GT vs RR: Make way for the real Rashid Khan in IPL 2024 | Crickit
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GT vs RR: Make way for the real Rashid Khan in IPL 2024

By, Kolkata
Apr 11, 2024 05:13 PM IST

Scoring the winning runs on top of returning 1/18 was exactly the kind of boost Rashid Khan needed after his back surgery.

When Rashid Khan came on to bowl with one over still left in the Powerplay, he had two choices: attack, or just ease his way in. The latter was an enticing option, considering he was still not bowling at his 100% since the lower back surgery after the ODI World Cup in November. His economy too had shot up from 6.37 to 8.39 since 2023, but more worrying was the Powerplay economy of 9.63 since 2022—the worst among all the bowlers with least 120 deliveries in the first six overs during this phase.

Rashid Khan fields the ball during the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Rajasthan Royals and Gujarat Titans (AFP)
Rashid Khan fields the ball during the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Rajasthan Royals and Gujarat Titans (AFP)

Rashid too knew he wasn’t feeling it. “I did not bowl much in the last three-four months after the surgery," he told the host broadcaster on Wednesday. "I am still getting used to bowling in the middle. In the first few games, I was struggling a bit, especially with my line and length. I bowled a few good balls but inside I was not feeling it. There was no satisfaction. I was like ‘no, no, that is not me.’”

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It was nothing a couple of good training sessions couldn’t have ironed out. “I felt my grip was a bit off. But before the previous game, I had a good (net) session. I did spot bowling for about an hour and a half, which really helped me. More importantly, my fingers got used to the ball once again.”

All that practice came of use against Jos Buttler, fresh off a pulsating hundred, but known to be more cautious at the start of his innings. Aware of that, Rashid took just two balls to set him up—first hitting short of length, then tossing a googly that Buttler worked towards short midwicket. Then came a fuller delivery, bowled slightly wide and turning away from Buttler who was trying to hit him down the ground. The shot selection was no doubt wrong, but Rashid created that dilemma in the first place.

Not just to Buttler, keeping the lid on the runs while bowling entirely to Riyan Parag and Sanju Samson—who put on 130 runs for the third wicket—was remarkable. Rashid’s reputation helps to some extent, but it wasn’t as if he was given an unbroken spell in the first place. Sloppy fielding from his teammates didn’t help either, with Matthew Wade dropping Parag twice behind the stumps within the space of six balls. The only time Parag did get the better of Rashid was in his third over, when he picked a leg-break early and used the pace on the ball to guide it past slip for the only boundary in rashid’s entire quota, making it an even rarer outing when the other four Titans bowlers averaged more than 11 per over.

This is just half the story though. That Rashid loves to wield the long handle isn’t news. But this seemed a chase too far, till Rashid made it happen. He first clobbered Kuldeep Sen’s wide yorker over extra cover for four before taking three more fours in the last over from Avesh Khan.

Benefit of hindsight allows for the dissection of Titans’ stunning chase—scoring 108 runs in the last eight overs—in many ways. Shubman Gill thought it was always chaseable as long as both Rashid and Rahul Tewatia did their parts. "Fifteen runs per over (means) you just need two hits in the over and that was the mindset at that time. Mathematically, both batsmen need to score a nine-ball 22 and if you think like that, okay, it’s three hits in nine balls and if one of the batsmen goes berserk, you'll see the match getting over in two-three balls.”

Rashid too put it down to staying positive and ‘hitting 3-4 sixes’. It was definitely easier said than done though. Nerves mattered. But also standing out in that calculated assault was Rashid’s decision to stand outside the off-stump to cover the wide yorker, or the alertness to keep shuffling to stay under the low full toss. And finally, that cut over backward point off the last ball from Avesh illustrated an ever expanding range of strokes, emphatically letting the world know that the last few months were just a small blip in the long and storied career of Rashid Khan.

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