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Test cricket awaits Rashid Khan's magic

12 Jun 2018 CricBuzz

They talk of magic being some sort of illusion, some sort of trick to deceive you into believing that what you are watching is real, when in fact, it's not. That's how the cynical mind works: there's nothing really magical about anything. It can be explained. So, therefore, Rashid Khan's bowling is no magic either. It can be explained. Or so they want to think. *** Are you watching closely? The trick lies in his bowling action. It's unlike anything anyone has ever seen. Rashid races through the crease in delivery stride, while his arm propels itself forward with a ferocity that mangonels dream of. If in between all this, a batsman somehow manages to catch a glimpse of his wrist in the hopes of differentiating a leg-break from a googly, then they're in for a bit of a shocker. "I don't use my wrist, I only use my fingers and that's what makes me different. I use the top of my fingers and that's where I get the speed. If I use my wrist I will be slower," Rashid revealed during the IPL. Deception is the name of the game in Twenty20 cricket, and Rashid has got that aspect nailed. He pretty much rules the format. How do you attack a spinner who you can't pick? The pace at which he bowls makes it very hard to adjust off the deck either. And add to that his bowling smarts. In the recently concluded IPL, there were two specific games in which he started bowling fuller and a bit slower. Now, Rashid generally fires them in on a length, but this was a deviation from that. The first time he did it, against Kings XI Punjab, he was smashed for his worst T20 figures ever as Chris Gayle took him to the cleaners. What was noticeable were the five sixes in the arc between long-on and long-off - something which just never happens against the 19-year-old. In the very next game, against Chennai Super Kings, he continued with the floaty length and was presented with his second worst figures in T20 cricket. It may have been a conscious effort on his part to expand his range, but it backfired. Thus, it was back to pushing it through the air on a good length. And sure enough, Rashid bounced back to take the remainder of the tournament by storm. "I don't worry who the batsman is, I just try to bowl in the good length area," he explains. "I just mix up the deliveries depending on where the batsman wants to play me. If he is looking to target the leg-side, I don't bowl too many googlies because at the angle it comes he can hit it easily. In that case I bowl a lot of leg-spin so he can play across. If he is targeting the off-side, I don't bowl many leggies. So, my bowling depends on the strength and weakness of the batsmen." Rashid Khan's T20 record is unbelievable. He gives away runs at less than six an over, at an average of 15.66. But it can't be magic, can it? Surely there are other reasons. Maybe it's the intrinsic rush associated with the format that provides the perfect cover for his deception. Maybe it's something else. Surely he can't have the same level of success in the longer format. There's no magic. *** Spin bowlers are usually a certain way in Test cricket. Rashid Khan defies that mould in every which way. There's nothing sexy about his leg-break. There's no drift in the air to take the ball down the leg-side before ripping it towards off stump. He doesn't tease the batsman in flight, doesn't lure them to use their feet. Nothing of that sort. So with his style of bowling, won't it be more difficult to deceive batsmen when they aren't looking to attack him? Well, if the four first-class games he has played are anything to go by, Rashid will be fine. He has at least one fifer in each of them, and his average comes out to a staggering 15.05. But they're merely four first-class games. Test matches will be a lot trickier. There will be stronger teams, different pitches. However, that's the challenge of it and he's well prepared. "If the wicket is for spinners, every spinner can bowl on that," Rashid says. "But if the wicket is not good enough for spinners, we have to show our skills in that, we have to show our variations in such conditions. We will have learn to bowl on such a wicket because in future you will play in Australia, in England, in New Zealand which will not be a spinning track. So we have to learn how to bowl on those wickets. If you see Shane Warne, he is from Australia and he has got success in Australia even though the wickets are not that good enough for spinners. He got success in England as well. So we have to work on the variations and improve." He once bowled 35 overs unchanged in Abu Dhabi against England A and has worked hard on his fitness to bowl long. So that's another thing. If the plan is indeed to keep blunting him out, don't expect him to ease off. He's relentless. "The captain (in that game) kept asking me if I was tired and I said no every time. Then when he looked at the screen, I had bowled 35 overs. I normally bowl for 2-3 hours in the nets. I don't think it will be difficult for me to bowl long spells." There must be something missing though. There's no real precedent for his style of bowling to succeed in Tests. Yes, there was someone like Kumble who pushed his leg-breaks pretty quickly as well. But then he had the height, the extra bounce he could rely upon. He had the flipper. Rashid has none of these things. "With the action I have it is quite difficult to bowl the flipper. I have to change my action to bowl the flipper," he says. But then, on the flip side, it does leave room for developing some new variations, which Rashid admits that he's working on. However, those variations are still in their nascent stages. So, what will Rashid rely upon when things aren't going his way? Magic? Don't be ridiculous. There's no magic. *** A group of seven brothers used to play street cricket in the gullies of Afghanistan. All were pretty sound with their cricket and all even had the skill to bowl leg-spin. It was a family thing. One of them was profusely talented. The other six were often left bemused with the pace at which he bowled. There was a hunger in him, a desire to play for the national team. He was magic. Test cricket needs Rashid Khan's magic. ShareTweetShareRELATED STORIES

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