MUMBAI: Rashid Khan was easily one of the best performers in the Indian Premier League that concluded on Sunday. As brilliant and consistent as the 19-year-old Afghan was for Sunrisers Hyderabad during the tournament, there was a moment late last week when he developed cold feet.
His magnificent all-round performance against Kolkata Knight Riders in Qualifier 2 at the Eden Gardens led to batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar tweeting that Khan, at the moment, was the best T20 bowler in the world. Khan learnt of this tweet when he boarded the team bus post SRH’s win and was awestruck. “When I got into the bus, a friend sent me a screenshot of the tweet and I was shocked to see it. I was thinking for like 1-2 hours before I could eventually reply. I really didn’t know what to write, but finally I replied,” Khan told TOI on Monday.
“The whole of Afghanistan seemed to have seen that tweet. Tendulkar is very, very famous there and everyone was surprised that he had such high praise for me. Statements like these motivate young players,” he added.
Khan ended IPL-11 with 21 wickets, finishing behind Kings XI’s Andrew Tye, who got 24 wickets for the purple cap. And, remarkably, every top-order batsman was troubled by him at some point during the tournament. They simply failed to read his well-disguised googlies, leading to their downfall. Khan picked out three wickets that were special to him. “Getting rid of Virat (Kohli), AB (de Villiers) and MS Dhoni was very satisfying. In fact, I consider them the best wickets of my career so far. They are really good players of spin bowling so getting them out made it memorable for me.” Khan was also adjudged the best T20 bowler at the Ceat awards on Monday night.
The T20 format is ruthless, especially on bowlers, but Khan believes the key to his success has been the ability stay patient and confident even when batsmen are going after him. “T20s is all about enjoying yourself. The more you enjoy, the better you will perform. The moment you let fear get the better of you, you are in trouble.”
Afghanistan are set to make their Test debut against India in the middle of June, and this is one occasion the entire country is looking forward to. “It’s a big match for us as playing Tests is a dream for every cricket-playing nation. All of us who are selected for that match will consider ourselves lucky. After all, we will be making history. And, it doesn’t get bigger than the fact that we will be playing India in India.”
Khan’s every move is tracked minutely by people back home and he has played a major role in the phenomenal growth of cricket in Afghanistan. Ask him whether he enjoys the same status that top cricketers enjoy in India, and he says, albeit a little shyly: “As far as I know, after the President of the country, maybe, I am the person who is most popular in Afghanistan.”
Needless to say, things have changed significantly for Khan over the past couple of years, thanks to his dramatic rise and presence in the various leagues around the world. “I have not been able to spend too much time with my family, finding myself with them barely for 15 to 20 days,” he said. But, he also believes the sacrifice will be worth it, if he can continue improving his game and delivering the goods for his country.