By: Sai Prasad Mohapatra
Shah Rukh Khan asserts his screen name ‘Khaaan, Khaan’ obsessively with a pronounced epiglottic invocation in the movie “My Name Is Khan” in situations that envelop an identity threat—in a seemingly vitiated perception about a mere Muslim surname—he deflates the religion stereotype in a world grown paranoid to particular surname or for that matter his community in the movie.
The Indian Premiere League has suffered from its own prejudiced outlook—albeit contributed by the hostile political climate between India and Pakistan weathering on the passage of IPL year on year—for treating the players across the boundary, and in this case particularly from Pakistan, as persona non-grata, for their presence is riddled with tension. No franchise in prefect sense could afford to court risk, and get distracted by the backlash they can potentially trigger every time a cannon fires a ball that lands across the Indian territory. Cricket’s tie up with politics is only a natural corollary of public sentiments and hawkish political posturing. Within this unwritten rule—completely and wholly endorsed by every single franchise in a coded secrecy—picking a Pakistani player through the IPL auction is a risk; and it has turned into an enduring maxim.
Here comes another Khan, across the border, from the far away pockets of a ravaged and deeply terrorised country, Afghanistan. In a crowd of ten siblings, Rashid Khan took a liking to Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi: his hair, his quick dash, his flamboyance, his bounding energy all caught his fancy. The whole make up of Shahid Afridi, the live wire fielder, the dasher of cricket ball too seeped into Rashid Khan’s formative years. Torn by extremism, Rashid’s family moved to Pakistan for an unspecified number of years out of fear for life. And there the infectiously unavoidable happened; Rashid got drawn to cricket by watching international matches on television, the only television their neighbourhood had. Relatively safer period ensued and the Khan family returned to Afghanistan after few years. Raised in a cricket milieu where everyone around his was a spinner, his brothers, his cousins, Rashid found his calling in leg spin. Between his craft and ambition stood his mother, who initially disapproved of him playing cricket, for the hardness of cricket ball, she reckoned, was a life-threatening game. In a land where the game of cricket is just about sprouting, his mother’s disapproval can hardly be contested, for she wanted him to pursue study and become a doctor instead. It took hours of cajoling and months of persuasion for Rashid and his brothers to get a smiling yes from her.
Like a perfectly laid out script, he rose through club matches, First Class matches. Bowling on dust patches, barren plots, lesser fancied grounds, Rashid honed his own skill, developed what is still been called as indecipherable. Unlike many other leg spinners, Rashid keeps his ball less loopy and hustles the ball through the air, nearly blurring the difference in pace between a googly and leg break. Rashid relies more on his fingers than on his wrist upon which generally the art of leg spin is founded. To mask it further he runs different degree of fingers along the seam, four to five different grip to confounded the batsmen and keep them guessing. It is in that web of subtle change in grip he lets in his most lethal googly from the back of his hand, deceptively similar to a leg break. His arm on both the occasions—when bowling the googly and leg break—astonishingly remains closer to his head, and that is too much of trick to deal with for most of the batsmen of Zimbabwe and Ireland, the teams he has played the most number of matches against. From his Guru Afridi he has picked two other virtues: to bowl what is called in maidan cricket ’stump to stump’ and finishes his overs in quick time. Both quite unnerving for batsmen when the asking rate mounts, they freeze and fall, sometimes, to these two sly tricks.
Sitting on piles of wickets being the youngest and fastest to 100 ODI wickets and topping the ICC rankings and signed up to play many marquee cricket leagues across the world, the world starred taking a little known bowler from Afghanistan seriously. He wore many caps: the Guyana Amazon Warriors in the CPL, the Adelaide Strikers in the Big Bash, the Kabul Eagle, the Quetta Gladiators. Rashid effected a marathon rally in the 2018 IPL auction when Sunrisers Hyderabad didn’t care a hoot for the bill that was going up. Whole of Afghanistan stopped to see one of their own’s stock shooting through the roof; SRH blew Rs.9 crore and bagged a small cap promising to be a Blue Chip. A Blue Chip he turned out: he flummoxed Dhoni with a ripping googly, drawing him out, opening his gate, crashing into his stumps; Dwayne Bravo cautious and prepared not to be another Dhoni, the ball dipped and spun away, a leg break misunderstood as googly and top-edged to Shikhar Dhawan at first slip. Chennai won but Rashid shimmered.
On Friday night, under a dazzling Eden, he soared as he batted, he mesmerised the KKR batsmen, tied them and trumped; he was everywhere whenever the ball went up, only to pluck glory with it. He stood a signature “Star man” mimicking his idol Afridi. The Twitter got frenzy: some started appealing to Afghanistan government to allow him to emigrate to India and naturalise; almost everyone played along: a witty tweet from Sushma Swaraj; we won’t give away him tweeted Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani; Sachin Tendulkar too quick to anoint him the best T20 spinner. Under one dazzling night he was the most talked about Khan, for a change he is not from Bollywood.
Like the endearing Kabuliwala, one of the oeuvre of Rabindranath Tagore, who found his heart strung to Calcutta’s little girl in Mini who reminded him of his daughter, Rashid found his most expressive self under the Kolkata’s warm night with rhythmic exhortation of ‘Raashid…Raashid’ rebounding. This is another Afghani’s story playing out on a green turf, the passionate Kolkata crowd were to be his Mini.
In Rashid, the IPL and cricket fans have found an Indo-Afghan connect that doesn’t suffer from the weight of bias. He too is well-poised to invoke his unique identity: my name is Khan—Rashid Khan, and I’m a cricket troubadour from Afghanistan, and I’m here to show you a bit of my leg spin, play if you can.