Over the years of commentating in the Indian Premier League, I have come across many fascinating cricketers who have evolved from this stage to become a force in the game. The moment Rashid Khan bowled a googly and castled Shubman Gill in his very first over of this year’s IPL, it got me thinking. What an amazing craftsman he is! You might call it my love for leg-spin, but he is one bowler I will pay to watch every day of the week.
Rashid is not an orthodox leg-spin bowler. He is very unorthodox, in fact. His arm action is so quick that he has to release the ball at the right time. That he has been able to do, thus making him very accurate. His grip doesn’t change too much between leg spin and googly. If you observe, he doesn’t turn his leg-spin as much as his googly. Because his grip is more like an off-spinner’s grip with a big gap between the index finger and the middle finger. That allows him to bowl a better googly.
He is not a leg-spinner who bowls round-arm. There are a lot of leg-spinners after Shane Warne who took up to leg-spin bowling where they were told to bowl round arm but Rashid Khan is more conventional and his arm position is right on top. That trait helps him bowl more deceptive googly as the hand is close to the body.
Rashid changes his wrist position just before releasing the ball and in combination with the fast arm speed, people are not able to read him. And in a lot of cases, batsmen already pre-meditated whatever shot he wants to play. Whatever I have observed in the IPL over the years, a high percentage of batsmen target the shorter side of the ground instead of hitting the ball with the turn. Shubman Gill, a magnificent batsman in his own right, looked to hit it on the leg-side and was bowled by the googly. That’s where the change of pace also becomes very important. Rashid possesses all the qualities that make him a great T20 bowler.
While watching him, I can’t help but go back to the 2018 India vs Afghanistan Test in Bangalore, where he struggled with rhythm initially. One needs to remember in Test cricket, you have to go with a slip, gully, and a forward short leg, basically stationing fielders close to the bat. In T20 cricket especially, you have more fielders on the boundary line.
With that kind of mindset, you can bowl freely as a bad ball might not go for the boundary because fielders are in the deep. That is a defensive mindset and the bowler is driven to think even if he bowls one ball, he can get away with that. But in Test cricket, you have to bowl long spells and need to be on the money all the time. In T20s, someone like Rashid Khan bowls his four overs in two spells which is not too hard in concentrating on what you’d do.
Not only Rashid Khan but the likes of Imran Tahir and Yuzvendra Chahal have also had a lot of success in limited-overs format because they bowl in middle overs when the batsmen are looking to accelerate the score. That’s why the leg-spinners are very successful as far as wicket-taking is concerned in white-ball cricket.
Once you develop a reputation as a wicket-taking bowler on a regular basis, then batsmen will start treating you a little more cautiously. Once they start playing you cautiously, you will never go for too many runs. Sunrisers Hyderabad have used Rashid Khan really well in that regard, bringing him in at important overs and he paid back by containing the run-flow as well as picking crucial wickets.
Chennai is a more helpful pitch than Hyderabad. It is just a matter of time before he gets used to the pitch. Chepauk is a slow wicket thus he might have to bowl a slightly different length. That is the most unique thing in the IPL this year. Rashid Khan is probably better off playing five games in Chennai than playing in Wankhede for example.