@Yas_Wisden 4 minute read
After his starring role in England’s victories over Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan, Yas Rana assesses just how crucial Adil Rashid has been to this era of English limited over cricket.
England are double world champions. Sounds good, doesn’t it? They are the first men’s side to simultaneously hold both limited-overs global trophies and have an increasingly strong claim to be regarded as the premier white-ball outfit, not just right now, but in the sport’s history. Since they scored 408 – having earlier been 202-6 – against New Zealand in their first ODI against a Full Member after their ignominious 2015 World Cup exit, they have qualified for the semi-finals at five consecutive ICC events, reached the finals of three of them and won two trophies. Their period of dominance has now spanned the best part of a decade; they are the first team since the inception of T20I cricket to enjoy prolonged success in both white-ball formats.
Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan aside, there is a strong argument to be made that no player has been as central to England’s unprecedented domination as Adil Rashid. And even then, Rashid is harder to replace than anyone given the paucity of elite wrist-spinners at England’s disposal.
Rashid has been around for a long time. He made his England debut all the way back in 2009 in the T20 World Cup curtain-raiser at Lord’s as a fresh-faced 21-year-old; his fellow T20I debutants that day were Eoin Morgan, James Foster and Rob Key. After that initial foray into the England team he spent six years in the international wilderness but when he returned he was instantly pivotal to Morgan’s brave, new England team for whom attack was the best form of defence, and who understood the necessity of taking risks to find reward. It was the perfect environment for a developing leg-spinner able to spin the ball prodigiously in both directions to thrive under.
For seven years, he has been a reliable wicket-taker on all surfaces and has increasingly become a bowler who batters treat with the utmost respect. In a game where players are often quickly ‘worked out’ Rashid has evolved to not only survive but thrive.
Since the 2019 World Cup Rashid has expanded his repertoire, adding more strings to his below and despite his conspicuous absence from the IPL – he has bowled 18 balls for Punjab Kings, his only IPL side – he is still very much in the elite bracket of wrist-spinners. In 2021, his economy rate in T20I cricket was almost exactly seven runs per over while taking his wickets at 18 apiece. But despite his longstanding excellence there was still the sense that he was yet to really have a crowning moment that was his to own on the biggest stage.
His 1-23 from four overs in the 2016 World T20 final is all but forgotten, lost in the folklore of what happened in that famous final over. In 2019, Rashid valiantly managed a troublesome shoulder to be an ever-present as England lifted the World Cup on home soil but in truth was some way off his imperious best – that said, it should be remembered that no spinner left a lasting impact on a tournament dominated by pace. Last year, Rashid’s T20 World Cup numbers were outstanding – conceding his runs at 6.53 runs per over – but England were knocked out in the semi-finals.
This time Rashid finally got his moment in the spotlight on the biggest stage. He was essential to England’s triumph going at less than a run a ball in the last three must-win games of their campaign. Remarkably, Rashid conceded just seven boundaries from England’s six games all tournament and even then two of those came off the blade of Glenn Phillips after he was inexplicably dropped by Moeen Ali. It is perhaps the greatest influence a wrist-spinner has had on the business end of a World Cup since Shane Warne’s pair of four-fors in the 1999 World Cup knockouts.
Rashid’s crowning moment was the dismissal of Pakistan captain Babar Azam. Pakistan had just slammed their foot on the accelerator, taking 16 runs from Liam Livingstone’s first over putting them in an ominous position on 84-2 with nine overs remaining; a total of 170 was on the cards, a target effectively worth 190 in normal circumstances given the might of the Pakistan attack. What followed was special.
Babar failed to pick a wrong-un and spooned back a difficult return catch that Rashid calmly claimed, and then delivered five consecutive dot balls to the hapless Iftikhar Ahmed to record the first ever men’s T20 World Cup final wicket maiden outside the powerplay, bamboozling Iftikhar with a combination of dipping leg-breaks and ripping googlies. The secret is his line, honing in on off stump through the air making sure that the batter isn’t getting any warning of which direction the ball is set to turn by its initial trajectory. Stray too wide and the googly becomes predictable as a leg-break on that line is without threat. Stray too straight and the same becomes true of the leg-break – a leg-stump googly is effectively harmless, so a batter expects the leg-break. Rashid’s line was perfect and he was richly rewarded.
His wicket of Babar was his 319th for England across formats, taking him within 10 of Derek Underwood’s final career tally. Rashid is currently England’s ninth leading wicket-taker in international cricket. He is almost certain to end his career in the top seven, perhaps even in the top five. Make no mistake, Rashid is an English great of the modern sort – one, like Buttler and Morgan, whose legacy has firmly been established in white-ball cricket. The last week or so, in which Rashid has been the pillar around which the attack has been structured, has finally given him a moment on the highest stage that is befitting of his career and overall service to English cricket.