Jun 12, 2018

"Murali described my skill as superior to what he possessed"

In a freewheeling chat, Rashid Khan talks about his experience of being mentored by Muttiah Muralitharan, about playing at Dehradun as well as the historic maiden Test.

Rashid Khan has been making rapid strides in international cricket ever since he made his debut for Afghanistan in 2015. His devastating spells in the ongoing T20Is against Bangladesh, helping his team clinch the three-match series 2-0, is yet another display of the immense skill that he possesses and the promise that he holds for the future.

His ability to outwit the most skilled batsmen of this era has drawn praise from many quarters, including Indian batting legend Sachin Tendulkar. Among the biggest compliments Rashid would've received so far in his life would be from Sri Lankan spin wizard and Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) bowling coach Muttiah Muralitharan, who felt that the Afghan leg-spinner is far more skilled than he ever was.

Speaking to Firstpost in Dehradun, where the Afghans clinched the series in style with a six-wicket win over the Tigers on Tuesday, Rashid made the interesting revelation while talking about the various coaches in his life and the influence that they had on him.

Rashid Khan Afghanistan AFP 825

Rashid Khan has been in raging form with the ball, both in the IPL as well as in the T20I series against Bangladesh. AFP

"The coaches I have come across and trained under never pressurised me to make too many changes to my bowling. They mostly share their experiences with me, tell me about staying cool, maintaining my calm in this game. To enjoy the game regardless of my form, and to believe in myself.

"This is precisely the message that I got from Murali sir as well. He even told me that I was much better than him in terms of skill, but that I’ve got to enjoy the game at the end of the day, regardless of whether you’re having a good or a bad day," said the 19-year-old, who has spent two seasons with Muralitharan at SRH so far.

The Sunrisers had a successful 2018 season, in which they topped the points table and ultimately fell short of what would've been a second title, losing to a resurgent MS Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings. Among the key factors behind Hyderabad's success in their run to the final was young Rashid, against whom even the likes of Virat Kohli batted cautiously, preferring to see him off and attack the next bowler.

While Rashid did admit the sight of top batsmen taking him cautiously is certainly a confidence booster for a bowler, it shouldn't take one's focus away as he or she still has to bowl at the right areas in order to get wickets.

"Yeah it does boost your confidence, but still you have to perform at the end of it. It’s not as if the batsman won’t try and go for shots at all if I have the mental edge. If you bowl loose deliveries in IPL, the batsman — even a tailender for that matter — will attack you, as IPL is a platform where they are that good.

"If you deviate in your line and length, you will leak runs. Even if the batsman is low on confidence, you still have to bowl well, in the right areas. For me, that is important. No matter what form the batsman is in, my focus is always to bowl in the right areas," added Rashid.

Rashid and the rest of the Afghanistan team can, for now, rejoice their victory over Bangladesh, with the Asghar Stanikzai-led side riding primarily on the efforts of their spin department as well as crucial knocks from players such as Mohammad Shahzad and Mohammad Nabi.

However, the bigger battle that lies ahead of them is their historic one-off Test against India at Bengaluru, the match marking Afghanistan's debut in the five-day format. Nerves would understandably be high for the Afghans at the moment, with the Test just a week away now. Rashid, however, insists there won't be any change on his part as far as his mental approach towards the match is concerned, and that the team's focus will be towards enjoying the game.

"Mentally speaking, I don’t think I should be preparing for the inaugural Test any differently whatsoever. If I think too much along these lines, then I might end up in a confused state of mind, which might then affect my performance.

"No doubt it is an important Test for us as well as for the entire nation of Afghanistan, and the focus would be for us to simply enjoy ourselves out there. It will be a longer format, and a lot more time (will be spent on the ground). The best will be for us to enjoy every moment - whether bowling, fielding or batting - which then will lead to a good performance."

The ongoing Afghanistan-Bangladesh T20I series reaches its conclusion on Thursday, when the two sides meet in the third and final game - one that has been reduced to a dead rubber following Afghanistan's unassailable 2-0 lead. Among the takeaways from the series so far would have to be the positive turnout at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, with tickets for the series opener on Sunday nearly getting sold out.

A majority of the fans at the venue happen to lend their support to India's neighbours to the west, with chants of "Rashid! Rashid" resonating in the stands every time skipper Stanikzai gave him the ball. Rashid couldn't help but express his love for the venue and was all praise for what he fondly described as his "second home".

"I felt quite proud (of the support received at Dehradun) and consider this my second home. Facilities are quite good at this venue. I haven’t seen too many international venues with facilities like the one here, with an expansive and well-developed pavilion and sizeable ground as well for that matter.

"I think this will be a very big and good ground in the future," said the native of Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, who added that he's been showered with love whichever part of India he had been too, something that has only increased his love for this country.

- Amit Banerjee