The Afghan spinner's excellent performances in IPL 10 have not only put his nation firmly on the cricketing map, but will also inspire a whole new generation back home to take up the sport.
When the hammer came down at Rs 4 crore against the name of one Rashid Khan at the Indian Premier League players' auction earlier this year, many eyebrows were raised.
Cricket aficionados wondered why defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad were paying so much for a little-know leg-spinner from wan-torn Afghanistan, which is not even a regular Test-playing nation.
But over a month into the action in the tenth edition of the Twenty20 league, Rashid confirmed he deserved every rupee the Hyderabad franchise spent on him as he signed off with an incredible tally of 17 wickets from his debut IPL season.
That was not all. The leggie conceded under seven runs per over in the 14 games he played, which was crucial in Sunrisers making it to play-offs.
Captain David Warner’s confidence in the 18-year-old, who started off with two wickets on debut against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the tournament opener, was vindicated when the leg-spinner followed it up with a match-winning spell of three for 19 against Gujarat Lions and continued to grow in confidence as the tournament progressed.
In the rain-hit Eliminator match against Kolkata Knight Riders in Bengaluru on Wednesday night, Warner surprised many by giving Rashid the crucial second over ahead of pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Even a seasoned campaigner like Gautam Gambhir, regarded as one of the best players of spin in the country, struggled to read his variation and was beaten thrice by the googly.
The conditions were wet and the ball difficult to grip after a three-and-a-half hour rain delay. But Rashid still proved his prowess in just the two overs he bowled.
The faster googly
"I have the leg-spinner, the top spinner and then the googly. These are the main weapons I am using at the nets and match. I will try and improve it more for better effectiveness. I want to try my variations against some big players and see how they read my variations,’ Rashid had said ahead of the IPL.
How true. Indeed, not many - even the leading batsmen in world cricket – were able to comprehend Rashid’s many variations. Add his accuracy, and you have a deadly combination.
His googly, bowled a little quicker, was one of his key wicket-taking deliveries in IPL 10.
Pick of his dismissals: "David Miller would be top in my list, followed by Brendon McCullum and Rohit Sharma. All three were foxed by googlies!"
What was the key to the impressive showing of the 18-year-old, who has played just 26 ODIs and 24 T20 Internationals?
"It's been like a dream for me, playing in the IPL with so many stalwarts. More importantly, being able to hold my own and perform for the team. Our (Sunrisers) coach, Tom Moody, has been constantly telling me that self-belief is the key to success. I have always had faith in my abilities and it's paying off," he says.
Not many are aware that Rashid is fifth in the T20 International rankings for bowlers, ahead of the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Sunil Narine.
Warner believes that Rashid’s aura of success at the international will continue to grow because of his high-arm action. It is something natural, believes the Aussie.
The acid test
Despite his success in T20 cricket, Rashid's main aim to do well in Test cricket.
Ahead of the IPL season, he said his ultimate dream “is to do well in Test cricket for his country".
"By the grace of the Almighty, we would soon be playing Test cricket. I am just waiting for that day when I will be playing Test cricket for Afghanistan. For me, success in Test cricket will define me as a cricketer." he said.
His showing in IPL 10 has not only put his nation firmly on the cricketing map but will also inspire a whole new generation back home to take up the sport.By the time the next IPL season arrives, we hope Rashid will have some new tricks up his sleeve.