It was the last over of Rashid Khan’s spell. He had just been reverse swept by Danushka Gunathilaka for four. Next ball, Gunathilaka attempted to cut a length delivery but got an outside edge towards short third for one. Rashid looked in admonishment at the slapdash fielding that had cost him a run. His four overs eventually went for 39 runs - the most T20I runs he had conceded in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Afghanistan went on to lose its first match of the Super 4 round of the 2022 Asia Cup in Sharjah, and Rashid’s one-wicket spell once again became a talking point.
Rashid’s wickets have dried up in 2022. In 13 T20Is played this year, Rashid has 13 wickets at a strike rate of 22.6. In eight T20Is last year, he scalped 14 at 12.1. One of the reasons behind Rashid’s strike rate rocketing up is that batters are now more willing to nudge the ball for singles to deep fielders instead of taking unnecessary risks.
But that wasn’t the case on Saturday, with Kusal Mendis targetting the leg-side boundary by smacking two consecutive sixes off Rashid in the sixth over - his first of the match - which went for 17.
Now, Rashid doesn’t enjoy bowling in the PowerPlay. In all T20s this year, Rashid has gone at 7.94 runs an over and picked just two wickets while bowling inside the first six overs. In comparison, between overs seven and 16, his economy rate drops to 6.20, and the number of wickets shoots up to 55. The overall league-wise breakdown from the top four T20 franchise competitions gives a clearer picture.
|Indian Premier League||Economy Rate||Wickets|
|Big Bash League||Economy Rate||Wickets|
|Pakistan Super League||Economy Rate||Wickets|
|Caribbean Premier League||Economy Rate||Wickets|
“Teams sometimes look to minimise risks against him, such is his quality,” says Jason Gillespie, head coach of Adelaide Strikers, which retained Rashid at the recently held Big Bash League (BBL) draft.
“He can bowl well in the PowerPlay as well, but Afghanistan likes to bowl him outside of PP when he can have extra fielders because, in the PP, a batter can take risks and get away with them more than they can outside of PP. At Adelaide, we like to utilise him outside the PowerPlay. However, depending on the situation and the opposition, we sometimes get him on in the PP,” Gillespie added.
The decision to bowl Rashid inside the PowerPlay in Sharjah could have been influenced by two factors: first, the concept of match-ups. Left-handers are well-suited to attacking leg spinners with the turn, and Sri Lanka had three left-handers yesterday in its top six. But it opened with two right-handers, perhaps prompting captain Mohammad Nabi to turn to Rashid, who would spin the ball away from them.
Secondly, Afghanistan’s other star spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman had gone wicketless in his first spell of two overs. So, maybe Nabi took a gamble. It was the first time Rashid was bowling inside the first six overs in this Asia Cup.
Afghanistan spread out Rashid’s overs against Sri Lanka - he bowled one in the PowerPlay (sixth), two in the middle phase of the innings (11th and 13th) and one at the death (17th).
Twice, when Rashid was called on, Afghanistan had conceded more than 10 in the preceding over: 14 runs in the 12th over and 18 in the 16th. So, there was already pressure on him to not only take wickets but also stem the flow of runs. Teams being nonplussed by their batters’ risk-averse approach against Rashid makes his job doubly difficult.
Afghanistan’s spellbinding rise in the world of cricket has been scripted by its phalanx of world-class spinners led by Rashid. And Afghanistan would hope he finds the magic in his touch when Pakistan comes calling on Wednesday.