With the world having painted the small landlocked country of Afghanistan in a light that hardly transmitted the message of friendliness, associating the beautiful game of cricket with the nation would have been a far-fetched dream. It was termed cruel and frightening; orthodox and backward and a place where heroes rarely emerged. Yes, small steps had been taken to evoke the feeling of warmth but all in all, the land barely was seen as one from where an icon would sweep over the world with his magical performances and toil.
Crouched in front of the television one day, a youngster in war-torn Afghanistan remained impressed. The flying locks of hair and the art of leg-spin being viewed by him left an immediate impact and over the course of the next few years, Shahid Afridi’s signature celebration found a permanent spot in Rashid Khan’s cricketing journey. Even the bowling action, starting from the quick strides towards the crease to the whirring of the arms carried with it a tinge of Afridi and soon he made a name for himself in the town of Nangarhar as a boy who carried within him big dreams. The dream of playing cricket for his country. The dream of making a livelihood in the sport. He was laughed at; even discouraged. But the yearning to be the next Afridi never left him and so he toiled harder than ever before.
Equipped with stump-to-stump accuracy and an effective legbreak and googly, the youngster rose through the shadows and within a span of just two years has made a name for himself as an astute and miserly bowler; one who bamboozles the batsmen at a staggering economy.
Not only was he the costliest Afghan player in the Indian Premier League (IPL) for Sunrisers Hyderabad, he was also the first to find a team in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL). Playing for the Guyana Amazon Warriors, he picked up the tournament’s first hat-trick and since then has gone on to find a place in the players' draft of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) and also became the first player from his country to sign a contract in the renowned Big Bash League (BBL) in Australia.
Hijacking the middle overs for the Adelaide Strikers with his deliveries, the 19-year old has picked up 11 wickets in the six matches played so far at an economy rate of well under six. In his very first match against Sydney Thunder, he bagged the Man of the Match award, picking up 22/2 in his four overs. The wicket of Ben Rohrer in particular, which was an unreadable googly from over the wicket that completely flummoxed the batsman, initiated his entry Down Under.
In the return leg of the game, he whipped up his talent once again, ending with figures of 2/21 in his quota of overs. Bowling with the extra bounce and with variations intact, the wily cricketer has been able to keep the hard-hitting batsmen at bay. Beating them around the wicket consistently with his quick-arm action, Rashid has been a delight to watch and for every aspirant, has gone on to symbolise the values of self-belief and hard work.
Admittedly, the path towards fame was not an easy one for him. Pressurised into his family business and forced to follow the path of his other seven brothers considering the lack of facilities available in Jalalabad, the burning pot of terrorism, Rashid would quietly venture out to play tennis-ball cricket and before he even knew it, the eagerness to play the sport professionally had swept over.
His stubbornness finally bore fruit when, aged just 17, he was called up to tour Zimbabwe in 2015. In the four ODIs played, he conceded runs at an economy of 3.65 runs per over, picking up five wickets in the process. It remained a major reason why Afghanistan won their first-ever series against a Test-playing nation in their cricketing history and there was no stopping the team since then.
Not only is he a phenomenal bowler, he is more than a handy batsman as well, with a strike rate of 131.78 in 84 T20s that he has played and it would be no surprise to see him attracting the big bucks in the IPL auctions, scheduled later this month.
With over 341 wickets in all formats, including List A and international matches, at a staggering average of 14.8, Rashid is cricket’s tale of a youngster who was in desperate need of an icon in his country, only to emerge as one of the greatest himself.