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Cricket World Cup

Why we can't get enough of Rashid Khan

CWCQ, interview

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Rashid Khan is set to become the youngest captain in international history.

When Rashid Khan leads Afghanistan onto the field to face Scotland on Sunday 4 March for their first fixture of the Cricket World Cup Qualifier, he will become, at 19 years and 165 days old, the youngest captain in international cricket history.

The promotion, coming about because Afghanistan’s regular captain, Asghar Stanikzai, requires surgery, feels both incredibly soon and entirely timely, much like everything else about Afghanistan’s rise to the summit of international cricket. It was only in 2013 that they became an Associate member. Now they are a Full Member, and one of the favourites to progress through the Cricket World Cup Qualifier and to the World Cup proper.

Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi were the first pair of Afghan's to earn IPL deals
Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi were the first pair of Afghan's to earn IPL deals

Putting the afterburners on the last few years of their rise has been Rashid, who like so many of his teammates, learned his trade bowling on roads and streets. One of 10 siblings, seven of whom bowl leg-spin, he has developed not just into the best spinner in his family, but the best limited-overs spinner in the world, and one of the most highly sought-after players in T20 leagues across the globe.

Since the start of 2017 CricViz tell us he has the best economy and strike-rate of any bowler, with his economy in the last 10 overs of ODI innings a staggering, and peerless, 4.58 runs per over. His 86 ODI wickets since his debut in 2015 are also the most of any bowler in that period. Against West Indies in 2017 he claimed the fourth best figures of any bowler in ODI history, claiming 7/18 to help defend 212.

Rashid Khan starred when playing for the Adelaide Strikers in the recently concluded BBL
Rashid Khan starred when playing for the Adelaide Strikers in the recently concluded BBL

Such a superb start to his career has earned him the dual accolade of being ranked top of the MRF Tyres ICC ODI and T20I player rankings. He is the youngest male player to be ranked top in any discipline in any format, but far from feeling the weight of expectation, he feels spurred on by the honour. “That doesn’t put extra pressure on me,” said Rashid. “Being No.1 bowler is a proud moment for me and my country, but that gives me more motivation, and more energy that now you have to do more good and do more positive things.”

He is building a CV with ball in hand to rank against anyone, but no amount of wickets ensures captaincy success. Even at a young age however, Rashid has been a leader long before being officially named as such; that much is clear from how he has helped another highly rated and even younger spinner, 16-year-old Mujeeb Ur Rahman, adapt to the demands of international cricket.

Rashid's mentoring of Mujeeb shows he is ready to lead
Rashid's mentoring of Mujeeb shows he is ready to lead

“We spoke a lot during the net sessions, in the match,” said Rashid. “Spoke a lot about the conditions, about the environment of a game, the situation. We have lots of expectation from him. He has the ability, he has the varieties to deceive everyone and to give a tough time to any batsman.”

In many ways, Mujeeb is following the path already cleared by Rashid, from Under 19s through the full international side to T20 fortune. In 2017, Rashid and all-rounder Mohammad Nabi became the first ever Afghanistan players to earn an IPL deal, with Rashid picked up for more than half a million US dollars by Sunrisers Hyderabad, a figure more than doubled this year. He may well face off against Mujeeb, who became the youngest player in history to win an IPL deal when signed, again for more than US$500,000, by Delhi Daredevils.

Rashid has also played in the Bangladesh Premier League, the Caribbean Premier League and the Big Bash League, and is set to feature in the T20 Blast for Sussex Sharks, but feels playing T20 cricket around the world offers far more than just monetary opportunity. “I always feel great to play in the big leagues like Big Bash and IPL,” he said. “There’s lots of things you can learn from the coaching staff, the players you play with.”

For all he’s learned and earned, it still feels as if Rashid is contributing far more to the leagues than they are to him. In the past year alone he took the Caribbean Premier League’s first-ever hat-trick for Guyana Amazon Warriors, finished sixth in the IPL wicket-taking charts, and finished as the joint-leading wicket-taker in the Big Bash League, playing a key role in driving Adelaide Strikers to their maiden BBL title. His performances in that tournament drew effusive praise from former Afghanistan coach and Australia Test cricketer Dean Jones.

Dean Jones (right):
Dean Jones (right): "Rashid Khan is a player in a completely different stratosphere"

“Rashid Khan is a player in a completely different stratosphere,” Jones wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald. “No current batsman can read which way he is spinning the ball. He bowls between 92-97 kph, making it almost impossible for any batsmen to get down the pitch to smash him. He is just so accurate he has mesmerised nearly every team he has played. I haven't seen a batsman who has smashed him. After watching Rashid Khan showcase his talents throughout this BBL, I can just imagine how a player of his ability would improve the Australian team.”

Demonstrating his approach and accuracy is his heat map of T20 wickets against right-handers - straight, targeting the stumps, no room to get him away.

Top of the stumps, just enough turn, deadly accuracy
Top of the stumps, just enough turn, deadly accuracy

Strutting in front of thousands is where Rashid Khan belongs, but while Zimbabwe might be a less glamorous stage, for Rashid it’s a familiar one, and one where he and his side have had success – he made his debut here and has toured the country twice, and Afghanistan have won every series they have played in the country. They will be relying on the same formula to bring them success again.

“I don’t think we need to do something extra, we don’t need to bring some changes like that,” said Rashid. “What we have done in the past, how we got success, I think we just focus on that, give 100%, give what we are capable of.”

The reward on offer is huge – a place at the ICC Cricket World Cup. Should they get there, it would be perhaps the biggest achievement yet for a team and player that already have so much to be proud of. Though Afghanistan qualified for the 2015 Cricket World Cup, with this being a 10-team tournament the challenge is that much greater, but qualification would be yet another giant leap forward. The Afghanistan story, and that of the icon at its heart, is just getting started.

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