Rashid Khan. Photo: AFP
Rashid Khan. Photo: AFP

For Rashid Khan and Afghan cricket, IPL’s a big deal

Rashid Khan, the first Afghanistan player to feature in the IPL, has been one of the players instrumental in guiding Hyderabad into the last four play-offs

On 5 April, Rashid Khan became the first Afghanistan player to feature in the Indian Premier League (IPL). For a cricketer from an International Cricket Council associate nation to play in the world’s premier T20 franchise tournament, and to make a discernable impression (17 wickets in 13 matches of the league stage), has been no mean feat. He has been one of the players instrumental in guiding Hyderabad into the last four play-offs.

Edited excerpts from an interview with the Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) spinner:

Did you ever believe that a franchise would pick you in the auction?

To be honest, no. This belief got stronger when Pakistan-born South African cricketer Imran Tahir was not picked up initially. I thought, if the top-ranked bowler in T20 cricket has not found any takers, how could I possibly find one? Then, my name came up and Sunrisers went for the bid. I was watching on television, and the money didn’t matter. It was simply exhilarating to know that I would be playing in this tournament.

How was your IPL debut and what was it like sharing the dressing room with stars and ex-cricketers like V.V.S. Laxman?

I was nervous before the game, but only slightly, because I have played T20 cricket before. So it isn’t any different, just the expectations are different. After my first match, everyone gathered at the team hotel and congratulated me on a fine debut. I can never forget that moment. I am blessed to be sharing a dressing room with David Warner, Yuvraj Singh and Laxman. They have played so much cricket that I could keep talking to them till the end of time.

(Former Sri Lankan spinner) Muttiah Muralitharan is also a mentor for SRH. What was it like to interact with him?

I spoke with Murali about spin bowling in detail. Of course, he was a different bowler, an off-spinner, while I am a leg spinner. But we spoke about different match situations and how to bowl against different batsmen, especially in T20 cricket. He watched my bowling performances, and told me that I have all the weapons. I don’t need to do anything different, but only need to understand match situations better.

Who do you look up to among leg spinners? What is your approach to spin bowling?

Any young spinner, particularly a leg spinner, will look up to Shane Warne. I do so too, but I haven’t modelled my bowling on him. His release action was a bit slower, while mine is a bit quicker. In that, it is similar to how Anil Kumble or Shahid Afridi bowled leg spin. I am more like them, and have grown up watching their videos.

In T20 cricket, I focus on bowling as many dot deliveries (on which no runs are scored) as possible.

Most leg spinners talk about taking wickets. Why is your approach different?

It has more to do with the format than anything else. Dot balls are at a premium in T20 cricket. Today, the margin of error against quality hitting is less. If you bowl to take wickets, the margin gets reduced further and you only end up getting spanked. So, I concentrate on doing what I do best—bowling dot balls—rather than getting affected by what the batsman is trying to do. The chance of success goes up with this approach.

Was your spell against Mumbai Indians (one wicket for 19 runs from four overs) your best performance in this IPL?

It definitely was. The task for spinners in T20 cricket is tough as it is, and a wet ball doesn’t help. It is tough to grip and exert the control you want. Luckily, my captain (in Afghanistan) Asghar Stanikzai had often asked me to practise with a wet ball. I was prepared for this situation. In terms of wickets, the 3-19 spell against Gujarat (in Hyderabad) was my best.

Mohammad Nabi also played for Hyderabad this season. How do you see that influencing Afghanistan cricket?

You will not believe the excitement back home when we got picked in the auctions, the number of messages we have received since we came here. There is immense happiness back home that both Nabi and I have played in the IPL, and that we have done well. It shows that Afghan cricket is rising through the ranks. We are not sure about qualification to the 2019 World Cup, but we will be playing a 50-over game against the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) on 11 July. That will be Afghanistan’s first at Lord’s—another big step.

Ultimately, the goal is to play Test cricket for Afghanistan, and I am hoping that day isn’t far away.

Chetan Narula is the author of Skipper—A Definitive Account Of India’s Greatest Captains