Current ODI and T20 world No.1 bowler Rashid Khan, 20, has been amazingly consistent across formats for some time. One of 11 siblings, the leg-spinner is now set to play in his first 50-over World Cup starting May. He spoke exclusively with Qaiser Mohammad Ali in Dehradun. Excerpts:
How has been your experience in Greater Noida and Dehradun, the Indian ‘home’ of the Afghanistan team?
It is definitely a ‘home’ for us, considering the crowd support and the love that people shower upon us here. It doesn’t give us the feel that we are playing away from home. We consider this our home. And that is a reason why we are performing well. The kind of support and facilities we have got here in Dehradun, the heart feels that we are playing on our own country. We are quite enjoying our cricket here. We can create whatever type of environment we want. Before coming to Dehradun, we had a camp in Bangalore also.
Are you getting here the kind of food you like?
Yes, the barbeque type of food and salad etc. is all available here. Barbeque dishes are my favourite and I mostly eat beef barbeque and chicken barbeque. Salad is another favourite. I much like murgh-malai tikka that they make here in Dehradun.
What do you like the most in India -- it food, films, or anything else?
I quite like the support and the love that the people of India give us. And it’s not that I get that only in Hyderabad which I represent in IPL [SunRisers Hyderabad team]; wherever I play and at places like airports also I get the affection. My fans and followers slightly stun me with their love. I cannot forgot Indian fans.
Hyderabad is known for its food.
I don’t eat the most famous food of Hyderabad, biryani. I stopped eating it some time ago. I used to eat a lot of biryani, but since I started paying more attention on my fitness, I don’t feel like eating it.
Do you like anything in particular amongst Indian clothes?
I haven’t tried anything in particular. During last 2018 IPL photo-shoot, I tried salwar-pajama – the dress they wear in weddings in India -- and I felt quite comfortable in it. It was very nice.
Do you watch films?
Yes, I watch Indian films. My favourite actors are Aamir Khan, Preity Zinta and Anoushka Sharma. They are very popular in Afghanistan as well. There are many followers there and they wait eagerly for new Indian films.
Who is your favourite leg-spinner and why?
My favourites are Shahid Afridi and Anil Kumble. The reason is that like me they too bowled quick leg-spin, and I loved fastish leg-spin, and that is why I used to follow them and watch their videos.
You have represented eight T20 teams, besides Afghanistan. How has been that experience?
Everywhere the experience was different. You encounter different situations and tough conditions at different places. One has to adjust oneself in those conditions – what to do and what not to do. Everywhere I went to play for the first time, I found it tough because I had to adjust myself to the conditions there. But now my endeavour is to focus on my skill, my bowling. Everything comes later. After all, cricket doesn’t change; and leg-spin too remains the same. One only has to adjust the length of the delivery and mentally adjust to the local conditions. After playing in different countries, I have learned how to bowl and adjust when you don’t get the turn from the pitch and the conditions are tough.
Do you fear losing this tough art of leg-spin by playing in so many T20 leagues around the world?
No, this thought never comes to mind. I focus on my talent and skill and try to improve it day in and day out. Cricket changes every day and every now and then come players who play unconventional shots, which forces you to think to do something more, to check those shots. Leg-spin is a tough art but if you adjust quickly to the pitch and the conditions, it’s very difficult to hit a leg-spinner. The thought of defeat never comes to my mind. My effort is always to perform well, and rely on my talent and strength. Negative thoughts don’t come to my mind.
These days video analysts do so much study of players that almost every player is familiar with everyone’s else. How do you innovate so that you are a step ahead of your opponents?
Video analysts are different and playing on the field is a different thing. When you step on to the field, these analysts don’t come to your mind. What comes to mind is how to play, the team’s requirements, how the pitch is behaving etc. If analysts detected everything about bowlers, they would always be hit and never take wickets. Similarly, if batsmen were sorted by analysts, they would never score runs. So, I think video analysis helps you get an idea, create a film in the mind, of bowlers and batsmen. You have to fight the battle on your own in the field. I played IPL for two seasons [for SunRisers Hyderabad in 2017 and 2018] and the other leagues around the world, and they made my films. But I don’t bring this thought to my mind that I am very good; I only try to better my bowling. For example, Virat [kohli] bhai is making a lot of runs and everything. And there are many video analysts, who are analysing that he is weak here or there, but he is still playing his cover drives as usual. If everyone has assessed his strong points, then why bowlers pitch the ball in the area from where they are hit. On-field play is practical. Whichever bowler performs well in a particular situation, controls himself, and bowls the right lengths he will be successful.
How do you adjust yourself to the three formats to be successful in all? What is the secret behind it?
Cricket is the same in all three formats, only the requirements are different. Bowlers bowl and batsman hits the ball. In T20 format, the time is less, so one has to think quickly to plan strategy. In one-dayers, you have a little more time. A batsman has time to adjust himself and as a bowler I, too, have time to bowl to a good length and attack later. In Test cricket, you have to be patient and if you don’t get a single wicket even after bowling 20 overs, it’s okay. One has to only bowl a good line and length. You can get six-seven batsmen out in a session, or you may not get a wicket even in two sessions. Test cricket means a test of your patience, calmness and coolness. Also, your batting and bowling stamina gets checked.
The format of the upcoming World Cup is different from previous editions as now each of the 10 teams will play against everyone, before the semi-finals. Isn’t it good that you and your team will get to play nine matches?
Definitely, it’s a good format and you will get to play all the competing teams. You’ll get more opportunities to prove yourself. It’s not that a team plays two-three matches and is knocked out. It’s an opportunity for all the teams.
So, do you think this format will help Afghanistan to make it to the semi-finals after the round-robin league, as there are no quarter-finals now?
Definitely. I think we have the talent and the skill, but we will have to keep cool and calm in pressure situations. We’ll have to not think that we are playing against South Africa or India or Australia or New Zealand. We will have to play cricket with the bat and the ball, back-up our talent, and enjoy the game. If I am a batsman, you’ll have to think ‘I can do it’. If I go negative in mind, and think that bowler as a Steyn or a Rabada or a Bumrah or a Bhuvi, then nothing will happen. You will get out in the pavilions itself. We will have to memorise the hard work we have done.
(An abridged version of the interview appears in latest Outlook issue)