Rashid Khan was adjudged the Man of the Series against Ireland at Greater Noida . Photo Courtesy: Aditya Sahay (CC Reporter)
Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan was adjudged the Man of the Series against Ireland at Greater Noida. Photo Courtesy: Aditya Sahay (CC Reporter)

Inshallah, Rashid Khan bahut aage jayega. Woh (Mohammad) Nabi jaisa hai. Hum Rashid bhai ke liye dua karte hain.” (By God’s grace, Rashid Khan will continue to move ahead. He is like Nabi. I pray for Rashid’s success). These were the exact words stated by Al Amin, an elated Afghanistan fan. Well, the occasion demanded celebrations. Afghanistan had earned their second whitewash, against Ireland in a three-match series at Greater NOIDA (the first had come against UAE). And yet again, Rashid played an integral part in the final scoreline of the series.

At the post-match presentation, Rashid was termed as the trump card of Afghanistan. Skipper Asghar Stanikzai mentioned how honoured he felt to lead the side with the longest winning streak in T20I history. Overpowering the likes of England, Ireland and India, Afghanistan have notched up their 11th consecutive win in the format. Stanikzai also showered praise on the spin sensation, Rashid: “(Paul) Stirling started well but we knew we had good spinners”, thereby stating the faith on his tweakers, especially on the 18-year-old spin wizard.

Stanikzai’s secret weapon

Not only were Amir Hamza and Rashid impressive in taking wickets, but also in containing the run-flow. Nonetheless, Stanikzai’s remarks were particularly directed towards Rashid for his heroic run in the series. Hamza did his job in the early overs but it was Rashid’s spell in the latter part of the innings which proved decisive.

Ireland, wary against spin, played out Hamza before they were pushed to the wall by Rashid’s spin.  His unorthodox action and varied lengths led to Ireland’s drubbing in all ties. Bowling with a flat trajectory, using his googlies and leg-breaks, changing the pace of the ball and giving adequate flight, Rashid wreaked havoc on the Irish batsmen.

It is no rare feat to scalp 9 wickets in 3 T20Is, a format bullied by batsmen. Rashid’s staggering average of 6.11 (average, not economy rate — which is 5.50; there is no typo) speaks volumes of his stature.  Nonetheless, the icing on the cake was that he did all this bowling in the last ten overs. In the series opener, Stanikzai brought him in the 11th over. The rain-curtailed second T20I saw Rashid into the attack with only four overs remaining in Ireland’s chase.

In the dead rubber, he was held back till the 13rd over but the youngster responded on all three occasions. Removing Ireland’s key players, Kevin O’Brien, Gary Wilson and Lorcan Tucker twice each in the series, Rashid applied brakes on the scoreboard single-handedly.

A chance interaction with the man himself:

Afghanistan fans are no less than their Indian counterparts when it comes to passion for the game. They gathered around their triumphant side following their 28-run win over William Porterfield’s line-up on Sunday. However, there are no prizes for guessing which player hogged maximum limelight from the Afghan camp. To see a young bloke rise so rapidly in world cricket is unknown for Afghanistan fans as they hovered around Rashid for selfies and autographs.

Reporting live from Greater NOIDA Sports Complex for CricketCoutry, I witnessed the acknowledgement given to young Rashid. Nonetheless, I managed to sneak in a 2-minute interaction with the man of the moment amidst the hullabaloo.

Sharing his thoughts on the series victory, Rashid said: “Afghanistan is benefitting from playing against Test sides like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and the experience rubbed, hence we got the better of Ireland.”

Talking about the much-hyped IPL 2017 auction, wherein he was bought by Sunrisers Hyderabad for INR 4 crores, he discussed his goals for the upcoming edition: “I would like to bowl according to the captain. I will be resorting to my talent, what I do on the field and not dwell upon other things. IPL is the biggest league and Afghanistan will benefit from it.”

Rashid has hit a purple patch in his short career and is ticking all boxes. After his 2-1-3-5 (the best by an Associate Nation player) in the penultimate match versus Ireland, he was also drafted into Guyana Amazon Warriors’ squad for Caribbean Premier League 2017.

More Nabis, Shahzads in pipeline?

I would second Amin’s remarks that Rashid is a lot like Nabi. He is still to prove his credentials with the bat, but when it comes to bowling he is more threatening than his mentor Nabi. His cricketing sense keeps him in good stead as an all-rounder, and one can only hope for Afghanistan’s knight in shining armour to continue moving forward.

With the likes of Hamza, Rashid, Najeeb Tarakai and Karim Janat, it is safe to say that Afghanistan cricket lies in good hands. The senior pros, Mohammad Shahzad, Nabi and Stanikzai would be delighted with the youngsters’ performances, dominance in T20Is and hope for more success across formats.