Rashid’s IPL exploits bring Afghanistan to a standstill

Two games into the tournament, the IPL seems to have found its latest sensation in Rashid Khan, who is making all heads turn with his sensational performance for Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Rashid Khan... Sunrisers’ Hyderabad’s prize catch.   -  V. Ganesan

The evenings are no longer mundane for the people of Afghanistan. For the last few days, in all the major cities and provinces, the roads go deserted post seven o’clock.

Even if you come across a few people roaming around in the streets of Kabul, Kandahar or Jalalabad, be sure they are heading to sports cafes.

And all this, just to watch their local boy Rashid Khan in the Indian Premier League (IPL)!

When the rookie leg-spinner was picked by Sunrisers Hyderabad for a whopping Rs. 4 crore in the IPL auction in February, the cricket fraternity had its eyebrows raised over the inclusion of a rather unknown cricketer. That too, from an associate nation like Afghanistan!

But two games into the tournament, the IPL seems to have found its latest sensation in Rashid, who is making all heads turn with his sensational performance for the Sunrisers.

After scalping two wickets in the opening game against Royal Challengers Bangalore, the 18-year-old Afghan continued his golden run, picking up three wickets against the Gujarat Lions on Sunday. And, it was riding on his spell that the Sunrisers tamed the Lions. “I wanted to try him (Rashid) in the first six, and he said ‘give me the ball.’ He’s a superstar in the making, adds great dynamics to our team,” is how Sunrisers skipper David Warner describes the Afghan after Sunday’s game.

While the Aussie has already found a new superstar in Rashid, Afghanistan’s national coach Lalchand Rajput, too, admits that Rashid has the potential to be a superstar. “He is not intimidated by the batsmen. He is someone, who is never afraid to take chances. In both the games in the IPL, he has proven that he is meant for bigger things,” Rajput, who plays a key role in honing Rashid’s skills, tells Sportstar.

While his team-mates in Afghanistan call Rashid a down-to-earth young cricketer, Rajput believes that it’s his sharpness that works well for the spinner. “That’s his biggest USP. Like a genuine good bowler, he provokes the batsmen to fall into his trap,” Rajput says, adding that this smart approach will help Rashid go a long way. “He is just two matches old in the IPL, but you can’t make that out from his expressions. You wouldn’t expect a newcomer to challenge senior batsmen, but Rashid has done that perfectly. It seems, he has been playing IPL for years now,” Rajput adds.

The Afghanistan Cricket Board CEO Shafiq Stanikzai, who played a key hand in Rashid’s international debut, feels that the IPL will not only help the youngster improve his game, but will also give him a new identity. “He (Rashid) is already a star in Afghanistan, and with such a performance in the IPL, he has only raised the bar,” Stanikzai says.

The CEO still remembers that evening of 2015, when the then chief selector Dawlat Ahmadzai convinced him to allow a young Rashid to travel to Zimbabwe. “The team was touring Zimbabwe then, and had lost the first game miserably. That’s when, Dawlat bhai suggested that Rashid be sent to Zimbabwe,” Stanikzai recollects.

It took Stanikzai 15 minutes to give an approval, and Rashid was on his way to Zimbabwe the next day. “He played the next match, and we won. He has always been a game-changer,” Stanikzai adds.

While Sunrisers skipper Warner is excited with Rashid’s form, he admits that the absence of Bangladesh speedster Mustafizur Rahman has done a piece of good to the Afghan. “With Fizz (Mustafizur) unavailable, Rashid has stepped up and filled the gap,” Warner admits.

And, Rajput — who was the coach of the Virat Kohli-led India U-19 team that won the World Cup in 2008 — feels that a strong mindset has helped Rashid. “He is a big fighter, and that is a big plus for him. I have seen talents like Sachin (Tendulkar) and Virat from close quarters, and Rashid also has that potential,” the senior coach points out.

The Afghan Board, however, isn’t planning any special coaching programme for Rashid. After the IPL, the players will travel to the West Indies for a series, and after that, Mohammad Nabi and Rashid will be participating in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) for the first time. “We have a busy schedule, and Rashid will definitely learn a lot from the international leagues,” Stanikzai hopes.

“Some of the Australian franchises are keen on having Rashid on board for the BBL. We too want the deal to work out,” Stanikzai says.

From just another rookie talent to grabbing the headlines — life has been quite exciting for the youngster. And, as the IPL slowly moves into the crucial phase, Rashid will hope to make this summer the one to remember.

After all, it’s not everyday that you get noticed!