The success story of Afghanistan’s teenage sensation, Rashid Khan, is a lot similar to that of Jamal Malik, the protagonist of the 2008-starrer ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. The movie dealt with the story of an 18-year old boy from the slums of Mumbai who fought his way through crime, hardships and struggles to become a millionaire one day. Similar has been the case with Rashid Khan, an 18-year old boy from Nangarhar, who fought his way through a war-torn Afghan nation to become a million-dollar teenage cricket-star and possibly an icon.
Both stories have a similar plot to it; the only difference being we could see Malik’s life changing in the span of a couple of hours on the screen and it took us a year and a half to see Rashid’s life changing in reality. Rashid’s real-life story is nothing short of a fairy tale.
Beginning of the Journey
A year and a half ago, when Rashid made his international debut for Afghanistan in an ODI against Zimbabwe, he was just another ordinary associate player. However, within a short span of time, he has gone on to become the flag-bearer of Afghanistan cricket.
He has literally become the face of Afghan Cricket. Moreover, his performances and achievements over the past one year with the ball have been incredible. He mesmerised each and every one with his art of leg spin and his moment of fame arrived when he claimed his best T20I figures of 5/3 against Ireland earlier this year.
Rashid’s international exploits for Afghanistan led the IPL franchise Sunrisers Hyderabad to sign him for a whopping fee of 4 Crores in February earlier in the year. A month later, he was signed up by the Guyana Amazon Warriors for $60,000 to feature in 2017 edition of the Caribbean Premier League. Thus, a kid who used to play tennis ball cricket on the streets of Nangarhar, had become a ‘million dollar baby’ set to compete with the big boys of international cricket.
The New Chapter – IPL
On April 5th, 2017, Rashid Khan was about to become the first Afghan player to feature in IPL. The pressure was immense as everyone expected him to replicate his international T20 form in the IPL. He had made a name for himself with statistics of 40 wickets in 24 T20Is at an unbelievable average of 13.82. What was more commendable was his economy rate which stood at an impressive 6.07.
It was not that he had only been successful while playing against Associate nations. One should not forget that he was the second highest wicket-taker in the ICC World T20 last year where he claimed 11 wickets in 7 matches at an average of 16.63. That was the first time when he proved he was no ordinary bowler. His exploits in the ODI and T20I series against Ireland a year after proved to be the turning point in his career that fetched him an IPL contract.
Rashid didn’t have to wait long as became the first ever Afghan player to play an IPL match in the opening encounter of IPL 2017 against the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Batting first, the Sunrisers posted a massive total of 207/4. RCB also began the chase on a flying note scoring 50 odd runs in the first 5 overs.
A moment to savour for Afghanistan
The time had come and Rashid was summoned by his Sunrisers skipper David Warner to get them the much needed breakthrough in the last over of the power play. The result was a pretty familiar sight as a terrific googly breached the defence of Mandeep Singh and crashed straight into the stumps. There was Rashid Khan with his first ever IPL wicket. The joy was immense for him as he was also the first ever Afghan player to claim an IPL wicket.
He didn’t stop there and also went on to claim the wicket of Travis Head in the same match. He bowled three tight overs out of the four and ended up with bowling figures of 4-0-36-2.
He followed it up with another terrific bowling spell in the subsequent match against the Gujarat Lions where he claimed figures of 3/19 in his 4 overs. It was an intimidating spell as his scalps included the likes of Brendon McCullum, Suresh Raina and Aaron Finch. All three of them were trapped in front of the stumps after they misread breathtaking googlies from Rashid.
What makes him so special?
Rashid soon became a nemesis for the batsmen in the tournament as his variations were hard to pick. He could bowl leg spin with six different grips and that made him hard to pick. Moreover, it was his googly that turned out to be his main wicket-taking weapon in the tournament.
When he bowls, he looks a lot like his idol Shahid Afridi. After all, he has grown up idolising all the leg spinners like Afridi and Anil Kumble who were faster in the air rather than classical leg-spinners like Shane Warne who depended on flight and loop.
His physical appearance may give an impression that he is much older than an 18-year old. However, the joy on his face after taking a wicket, the enthusiasm, the innocent smile and the desire to achieve something new everyday resemble that of a kid. And if we add to those the maturity with which he reads every situation in a game and bowls accordingly, we have a very special player in front of us.
The energy of a match changes whenever he comes on to bowl; there is always a feeling that something is going to happen. And the fact that he delivers on that feeling more often than not is exactly what makes this young lad so exciting.
A star for his IPL franchise
A look at his IPL 2017 stats will reveal that he has done justice to the faith shown in him by the Sunrisers Hyderabad. 17 wickets in 14 matches at an average of 21.05 and economy rate of 6.62 is something very impressive in a tournament which doesn’t have much for the bowlers. And Rashid has not claimed those wickets with the help of mere luck. He has made each and every batsman dance to his tunes. He has controlled, bamboozled, tied up and troubled each and every one of them with his tricks and skills.
The Journey that lies ahead
Afghanistan are a team on the rise in international cricket. They have emerged as the Super Power among the associate nations in the last 5 years and are close to playing the longest format of the game against the Big Boys as well. 18-year old Rashid has an important role to play in the coming years. For, he has almost 15-20 years of international cricket ahead if everything goes right for him.
As of now, he is at the pinnacle of success in his career; that too at a very young age. However, he needs to keep his feet grounded to walk the long road lying ahead. If he can do that, he will end up being one of the future legends of the game.
(This Opinion Piece first appeared on Sportskeeda on May 22, 2017)