Rashid Khan
Rashid Khan of the Gujarat Titan in action during a Tata Indian Premier League 2022 game. Khan has been a potent weapon in the Gujarat armoury. Image Credit: Sportzpics for IPL

Rashid Khan claimed his first four-wicket IPL haul on Tuesday. It struck me as odd because this is the Afghan leg-spinner’s fifth season in the Indian Premier League. Odd? Yes, it is. He is a feared bowler in the world of Twenty20 franchise cricket. Why did it take him 88 appearances to scalp four in a game?

Part of the reason is his formidable reputation. Batters are fully aware of the damage he can wreak. So they play him out, contend to milk for singles or twos. If the required run rate is high, batters will look for boundaries, and that’s when Khan strikes. Teams often prefer a risk-free approach against Khan and try to score off bowlers at the other end. That’s why Khan returns miserly spells without too many wickets.

■ Rashid Khan, 23, is the youngest bowler to take 100 wickets in IPL.
■ He is the third bowler to complete 450 dismissals in T20 games, after Dwayne Bravo of the West Indies and Imran Tahir of South Africa.
■ Khan’s 4/24 against the Lucknow Super Giants on Tuesday is his best haul in the IPL.
■ It is Khan’s first four-wicket haul in 88 games in the IPL.

The four wickets against the Lucknow Super Giants must have been special for him. By the time Gujarat Titans’ captain Hardik Pandya brought Khan into the attack, Lucknow were in trouble. A pathetic run rate and senseless batting had undermined them. In such situations, Khan can be deadly. The bite and turn on the Pune MCA Stadium were added incentives. Krunal Pandya and Avesh Khan were deceived and stumped, Deepak Hooda perished in the deep and Jason Holder was trapped in front as Khan wrapped the Lucknow innings. He loved it. The beaming face told it all.

What makes Khan such a potent threat even after four seasons with the IPL? For a spinner, who’s had so much international exposure, his bag of tricks would be familiar to batters. Every franchise these days has technical teams that help the coaching staff dissect a batsman’s technique or a bowler’s variations. Khan seems to have survived the scrutiny. That’s why he continues to command the respect of batters.

How Rashid Khan works his magic

At 23, Khan has a wealth of experience. Much of that comes from playing T20 franchise cricket worldwide. For a cricketer, who burst into international cricket as a prodigy at 17, Khan has continued to learn and experiment. Having picked up the rudiments of the game in Pakistan when he was an Afghan refugee, Khan refined his bowling skills and earned a call up to the Afghanistan team in 2015. The Sunrisers Hyderabad bought him a year later, and the rest is IPL history.

Khan is not a classical leg-spinner. He doesn’t flight the ball and relies on finger spin. Generally, leggies are wrist spinners, but not in the case of Khan, whose strong fingers impart spin. And he bowls more googlies than leg-breaks. The flipper too is part of his armoury, but we don’t see too much of it in IPL games. He certainly doesn’t bowl the top spinner: the one that is spun straight with a leg-spin grip with the seam pointed down the pitch; one which bounces and hastens after pitching.

But Khan’s variations come from different grips. He is reported to use five grips to bowl googlies and leg-breaks. So the turn and bounce vary, making it difficult for batters to cart him.

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More than that, Khan’s accuracy and speed don’t allow the batters to read his deliveries. That’s why they seldom aim to hit him for sixes, although Jos Buttler and Sanju Samson have tried with mixed results.

Captains love his accuracy. Hyderabad captains David Warner and Kane Williamson used to deploy him in the powerplay in search of wickets, the middle-overs to throttle the batters and the slog to staunch the scoring. He was the bowler for all occasions. The move to Gujarat Titans hasn’t made much difference, although Mohammed Shami’s early breakthroughs would have cranked up the pressure by the time Khan comes into the attack.

His continued effectiveness is a tribute to Khan’s constant quest to innovate. He knows that batters would study him and be prepared to tackle him. But Khan stays a step ahead with newer variations. The four-wicket burst against Lucknow is ample evidence.