He’s only 19, but he’s already played over 70 times at the top level for Afghanistan, and featured in T20 leagues around the world. It’s this experience that Rashid Khan fell back on after two forgettable IPL outings, to produce figures of 2 for 11 from four overs and help Sunrisers Hyderabad defend 118 against Mumbai Indians.
Asked how he had prepared mentally after his maulings at the hands of Chennai Super Kings and Kings XI Punjab, Rashid replied with the kind of wisdom and understanding of the game one usually doesn’t associate with a teenager.
“Jab tak aapko maar nahi padi hai, tab tak aap seekh nahi sakte (You don’t learn as a bowler until you are hit for runs).”
What went against Rashid in Sunrisers’ last two games was that he had to bowl a lot to left-hand batsmen Chris Gayle and Suresh Raina. While he does perform significantly better against right-hand batsmen, Rashid admitted on Tuesday night that he had also bowled too full in those two games. Raina carted him for 24 off only nine balls and Gayle clobbered six sixes against the legspinner for a total of 42 off 16.
Of the nine balls Rashid bowled to Raina, eight landed in the good-length area and only one – a dot ball – was short of a length, according to ESPNcricinfo’s ball-by-ball data. Against Gayle in Mohali, Rashid did not bowl a single short-of-length delivery; 13 pitched in the good-length area, two were full, and one was a full toss. The full-toss and the two full-length deliveries were all hammered for sixes.
Rashid perhaps bowled on the fuller side of a good length to Raina and Gayle to give them less time to adjust off the pitch if they didn’t pick his variations from his hand, which is usually a difficult task given his quick-arm action. As a result, batsmen are trapped in two minds and are often beaten, which results in quite a few bowled and lbw dismissals. But bowlers often need to change their lengths depending on the conditions and the nature of the pitch, or the kind of batsmen they are up against. Rashid realised this and changed his strategy against Mumbai.
“I bowled a little bit fuller in the last two games which didn’t help me and I was punished,” he said. “The only thing today was to bowl in a good-length area as much as possible and that’s what helped me bowl with good figures. The only thing was line and length, that’s what I have worked on and it’s a positive.”
Rashid dismissed a left-hand batsman on Tuesday – Krunal Pandya, lbw off a ball that hurried on from a short-of-good-length area – and conceded only six runs off the five balls he bowled to him. But Rashid’s test did not end there. When he came on to bowl his third over, Mumbai needed only 46 from 42 balls with six wickets in hand and Kieron Pollard on strike.
The first ball of the 14th over, Rashid pitched slightly short, not too far from off stump, and Pollard, looking for the late cut, sliced it to slip. Off the next five balls he conceded only two runs to Hardik Pandya and Suryakumar Yadav. When Rashid returned for his last over, Mumbai had lost three more wickets, needed 39 from 24, and Hardik, their only hope now, was on strike. The field was spread out, inviting Hardik to take a single and bring No. 10 Jasprit Bumrah on strike.
Hardik can be brutal against legspin – he has hit Shadab Khan and Adam Zampa for three successive sixes each in ODIs. Rashid’s length and trajectory would have to be spot on. It was; he sent down a succession of quick, flat, back-of-a-length deliveries, on the stumps or just outside off, and ended up bowling only the third maiden of the tournament. Such was Rashid’s accuracy that Hardik did not attempt a single aerial shot, was unable to pierce gaps for boundaries, and even failed to take a single off the last ball to retain strike.
“I bowled to him in the last over (14th) as well and I knew where to bowl. The only thing was not to bowl too full to him. He’s a very strong hitter and he can clear any boundary. The only thing was to bowl a little bit back [of a length] to him and not give him too much room or too full that he could hit it easily. I just did the basics right and believed in myself and my deliveries. I just backed myself and that’s why I got a maiden over.”
Mumbai coach Mahela Jaywardene pointed out that the slower-than-usual Wankhede pitch also went against his team and they would have attacked Rashid on an average day but could not on Tuesday, because of the nature of the pitch and the situation.
“If we had a decent wicket today, the usual Wankhede wicket, we probably would have attacked him in the sense that we knew the ball is going to grip with the pace that he is bowling, we did not have to take any risk against him,” Jayawardene said. “If in a different situation we would have taken [the risk], like the other teams have taken him down in the last few games. But you have to play according to the situation as well.”
“Did the basics right” and “backed myself” are phrases you will hear repeatedly from cricketers on TV when they are asked about their standout performances. But to actually find reasons to believe in yourself and get back to the basics despite conceding 104 runs in your previous eight overs is not easy at all. Rashid made it sound and look easy, as if those two poor outings had never happened.