Rashid Khan: Young and inspiring

Rashid Khan has turned heads with his performance in the IPL and also for the Afghanistan national side. He, however, wants to stay grounded and focus on his game. During a visit to Greater Noida — which is the ‘home’ base for the Afghanistan cricket team — Rashid spoke exclusively to Sportstar on the road ahead.

The last three years have been a great experience. And as far as success is concerned, I think self-belief has played a key role,” Rashid says.   -  Getty Images

A couple of seasons ago, a rookie spinner made it to the Afghanistan national side. Not many thought he would go too far. But in a short time, Rashid Khan has showed his skills on the cricket field and has firmly established his credential as a youth icon in Afghanistan.

While he has been consistent for the national side, Rashid, 19, has also been one of the star discoveries of the Indian Premier League (IPL). His performances for Sunrisers Hyderabad last season made him a household name. His effort paved the way for lucrative contracts in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL), the Big Bash League and the Pakistan Super League (PSL).

With fame and money coming his way, Rashid, however, wants to stay grounded and focus on his game. During a visit to Greater Noida — which is the ‘home’ base for the Afghanistan cricket team — Rashid spoke exclusively to Sportstar on the road ahead.

Question: Ever since your debut in 2015, you have become a talking point in the cricketing circles. What has been the secret of your success?

Answer: The last few years have been wonderful. Since making it to the Afghanistan side, I went on to play the World T20. Then there was the IPL. So, overall, the last three years have been a great experience. And as far as success is concerned, I think self-belief has played a key role. It would, however, not have been possible without the support of my family and coaches. During the U-19 days, my coach, Dawlat Ahmadzai, had supported me immensely. He gave me the confidence and that was important to keep my morale high while entering the international arena.

So far, the focus has only been on limited overs cricket. Now with Afghanistan attaining Test status, how will you try to mould yourself for the longer version of the game?

Yes, it is important to improve my game for the longer version. Now that we have attained Test status, and will soon be playing against top teams like Australia and India, it is important to lift our game. We need to be consistent and adjust to the longer version of the game. It is also necessary to understand that it will not happen as quickly as it happened for T20 or even ODIs. It will take some time. The mental aspect would be put to test, but then as a professional cricketer, we will have to be ready for each and every situation. Believing yourself is very important, and that would certainly take us a long way. That should be a strategy to perform well in Test cricket as well.

You just spoke about adjusting to different formats. Do you think the IPL has helped you?

Exactly! In the IPL, you can see the big stars, the top coaches. They give you a clear idea about how to go ahead in a match. Those experiences actually help you in reading game situations better. Coming with vast experience, they tell you how to improve your bowling. I am quite happy that I got a chance to work with V. V. S. Laxman sir, Tom Moody, Muttiah Muralitharan at Sunrisers Hyderabad. In the team we also had Shikhar Dhawan, David Warner, Bhuvi (Bhuvneshwar Kumar), Ashish Nehra, they have supported me throughout. Talking from their experience, they helped me gain lot of confidence. Throughout the tournament, they spoke about me, and that is something a young player looks for. I am grateful to the IPL for all this.

After the IPL, you have been a sought-after cricketer for most of the foreign leagues — the CPL, PSL, Big Bash. What have you taken back from these tournaments?

I have learnt a lot from the cricketers. Be it the Caribbean Premier League or the Sphageeza League, it has been a great experience sharing the dressing room with so many players and coaches. All of them are big names, so spending time with them has helped me change my mind-set. I spoke to quite a few cricketers and coaches during the CPL, and their response has been outstanding. They have helped me immensely. In a short time, I have been lucky to have come closer to so many cricketers, who have showered me with praises. Now it’s for me to maintain the form.

For a spinner, how difficult is it to maintain sustainability?

Our cricket has also become very tough. My individual target is also to keep things simple and play to my strength. Every cricketer wants to give his best and prepare well. We are training hard in India and our only objective is to prepare well for the full-fledged long format cricket. Now that we have entered the Test arena, the idea is to pose a threat to the bigger teams and win matches. That’s our prime target. Overall, Afghanistan cricket has been doing quite well in the last few years. Not just the senior team, the U-19 boys have also done exceedingly well. They have qualified for the U-19 World Cup and have also won a series in Bangladesh. That’s a very good sign.

At a time when our cricket has taken a giant leap, it is important that I play my part well. With things going well and the players working hard, we are slowly working towards our goal. We will try and maintain consistency in all the major tournaments. People of my country want us to win the World Cup. That’s the only dream!

The next couple of years are going to be extremely crucial for Afghanistan cricket. How do you see yourself in the ranks?

The next five years are going to be extremely important, both for me and Afghanistan cricket. We have to remain steady, calm, and play to our potential. There will be hurdles, but I am sure, we can overcome them. The preparation has started, and the boys are keenly waiting for the moment when we can defeat the big teams. Winning or losing will be there, but our major target will be to raise the bar.

Rashid Khan (centre) celebrates with Sunrisers Hyderabad team-mates during the IPL. “In the IPL, you can see the big stars, the top coaches. They give you a clear idea about how to go ahead in a match,” Rashid says.   -  K. R. Deepak

 

You have suddenly become a youth icon in Afghanistan. How do you see that? Does that add to your responsibility?

Yes, the responsibility has gone up. I am just two years old in senior cricket. It is not easy to make a mark in just two years, but luckily, I have been able to do that. If you ask me, this has been like a dream. When I first walked into the senior team dressing room, I didn’t even believe that the next two years will actually change my world. Be it performing for Afghanistan or playing in so many leagues… it has been magical.

And not just that, I still can’t believe that so many youngsters treat me as their idol. That’s a huge honour for me. Things have come my way early, and now, it will be up to me to ensure that I respect this honour. I am grateful to the people of Afghanistan and my parents.

The other day I went to an academy in Kabul, where I was surprised to see nearly hundred young cricketers trying the art of leg-spin, and interestingly, they were all following my action. It felt good. I feel the future of Afghanistan cricket is in safe hands as we have quite a few talented spinners even in the U-19 side. They will keep the flag flying. We have a lot of talent in Afghanistan, but earlier, the scope was less. But now, with things improving so much, we can only hope that the situation will improve further.

Personally, it is important to keep the momentum going and stay grounded. Being humble would eventually help me maintain this success. I can’t afford to get carried away by early fame.

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