Abu Dhabi: Rashid Khan, Afghanistan’s most sought-after bowler, has been on the road for a while now. He has been in self-imposed exile for more than a year-and-a-half to be precise.
This voyage is not coming to an end any time soon as he still has a list of cricket commitments lined up before he reunites with his loved ones.
“Yes, you heard it right. I have not returned to my hometown of Nangarhar or even met my family for over 550 days now,” said Rashid in an exclusive interview with Gulf News, after a gruelling training session at Shaikh Zayed Cricket Stadium ahead of their Asia Cup opener against Sri Lanka on September 17.
For the leg-spinner, life has turned on its head in a short period of time, just like a Twenty20 game. From playing cricket with his friends in the dusty terrains of Afghanistan’s Eastern province, still ravaged by terrorism and political turmoil, Rashid has come a long way.
He has not only become an integral part of his national team but the lucrative Twenty20 franchises across the world have also been queuing up with their chequebooks to get him on board.
The 19-year-old is clearly living his dream and Rashid wants to seize every opportunity that comes his way.
“You can only dream for such things and in my case, it happened so fast, one just can’t imagine,” he said. “To be called the No. 1 Twenty20 bowler or second in ODIs is not an easy thing for a player from an associate nation to achieve. And you can say I want to make the most of this moment and hence all this sacrifice staying away from family,” Rashid added that there is a daily fight within himself to avoid all sentiments and other distractions.
“It is not at all easy when you have a big family comprising of seven brothers, four sisters, several nephews along with mum and dad. I could have easily gone and met them but to tell you frankly I just want to focus on cricket right now. I cannot get entangled in family emotions for now.
“I know my family will understand, especially my mum, who keeps asking whenever I call when I will be back. If I go back then all these feelings will hold you and it will get tough for me to come back and get into the groove again. The focus that I’m in right now is what I don’t want to lose. I just want to keep improving.”
Rashid, despite being in Kabul for the Shpageeza Cricket League earlier in the year, refrained from making the four-hour drive to Nangarhar.
“I wanted to go then but the political situation in my area was not good and so I had to put it on hold,” he said. “Then from there I left for the Big Bash in Australia, then was on national duty, Indian Premier League, Bangladesh series and so on,” recalls Rashid, who is keen to invite some members of his family for the Afghanistan Premier League, which will be making its debut in the UAE soon after the Asia Cup.
“After the Asia Cup, I can’t go home because in a few days, the Afghanistan Premier League will start,” he said. “Having been away from family for so long and to go home for a couple of days doesn’t make any sense. I need to spend a good amount of time when I return. I would have invited my family over now but the weather is very hot at the moment, but by APL the weather should improve.”
Rashid constantly reminds himself about his tough past to stay grounded. His work ethic too has remained the same and at the Zayed Stadium he was among the first to take to the nets and the last to leave.
“I have always been the first for training and last to go,” he said. “Right from a very early age, I’m used to doing things on my own. Wash my own clothes, clean my shoes and don’t trouble my mother or siblings to help me in all that.
“I’m always working in the nets and trying out different variations and see how it goes. It helped me a lot in matches and I think what gives me the edge is my quick-arm action. Stints with the Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL under stalwarts Tom Moody, V.V.S. Laxman and spin legend Muttiah Muralitharan have made me mentally stronger, which is the key when things are not going your way or suiting your bowling.”
Rashid is confident his team will not be just making the numbers at the Asia Cup.
“We just need to give our 100 per cent and not think whom we are playing against,” he said. “We are a good talented side and we have had success against West Indies, Bangladesh. Now all we need to do is play positive cricket.”