Afghanistan’s first global star, Rashid Khan needs little introduction. Currently the top rated white ball spinner in the world, as well as topping the all-rounder rankings, Rashid’s value to Afghanistan is difficult to overstate. Since his precipitous rise from Associate obscurity to global star, he is credited with doing for legspin in white ball cricket what Shane Warne did in Tests, taking a neglected and untrusted art and placing it back at the centre of the game.
More than just a match-winner, Rashid is a game-changer. An attacking, unconventional wrist-spinner who barely uses his wrist, he extracts remarkable turn despite a flat, fast trajectory relying primarily on grip and finger-strength. His action makes him tough to read, with only the subtlest difference between stock legspinner and his googly, which he deploys remarkably often - to the point where it accounts for almost a third of his deliveries.
A couple of years under the analysts' microscope, with batsmen around the world peering at laptops to try to decipher his variations, has done for some of the mystery, but little of the potency. Rashid remains extremely difficult to pick out of the hand, and his speed – quick for a leggie at around 90kph – tends to keep batsmen back in the crease and playing with a straight bat as Rashid looks to attack the outside edge or the stumps. His speed through the air means a cross-batted approach must almost by necessity involve premeditation, and while batsmen brave enough to employ the sweep against Rashid have shown it’s possible to take him for rapid runs, the tactic remains risky, and the batsman to have used it best – Scotland’s Calum MacLeod – will not be troubling Rashid at the World Cup.
Under Ashgar Afghan Rashid has generally been held back, bowling his overs toward the back of the innings. The tactic has been remarkably effective for Afghanistan; Rashid arguably produces wickets for his country before even bowling, the added pressure of knowing 10 overs of world-class spin are still to come forcing batsmen to take risks against the rest of the Afghan attack. Whether new skipper Naib persists with the tactic remains to be seen, but Rashid has shown himself remarkable versatile, as comfortable bowling at the top of the innings as in the middle overs or at the death.
And his versatility is not limited to his bowling. Having started out in youth cricket as an opening bat, Rashid looks more and more like a genuine all-rounder even at the highest level. Fearless and cavalier down the order, capable of clearing the ropes or digging in in a crisis, Rashid also adds depth to an Afghan batting line-up that too often needs it. Even as Afghanistan begin to shake off the label of “minnows” still attached by too many to Associates and newer Full Members, Rashid remains their one indispensable player.
Khan’s legspin is a key wicket-taking threat for Afghanistan and his batting will be useful down the order.