5 for 3 against Ireland his best return. “My pace is my strength and it is what makes my bowling unique,” he says. He has another unique attribute that separates him from conventional leg-spinners – he is a wrist-spinner who uses his fingers to bowl his most lethal delivery – the googly. “It is all natural,” Rashid says again. “When I say natural, I mean when I started playing with my brothers, from that point I have been bowling like this. I have not seen it or learned it from anyone.” He used the googly, which he bowls with hardly any drop in pace compared to the legbreak, to devastating effect in the 2018 IPL, undoing both Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni with that delivery. He bowled Dhoni in the first qualifier in the playoffs at the Wankhede Stadium, beating the CSK captain in flight as he stepped out to drive and knocking back the middle-stump. Rashid’s explanation for the wicket provides a peek into how he thinks about the game.
“Last year, I didn’t bowl him [Dhoni] too many googlies,” he says. “This year also I did not bowl many googlies. Mostly, I bowled legsbreaks to him. I was trying to get him out that way because he likes to step out and I was thinking if I beat him, I could get him out stumped. But in this match, the ball was gripping nicely and the wicket was taking turn. I bowled him two or three legbreaks. Then I thought if I can land a googly on the right spot, I can get him out. And that’s what happened.” Anyone who has watched Rashid play has noticed the exuberance with which he plays his cricket. At the awards show, Farokh Engineer, the former Indian wicket-keeper, who received a lifetime achievement award, remarked on it too. “I love your attitude. You are always smiling. You seem to really be enjoying yourself,” Engineer said. For Rashid, the rationale is simple. “The more you enjoy the game, the better you will play,” he says. In order to keep negative thoughts from crowding his mind, he imagines that he and the batsman are the only two people in the ground. “There is me and the batsman and I have to bowl to him.
That’s the mindset I play with,” he says. It’s that mindset he brought to the second qualifier against Kolkata Knight Riders late last month. His team was in dire straits at 138 for 7, and with just two overs left, it looked like KKR had the match under control. But Rashid smashed 34 from 10 balls, including four sixes, and took 3 for 19 to set up a stunning victory. Oh, and he also took two catches and effected a run-out for good measure. Some observers consider it to be the finest all-round performance in IPL history. The money he has earned doesn’t appear to have affected him. In fact, he says he hasn’t thought about the money at all, nor has his family discussed what he would like to do, or not do, with his newfound riches. “If I run after money, saying give me this much money, then my cricket will be neglected. Whether I get nine or four or two crore, I will accept it. My job is to play cricket.” On June 14, Afghanistan will make their Test debut against India in Bangalore. Rashid is excited to be among the first group of Test cricketers ever for his country. “One dream is to win the World Cup with Afghanistan - whether it is T20 or ODI. The amount of talent that is coming through in Afghanistan, it gives me hope that one day we can win the World Cup,” he says.
Even now, having already achieved so much, Rashid says he continues to experiment in the nets. He uses different grips and different releases and like a good scientist, notes down the results. If something doesn’t work, he tries something else. “This is how I learn,” he says. “I use four or five grips to bowl and then I try to figure out which grip I need to use for which kind of wicket. Sometimes, with my natural grip, I don’t get turn on a wicket. Then I change my grip and things are better. If that doesn’t work, I change my grip again. So this is the circle of things.” While he expected to one day be a successful cricketer, his rapid rise to the summit is something he did not anticipate. “I could not have dreamt that in two years I would become so big and and achieve so much,” he says. It is now past 10 pm on the day after the IPL final, and Rashid is still dressed in a blue blazer over a white shirt (no tie) and dark jeans. At this point, all he wants to do is sleep. He has to catch an early morning flight to London to play in a charity match later in the week. “I am going to walk to my [hotel] room with my eyes shut,” he says to his entourage.
But his night isn’t quite done yet. There are requests for selfies from a handful of fans. He obliges. A few moments later, as he is walking through the lobby, a teenager holding a cricket bat chases after him. Security stops the fan but Rashid turns his head to see what the commotion is about.

“Come here,” he says to the delighted fan, who whips out his phone and leaves with a beaming smile. A similar scene plays out while he is waiting for the elevator. A family is first stopped by security officers, then told it’s okay to take a photo by Rashid. By this point, the officers realizes that Rashid isn’t going to say no and they allow a woman to take a photograph with him. Then, one of the security personnel decides to get in on the act, and sneaks in a photo with Rashid too, just before the elevator arrives and finally spirits him away.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Kabul (BNA) In a major boost to Afghanistan’s international cricket prospects, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) acting secretary, Amitabh Choudhary announced that all international teams touring India will now play one practice match against Afghanistan.  The move is set to constantly provide high quality exposure to the budding cricketing nation.
This development comes on the back of his recent visit to Kabul to discuss bilateral cricketing relations between the two countries. 
India are also set to be part of Afghan history when they host them for their first ever Test from 14-18 June in Bengaluru.
Choudhary hoped this trend would help the Afghan players improve their skill levels and would help improve the cricketing tie-up between the two nations further, “Cricket will further strengthen ties between the two countries and deliver a message of peace.  Afghan players are well known and loved in India because of their participation in IPL which will increase in the coming years.”
“It is a privilege for us to be playing Afghanistan in their historic first Test match as we did not want to let go of this opportunity”.
The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) president, Atif Mashal, on his part, thanked the BCCI for providing them a second stadium in Dehradun, apart from the usual ‘home’ in Greater Noida. “Afghanistan is now a full member of ICC and we also enjoy cordial relations with BCCI which will be further strengthened as we strive to work together to further develop the game in the country.”  He added.

Sunday May 27, 2018

Kabul (BNA) President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has praised ace spinner Rashid Khan as an asset to the cricketing world, saying they are not giving him away.
Rashid Khan, who comes from eastern Nangarhar province, once again gave a wonderful all-round performance to guide Sunrisers Hydarabad into the Indian Primer League (IPL) final on Friday night. He smashed 24 runs off 100 balls, grabbed three wickets for 19 runs in 4 overs and took two high-pressure catches in the final over to take his team into Sunday’s final. Cricket fans on social media showered praise on the Afghan prodigy. Some Indians even wanted an Indian citizenship for the top-ranked Twenty20 bowler. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj came up with a witty response to fans: “@rashidkhan_19-I have seen all the tweets. Citizenship matters are dealt by Ministry of Home Affairs.
President Ghani tweeted: “Afghans take absolute pride in our hero, Rashid Khan. I am also thankful to our Indian friends for giving our players a platform to show their skills. “Rashid remains an asset to the cricketing world. No, we are not giving him away,” the president wrote. Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah also lauded Khan’s exceptional talent. He tweeted: “We all take so much pride in him and wish him all the best for the final and many more games to come.”

Saturday May 26, 2018

Kabul (BNA) Afghanistan spinner Rashid Khan on Friday dedicated his man of the match award to those who lost their lives in a blast during a cricket game in his hometown earlier this month. Rashid Khan's virtuoso display with bat (10-ball 34) and ball (3/19) helped Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) beat Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) by 13 runs to book their place in the final of the Indian Premier League (IPL) where they will meet Chennai Super Kings on Sunday in Mumbai. "I want to dedicate this award to those who lost their lives in a blast during a cricket game in my hometown back home," Rashid, 19, said at the post-match presentation ceremony.
At least eight people were killed and dozens wounded in a series of blasts during a cricket match in eastern Afghanistan earlier this month. Coming to the match, Rashid helped struggling Hyderabad post 174/7 by scoring bulk of the 50 runs in the last three overs which proved to be the difference at the end as he took three wickets which included the wickets of Chris Lynn (48), Robin Uthappa (2) and Andre Russell (3) to help his team cross the line. "It was much-needed for me, wanted to give my 100 per cent in all departments," Rashid said on his performance.
So far, Rashid has taken 21 wickets in 16 matches. Rashid revealed he started his career as a batsman. "Focus was to just believe in my skills. I was happy with the batting, it was needed in the end. I started my career as a batsman, I believe in my skills and wanted to finish off well. "I just tried to pick the lengths, the focus was to play straight. That was the plan from the senior players. Fielding is one department where you can't make excuses, compared to last year, I've worked really hard in my fielding.
"If I can't contribute with bat or ball, I'm always looking forward to contribute on the field. Modern cricket demands that. I'm working hard on that," he signed off.
An elated Sunrisers skipper Kane Williamson said that Rashid will now be well rested so that he is in fine fettle for the all-important summit clash. "Rashid was brilliant, but he's got another game day after. We'll keep him wrapped up," Williamson said. "Exciting, must-win game, great to go through to the final, important to move on. As a team we fight till the last ball, showed that today. Someone like Rashid is the perfect example of that. Outstanding talent, but a team effort. Lot of the guys chipped in, great team fighting effort which is the attitude we want to see. "One thing we didn't change was our balance, Saha was injured but he came back... was nice to have his experience. Every one of the guys have played a huge part, whether on or off the field," he added.