Why is Rashid Khan still so difficult for batters to tackle?

The street-smart Rashid Khan has managed to retain his efficacy, despite making his IPL debut as a 18-year-old for Sunrisers Hyderabad more than six years back

Khan delivers the ball at an average of 90 kmph (photo courtesy @rashidkhan_19/Twitter)
Khan delivers the ball at an average of 90 kmph (photo courtesy @rashidkhan_19/Twitter)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The deadly Rashid Khan–Noor Ahmed combination, which made it almost a walk in the park for the Gujarat Titans against the Rajasthan Royals on Friday evening, sends out a warning signal to their rivals for the rest of the tournament.

It’s not every day that a side is blessed with two such quality wrist spinners, but what’s amazing is the way the Rashid magic continues to befuddle the batters after all these years.

The Sawai Man Singh Stadium in Jaipur once again saw the leg spinner at his best. The 25-year-old, who was named the ICC T20 Player of the Decade recently, showed what makes him such a difficult bowler to read as he took the scalps of senior pro Ravichandran Ashwin, Riyan Parag and Shimron Hetmyer to finish with 3 for 14 (his best figures this year) and climb to the top position with 18 wickets in the race for the Purple Cap.

In a cricketing ecosystem, where it’s so difficult for a bowler to retain his mystery—thanks to the video analysts and specialist coaches in rival dugouts—the street-smart Khan has managed to retain his efficacy despite making his IPL debut as an 18-year-old for the Sunrisers Hyderabad more than six years back. His haul of 130 wickets from 102 matches, at an economy rate of 6.54, speaks for itself.

More than his wicket-taking abilities, what has been remarkable is Khan growth in stature as a bowler in the world’s richest league, where the best of batters prefers to see off his spell of four overs and then pick on other bowlers to attack.

There had been very few who have managed to get on top of Khan, one of the rare cases being compatriot Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who recently tore into him at the Eden Gardens in their return match against the Kolkata Knight Riders.

It would be interesting to pick the brains of Muttiah Muralitharan, the spin wizard who has been in charge of the slow bowling unit of the Sunrisers for a long while and has seen this precocious talent bloom from close quarters. When Khan made himself into a free agent ahead of the mega auction of 2022, all Murali said was: "We didn't want to get rid of Rashid Khan, but we couldn't afford him."

While breaking down his arsenal, a lot has been said about the pace with which Khan delivers the ball—at an average of 90 kmph—which makes him an extremely difficult bowler to pick up off the wicket. Added to that is the scrambled seam as he holds the ball, making it difficult for the batter to gauge which way the ball is going to turn.

Much to Khan's credit, he has not tried to experiment overmuch with his craft, focusing on his two stock deliveries instead—the leg spin and the googly, along with the top-spinner that straightens up and often foxes the batter playing for the turn. The nagging length and control he maintains over the line keep batters under pressure, and he reaps the rewards.

There is a perception that Khan is not a big turner of the ball; but ironically enough, that's what works best for him.

There is no dearth of quality leg spinners, says a resurgent Piyush Chawla, whose wrong 'uns turn big, making it easier for a right-handed batter to handle the incoming delivery easily.

Khan, on the other hand, creates a corridor of uncertainty outside the off stump for the googlies and straighters—which has often fetched him wickets in piles. 

Add to that is his exceptional ability to unleash the dipping leg spinners, which prove a lot for the rivals to handle.

In a format so dominated by the batters, Khan has already managed to create a legion of followers who just like to turn up to watch his spells and the infectious energy out on the field.

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