Rashid Khan is the best Twenty20 bowler in the world. He has also captained Afghanistan in Test and ODI cricket, but he has not yet played for the country in which he was born on its home soil.
Because of this, this week’s ICC T20 World Cup match against Australia at Adelaide Oval could be as close to a “homecoming” as Rashid gets for the foreseeable future, given the slim hopes of Kabul hosting international cricket anytime soon and his historic association with Adelaide Strikers in the KFC BBL.
Since 2017, the 24-year-old player has been an integral part of what he joyfully refers to as the Strikers “family.” Over the course of the past six seasons, he has become so adored by fans in the capital of South Australia that he has joked that the match on Friday in Adelaide might effectively be a “home” fixture for his team.
Rashid was quoted as telling reporters right before the start of the World Cup last month that whenever he had played at the venue, the supporters had shown him an overwhelming amount of love and support.
“We won’t have the sense that we’re playing in Australia; rather, we’ll have the sense that this is a kind of home game for Afghanistan. Support for Afghanistan is certain to be present, and we won’t have the sense that we’re playing in Australia.
“Several of the other players on our team were talking about it and asked Rash, “… will the Strikers supporters be supporting you, or Australia?” in reference to this topic.
“This is the kind of question that was going around among the team,” said the leader.
There are other historical reasons, in addition to Rashid’s six-year spell with the Strikers, that explain why the Afghanistan cricket team should anticipate a warm welcome in spite of Adelaide’s unseasonably late spring chill. These reasons extend beyond Rashid’s time spent with the Strikers.
The first “Afghan” settlers, who were actually Pathans from a tribal country on what is now the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, arrived in South Africa in the middle of the 1860s to work on the camel trains that transported goods to the country’s interior as well as materials for the construction of the overland telegraph. These Pathans were the first people to call themselves “Afghans.”
Little Gilbert Street in Adelaide is home to Australia’s first metropolitan mosque, which was constructed more than a century ago and still stands today. Additionally, the significance of Afghan settlers in the development of transcontinental transportation is acknowledged through the naming of the Ghan train service, which travels between Adelaide and Darwin.
However, support for Rashid and his team will not be limited to the state’s Afghan minority, which has expanded dramatically in Adelaide’s northern suburbs over the past few decades as a result of unrest in their home country.
The unstoppable leg spinner and enterprising lower-order hitter, Rashid, is a fan favorite in Adelaide, and Adelaide Strikers coach Jason Gillespie, who has a close relationship with Rashid from their time together at Sussex in the United Kingdom and here in Australia, has seen first-hand the factors that have contributed to this popularity.
According to Gillespie, who was interviewed by cricket.com.au, “The reason he’s been accepted is clearly his skills and what he does on the field,” but it’s also the way he goes about things, how open he is, and how engaging he is with our fans and the wider community.
“Because of his consistent availability to others and the sincerity with which he approaches his role as a player for the Adelaide Strikers, he has won the hearts of people around South Australia.
“People don’t forget that when you attend to any Strikers game at Adelaide Oval, Rash will be the last player out on the field signing autographs at the end of the game.
“I’m quite convinced that when Afghanistan play, they’ll get some really strong support, not only via the Afghan population in South Australia but also throughout the larger cricket community because Rashid’s played such a major role for the Adelaide Strikers,” I said. “It’s because Rashid’s played such a big role for the Adelaide Strikers that I’m so confident in this.”
And while crowd interaction is a significant component in Rashid’s profound commitment to Adelaide Oval, there’s also his in-depth knowledge of the way its pitches play and precisely how the famed ground’s proportions suit his bowling. All of these factors combine to make Adelaide Oval a special place for Rashid.
Familiarity could end up being an advantage for either side in Friday’s match, which will be the first Twenty20 international between the two teams.
Rashid can undoubtedly claim to have a significantly better amount of experience bowling in 20-over cricket in Adelaide compared to Australia’s front-line quicks.
Although Afghanistan is making its first international appearance at the historic venue, their premier bowler has made 29 appearances in the Big Bash League at the ground, where he is the second-most prolific wicket-taker in the league after his Strikers teammate, Peter Siddle.
In contrast, Josh Hazlewood, who is ranked second in the world in T20I bowling behind Rashid, has only played two BBL matches at Adelaide (for the Sydney Sixers in 2014 and 2020), and he has not participated in any international matches there. Mitchell Starc, meanwhile, has only participated in one T20 match there, which was in 2019 when Australia played Sri Lanka.
Gillespie is of the impression that Rashid not only has an in-depth knowledge of Adelaide Oval and the peculiarities of the venue, but also that his bowling technique is particularly well-suited to the oval’s long and narrow boundary lines.
According to Gillespie, “the length he hits” is the most important aspect of his bowling game.
“He’s got that wonderful skill in that he can spin the ball both ways and he bowls fast, but it’s his control of length – striking just below the top of the stumps – and the fact that he constantly hits a “shoe box” on that length that makes him so dangerous.
“This is what makes him such a challenge to play against in Twenty20 cricket; if he doesn’t give the ball air, the only way batsmen believe they can get boundaries is to step-hit if it’s overpitched, so they can play down the ground. This is the only way they feel they have a chance.”
“But Adelaide is a long straight, and if he gets his length correct and doesn’t drop too short, it then becomes very tough to play him square of the wicket because he keeps the stumps in play all the time. This makes it very difficult to play him square of the wicket.”
“Plus, if they’re not picking him through the air, they have to wait for it to come off the pitch. It’s very difficult to play a bowler of Rashid’s pace and skill, with his ability to spin the ball both ways, if you’re reading him off the pitch,” said the commentator. “Plus, if they’re not picking him through the air, they have to wait for it to come off the pitch.”
Rashid is the first to say that, in contrast to his hypnotizing variety of deliveries, his bowling method is really uncomplicated.
He believes that if opposing batters try to take him on, he has a “70 to 80 percent chance” of claiming their wicket. On the other hand, he is equally pleased if opponents play him cautiously in the hope of seeing off his four overs with minimal runs but no further damage. He believes that this gives him a “70 to 80 percent chance” of claiming their wicket.
He added, “Either method is great for me, whether someone is taking a risk or if someone is not taking a risk, the more important thing is where I’m pitching the ball.” “If someone is taking a risk or if someone is not taking a risk, the more important thing is where I’m pitching the ball.”
“Rather than the reaction of the batter, that is the aspect that counts to me the most.
“If he’s pursuing me, it offers me that opportunity where I can take his wicket… but only if he’s after me.” But on the other hand, if someone else decides not to take that risk, it makes me pleased.
“That I will be taking a wicket is not about me; it’s not about me at all.
“If I build up that kind of pressure and have two or three dot balls, bowl one tight over, then whoever is bowling from the other end has the opportunity to be very smart and he can take wickets, and that is something that we are always planning for. If I build up that kind of pressure and have two or three dot balls, bowl one tight over.
“I try to keep things as straightforward and uncomplicated as possible for myself.
“Never once have I given any thought to the batsman’s strategy or what he intends to do; after all, it’s his job to think about those things, and it’s not my responsibility to do so.
“I will continue to have faith in my capabilities and the talent that I possess, and one thing that is one thing that is constantly on my mind is to keep things as simple as possible while still hitting the target area on a continuous basis.
“Our excitement levels are through the roof.
“It is true that we will be competing against Australia, and I anticipate that it will be a challenging match for our team.
“But at the same time, (we) are familiar with the conditions, the wicket, and the preparation for that ground, so I hope that we are well prepared for that and that we have a productive day of cricket.“
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