@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read
The hotly-contested Afghanistan-Pakistan T20 World Cup match ended up in a thrilling win for Babar Azam & co, but one man in the opposing camp almost steered the game in another direction. Aadya Sharma reports on the marvel that is Rashid Khan.
Whenever you think you’ve seen it all from the majestic being that is Rashid Khan, he comes up with a new way to leave us spellbound.
On Friday, there were enough storylines in Dubai to overlook the masterful leggie. Hours ahead of the game, fans were circling around the gates, eventually packing the game to its mandated capacity, even leaving a few thousand behind. There was the Naib-Nabi stand, a gutsy counter-attack in the face of united brilliance from Pakistan’s bowlers; there was Babar Azam’s patient knock that guided Pakistan towards the finishing line, but stopped just short. There was Asif Ali too, putting on his six-hitting hat, and making the finish all about himself.
But there was also Rashid, whose brilliance goes beyond being a rare occurrence; it’s wholly consistent.
Minutes before the start, when Babar and Nabi cheerfully walked towards the centre for the toss, Rashid was quietly twirling his arm around, metres away from the man who had taken over the captaincy from him last month.
For 30 overs, he hid in the shadows as Afghanistan see-sawed their way to a great recovery, and then saw Babar and Fakhar Zaman begin to cruise along towards the target. Mujeeb Ur Rahman had been bowled out by the eighth over, and the ninth and tenth overs had accounted for a combined 23 runs. With 76 needed off the last 10, and nine wickets in hand, it looked like Pakistan would coast to make it an easy three in three.
And then came Rashid. Afghanistan fans, who had hooted for nearly every run collected by their side in the first innings, suddenly switched to chanting ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’, as Rashid fired deliveries in with gusto. He craftily turned them off the surface, leaving Babar, previously so assured with his footwork, iffily swinging between front and back foot. By the end of the over, Babar was at the receiving end of a vociferous LBW call and a raised finger, only for the angle to save him via DRS. The opening shots had been fired.
For the next half hour, there was a distinct shift in the game’s balance.
It isn’t just what Rashid does in the four overs he bowls, but also what he forces batters to do in the ones he doesn’t. Off the first ball of the next over, Fakhar departed, trying to force a wild slog off Nabi when the situation didn’t demand one.
Five balls later, Rashid was back on again, and so did the trouble. There were rough prods and rusty pushes – a wrong ‘un squared up Babar comprehensively, the edge just eluding slip. The ball flew past him for a boundary.
In his next over, Rashid lulled Mohammad Hafeez into slogging one to cow corner. Reality hit Hafeez’s face as soon as he spliced the ball; that Naib completed the catch was a mere eventuality. One after another, Pakistan’s batters were dropping into quicksand. From 75-1 in 11, it was 97-3 in 14.1. It’s what Rashid does.
By the time he was ready to bowl his last over, the required run rate had rocketed to 9.50, and Rashid was only here to tighten the noose further. Shoaib Malik clanked one for a massive six over deep midwicket, but the floated delivery was a dangerous ball to challenge. Malik aced it; Babar couldn’t.
Knowing that the run rate would force a scratchy Babar to challenge him, Rashid floated another one up – the top-edge came about as per plan, but Naveen grassed a semi-difficult opportunity. Rashid was all over Babar, but the final shot remained.
Off the very last delivery of his spell, Babar (rather brainfadingly) unleashed a half-baked leg-side heave, only for the floated delivery to waltz its way past and splatter his stumps. It was 122-4. The swing of fortunes was wild.
It eventually wasn’t enough – Asif Ali spoiled the dream sequence, those four balls superseding the wizardry of the other twenty-four.
An hour after the game, when all of the stands (and most of the press box) was empty, Rashid casually emerged onto the field once again, warmly greeting a handful of Pakistan players in shorts and slippers. The wizard’s blue robe had retired for the day, and he had transformed into the guy next door, chirpily chatting, beaming and carrying none of the airs of a T20 superstar.
He’ll return again, two days later, and he’ll probably mesmerise us again.
Just another day for Rashid Khan.