Picture a frog spinning on a very fast wheel. You can see the creature’s limbs flying in different directions through the blur, all very fast, whirring, spinning … young Rashid Khan is not the most pleasing sight when he bowls. But, man, can he bowl!
He says he has modelled his action along Shahid Afridi’s – well, limb-speed aside, the connection is tenuous, to say the least. No doubt Afridi will be pleased to have influenced the youngster. But while Afridi was usually straight or spinning slightly, from a good height, Rashid sends the ball through with a much lower trajectory in keeping with his shorter stature, and turns the ball a fair way in either direction. Read the googly – it comes from the back of the hand. Sure, but what do you do when the hand, and everything else, is going so fast it’s close to impossible to spot?
And what do you get? “The man from Afghanistan strikes!” – as Ravi Shastri hollers.
On the day of the Indian Premier League auction 2017 – February 20 – I was with friends watching the goings-on. Rashid Khan? 100%, everyone agreed.
Bidding started at Rs 50 lakh for Rashid, and almost at the speed at which he sends the ball, his price soared. I can only imagine – or not – what the boy himself and his well-wishers must have gone through as Rashid went from being oh, that Afghan boy to wow, that Afghan boy.
It was the story of the auction, and of IPL 10, whether or not he does anything of further note. Five wickets for 55 runs in his first two games – Mandeep Singh, Travis Head, Brendon McCullum, Aaron Finch and Suresh Raina the victims – is of note, of course.
An ‘acceptable’ would have been enough to pass his Ordinary Wicket-taking Levels. Rashid has definitely touched ‘exceeds expectations’, if not ‘outstanding’ – but just being there, being one of two Afghans in the IPL along with Mohammad Nabi, is achievement enough. For a spot of perspective, Shakib Al Hasan and Mustafizur Rahman, if he makes the trip, are the only two Bangladeshis in the mix at the moment, and Mashrafe Mortaza and Tamim Iqbal are the only others to have ever been a part of the IPL from that country. I thought some team would have liked to get Mohammad Shahzad in their squad, but that’s another matter.
The story of Afghanistan’s rise out of the ashes is legend. I wonder if any country can claim such enormous raw talent despite such minimal infrastructure, ever.
Rashid was born in September 1998, bang in the middle of the civil war triggered by the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul and the establishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The ‘Taliban Period’ officially ended in 2001, but the war has continued, in some form or the other, to this day. It was first the United States-led invasion of the country, which left behind little more than rubble, and then the Afghan operations against the Taliban and the Al Qaeda, which has been on since.
These have been the years of Rashid’s existence on this planet.
And what we have got is a laughing, smiling destroyer of batsmen, somewhat podgy and looking a little older than his age. “He’s very modest. The first time I met him was before the first match, the practice match, he comes across as a very, very confident player, he has a lot of self-belief,” VVS Laxman, the mentor at Sunrisers, has to say about his team’s latest hero.
Truth be told, with Shahzad in the main, all the Afghan cricketers are jovial. If you’re out looking at them for traces of the hardships they, and their countrypeople, have faced, it’s not on display. And boys like Rashid are making it all that much sunnier.
Where do you place Rashid? Who do you compare him to?
Duncan Fletcher, whose 69 not out and 4 for 42 gave Zimbabwe a win over Australia in their first-ever One-Day International back in the 1983 World Cup? Surely, considering the opportunities that are likely to come Afghanistan’s way, Rashid can go well clear of Fletcher if he keeps his game up and if Afghanistan can keep their standards high enough.
Maybe Shakib? In terms of lifting the lid, becoming a pioneer of sorts from a small cricketing country, maybe he is the closest parallel we can find. Shakib has gone on to do so much, for himself and for Bangladesh cricket, by just being as good as he is. Rashid isn’t a bad batsman but probably doesn’t qualify as an allrounder. But he is pretty sure to become the much-in-demand, on-call signup for T20 franchises around the world that Shakib has become over time. The face of Afghanistan cricket, like Shakib is the face of cricket in Bangladesh.
There’s so much Rashid has left to do – he is not yet 19. He has the ability and the attitude; he seems the real deal all right. Shakib’s years have coincided with Bangladesh becoming, possibly, the most cricket-obsessed nation in the world. I’d wager that Rashid could be a plug for exactly that sort of thing in his country. If he can go the distance – always a big if in international cricket, with its pressures and its fame traps.
“He’s a superstar in the making,” gushed David Warner, the Sunrisers captain, after Rashid’s McCullum-Finch-Raina trick. That just about sums it up.
It’s impossible not to feel a bit of kinship for Afghans, and a love for Afghan cricket and cricketers. It’s men like Nabi, Asghar Stanikzai, all the Zadrans, Hamid Hassan, Shahzad, who have done the spadework for Afghanistan cricket to be where it is today. It will probably be Rashid who cashes in. If that sounds unfair, it isn’t. It’s just the way it is. In the process, this young man will end up highlighting the years of struggle, prop up the men who made it all happen. It’s not his job to do that; his focus must be on his cricket. Only, when it comes to men like Rashid, success means so much more than just a few extra dollars and a swank car. If Rashid succeeds, Afghanistan succeeds. Imagine!