March 2016, the entire cricketing world had descended in India for the ICC World T20 and even before the actual tournament kick-started there was a qualification round put in place. Nothing out of the ordinary; you have to prove your mettle before you face-off with the big boys.
However, when Scotland was knocked out of the qualifying round, their captain Peter Mommsen could not hold back and lamented the lack of opportunities these ‘associate’ nations get. Very much out of ordinary, as cricket is perhaps the only game which loves to remain in its own bubble and not look outwards. Mommsen is an articulate man and when he lashed out at the governing body for the step-motherly treatment one needed to sit up and take notice.
Cut to April 5, 2017. A young leg break bowler from a young cricketing nation Afghanistan was making history. Rashid Khan, the bubbly yet stoic 18-year old from the war-ravaged Afghanistan entered history books when he became the first Afghan player to make a splurge in the much-fancied Indian Premier League.
All but 18, Rashid is already the torch bearer of his nation, and with his skills right up there with the very best his performance on the night is the best advert for associate cricket. Is the ICC watching, well that can be debated at another time!
The diminutive boy came into bowl in the 6th over of the Royal Challengers Bangalore innings. The score was 48/0 and Chris Gayle and Mandeep Singh had started like a train chasing a daunting target. Surely this was a gamble taken by SRH skipper David Warner, or so we thought!
The crowd everywhere sat up for this was a poignant moment not only in the IPL but in cricket as a whole. Rashid was on his way, a short stuttering run up, arms flying all over and dished out a fullish ball on off stump and was driven to extra cover by Mandeep Singh. Good start!
The next ball was a full ball outside the off stump, Mandeep came forward and drove the ball into the gap between point and cover, so much like a certain Virat Kohli. Welcome to IPL, Rashid!
The pressure was on, the next ball was slightly short, Rashid seemed to be struggling to get into his groove, was the atmosphere getting to him?
Pressure, what is that; the next ball was a length ball and came in with the arm, Mandeep was fooled by the trajectory, went back to cut and chopped it on to the stumps. Yes, he has arrived, thank you IPL, says, Rashid. The cameras quickly panned to Mohammed Nabi who was sitting in the dugout and he was smiling and beaming with pride. A fellow Afghan had scripted history and the cheers could well be heard all the way from Kabul!
A country which has unfortunately become synonymous with militancy, suicide bombing and everything anti-human, Rashid has emerged as a glimmer of hope and with his ever smiling expression and he could be the messiah Afghanistan is looking for. He finished with figures of 4-0-36-2 and on a surface which was an absolute belter for batting the young man had come out with flying colours!
For an 18-year old, his ability to keep his head in pressure situation has become his biggest ally and that reflected in the way he responded after a slightly tricky start. He is a confident bloke who trusts his skills and as they say, half the battle is won when you have the belief that you are good enough to compete.
Cricket followers and for people who keep a close track on Afghanistan cricket will know the influence of Rashid Khan on any game he takes part in. Whenever the captain tosses the ball to him there is a collective sense of anticipation all over the ground. People know things are bound to happen and more often than not the young man would emerge with his hands aloft and be looking skywards. Yes, Shahid Afridi is his role model.
His control over leg-breaks is immaculate and his googly is a weapon of mass destruction on most days!
Sample this: Rashid finished as the leading wicket-taker in both the T20I and ODI series in the just concluded affair with Ireland in Greater Noida. He then proceeded to scalp a five-for in the first innings which was a part of the eight wickets haul for the match – in Afghanistan’s Intercontinental Cup win over the same opponent.
The 4 crore bidding price for him now looks like a bargain, isn’t it?
The young man has a point to prove not only for himself but for all the associate nations as so often their performances slip under the radar owing to lack of broadcasters or interest. Mommsen was right and he had every reason to be frustrated, perhaps Rashid is an answer to that frustration, perhaps his success here could be the antidote associate cricket needs.
The ICC may well turn a blind eye but if Rashid Khan succeeds here, who knows the IPL may welcome associate nation players in the subsequent editions. Will the ICC then ignore them?
And as Sarah Dessen so aptly puts in ‘Along for the Ride’: “It was so risky and so scary, and yet at the same time, so beautiful. Maybe the truth was, it shouldn’t be easy to be amazing. Then everything would be. It’s the things you fight for and struggle with before earning that have the greatest worth. When something’s difficult to come by, you’ll do that much more to make sure it’s even harder -if not impossible- to lose.”