Rashid Khan celebrates a wicket
Noah Seelam / © AFP/Getty Images

Rashid Khan: 'If someone is going after me, I'm going to make it super hard for him'

The champion T20 spinner talks about recalibrating his strategy when confronted with attacking batters, and his own starring turns with the bat

Interview by Nagraj Gollapudi  |  

This interview was not planned. In 2021, the Cricket Monthly ran an interview with Afghanistan T20 captain Rashid Khan where he spoke about his life and cricket and dissected the various deliveries in his repertoire. So when Gujarat Titans presented me with an opportunity to chat to Rashid this year, in person in Ahmedabad, I wasn't sure we had enough to talk about.

I did a couple of interviews with him for video features (one of which is lower down this page), during which I sensed he was open and in the mood to talk. So on April 16 we sat down to chat about his one-on-one duels with batters. The conversation extended to his batting heroics in a game early this IPL, how he deals with being under attack as a bowler in T20, having back surgery and returning after it, and more.

In Mumbai last week, I saw a billboard by the famous Indian dairy brand Amul. It had a cartoon of you batting and the line below said, "He Crashid The Royals' Party!" That was after your all-round match-winning performance in Jaipur against Rajasthan Royals on April 10. How does it feel to see yourself on such hoardings?
It feels so special to be someone who is loved that much. I never ever expected that or dreamed I would be on posters and the shots I play in the game would become famous. I think the consistency over the years in terms of performance probably makes people keep me in their minds and love me so much.

Last World Cup [2023] I remember Afghanistan were playing England in Delhi. When I was walking in to bat, I felt something special in my body. I felt like I was in Afghanistan and getting 200% support from the [Indian] fans. Even in the 2022 T20 World Cup, we were playing Australia in Adelaide and I got similar loud cheers. I remember a couple of Australian players telling me: "Is this your country? When we bat and we bowl, we didn't get the same kind of cheers!"

Play 02:48

T20 or Tests? Beach or pool? We asked Rashid Khan to pick from a bunch of pairs

I'm so blessed, so lucky. It's just unbelievable to know people love you so much.

In the game against Royals in Jaipur, when you came in, Titans needed 40 runs from 15 balls. Your friend Rahul Tewatia was your batting partner. It came down to 15 runs off the final over. Talk us through those last overs.
I had not performed to expectations in the first three or four matches mainly because I haven't batted much in the last three, four months after my back surgery. I told Ashish bhai [Ashish Nehra, Titans' head coach] and Gazza [Gary Kirsten, Titans' senior coach] that I want to bat more in the middle [in training]. I needed that because I was missing that feeling of hitting boundaries. That confidence was not there. I did 40-45 minutes of range-hitting before that game.

Just as I was about to walk in to bat, [Shubman] Gill [Titans' captain] came to me and said: "Rashid, don't go [hitting] from ball one. Please take two or three balls. It is okay if the target is high in the last 15-16 balls, but you can recover easily if you take one or two balls to settle." What was happening in earlier matches was, I was going from ball one and I was not connecting well and I was getting out. But when the captain shows such confidence, it gives you belief. I told myself I want to finish the job.

When I went in, I was laughing with Rahul bhai [Tewatia]. I said to him: "Bhai, we are back again [facing another challenge]. No panic, we will finish again." I also apologised for getting out early in the last match [against Lucknow Super Giants, where Rashid came in when Titans needed 71 from 34 balls and was out for 0 off three balls]. I made the mistake of going early to hit shots against Lucknow when I could have played till the end. I told him, this time I have come with the right mindset.

Nagraj Gollapudi / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Rahul and me were talking about how we had previously chased down 50-plus runs in the final three overs, so we should not be worried this time. When the target was 35 off the final two overs, I told him: "Rahul, we have 12 balls. If we hit three sixes, that leaves us 20 [17] runs in nine deliveries. And both of us can easily score 15-16 runs in the final over."

The only thing on our mind was, [what] if Trent Boult bowled one of the last two overs. So we decided to have as few runs as possible needed in the final over. But Boult never bowled. When it was 19 runs off seven deliveries, I told Rahul a boundary was a must and he hit one [off Kuldeep Sen, who conceded 20 runs in the penultimate over].

Seeing Avesh [Khan] was going to bowl the final over, we felt our chances were higher. We just needed two big hits. But I decided that I would hit in the gaps instead of blindly hitting in the air and wasting a ball. We had the belief. We had made 20 runs [in the final over] in the past. Not for once did we think that it was not possible.

In the final over, there was no square leg, just a deep midwicket. His field was dominant on the off side. So my plan was: even if he pitches on off or outside, I would move to my right to flick it to get a four or even a two. He bowled a very good yorker on off stump first ball, but I had got into the right position to hit a four. Then I got two, and then an under edge for four against another yorker. Two balls later Rahul hit it over mid-off and I told him to run for the third because then the scores would be level with one ball to go. Unfortunately he got run-out, but on his way back he gave me a thumbs up.

Sai [Kishore] had rushed in with a drink and I asked him, "Sai, what do you think he is going to bowl?" He said: "Rash, bro, I don't know." The one thing I knew was, if he bowled a yorker, I would flick it, because he had no protection behind on the leg side. And if he pitched anywhere around off stump, I would hit it. I didn't have in my mind any thought that I would hit a four or a six. I knew the boundary on the off side was long, so I had a lot of gaps there, and I could exploit that to pick two. Luckily he bowled on the sixth stump and I hit it for four.

The Khan showdown: Rashid bested Avesh in a thriller in Jaipur early in April.

The Khan showdown: Rashid bested Avesh in a thriller in Jaipur early in April. "Avesh knew what I'm doing and it was as if he was telling me: 'Even if you hit me, I'm very clear in my mind,'" Rashid says © BCCI

Your celebration was animated and you made a gesture with your hands. What was that about? (Laughs) It just was me saying: till me or Rahul are here in the middle, we will always have the belief to win.

That innings brought back memories of your Wankhede special against Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2022, where Titans needed 22 in the final over and you hit three sixes. Tewatia was your batting partner there too.
That was very special. That was more about hitting three sixes in the last over. I remember I had a dot ball as well in between, and I remember telling Rahul: "I can hit this guy [Marco Jansen] because I can see he's under lots of pressure every ball."

That's what you do: transfer pressure on to the opponent. But with Avesh it was not quite that way, was it?
Yes, Avesh was full of confidence. Whenever you are batting, you have to see the face of the bowler - what he's going through. Then you take advantage. Avesh knew what I'm doing and it was as if he was telling me: "Even if you hit me, I'm very clear in my mind." But with Jansen, when I was looking at him, I knew something was wrong because his captain kept coming to him, the fielders kept coming to him. I knew, in that moment, that I was all over him. But I could sympathise with him because I was hit for 40-plus runs in the same match.

That was when Muthiah Muralidaran, the Sunrirsers mentor, had a bit of an outburst. Remember?
Yes, yes. When I hit a six over cover to a full toss from Jansen. I had played with [Murali] for four-five years [at Sunrisers] but I never saw him that angry.

The Royals match was your first impact performance for GT this season. Did it restore your confidence? This is the first proper tournament you are playing since you had back surgery.
I badly needed the Man-of-the-Match performance for the team. When I met Ashish bhai for the first time after joining GT, I remember him telling me: "Rash, you are not just a bowler in this team. You also have to be finishing games. We know that you are skilful in batting as well. And whatever you need from us, it's all there for you. But you need to have in mind that you are a batsman as well." There and then I understood Titans are looking at me as an allrounder.

The escape artists: Rashid and Rahul Tewatia have teamed up on more than one batting rescue for Titans over the years

The escape artists: Rashid and Rahul Tewatia have teamed up on more than one batting rescue for Titans over the years Arjun Singh / © BCCI

I bat for an hour or hour and a half in training. That's why I feel relaxed when batting during matches. I work with Gazza, Naeem [Amin, Titans support staffer], Vikram Solanki [Titans team director] - they keep talking to me about what are the areas I can improve. When I performed with the bat a couple of times in the first year [2022], I got the confidence that I can finish the game in the batting as well.

It's interesting to know that even a serial match-winner needs that sort of confidence boost.
And also the confidence, belief and support you get from captain and coaches - that is more important than hours and hours of practice. You need that kind of environment where that belief is there [among the team management] that this guy can do something.

Like last year the innings I played against Mumbai Indians where I hit ten sixes. Before going in to bat, I remember while sitting in the dugout, Hardik Pandya [Titans captain then] said, "Rash, hit two-three sixes." I said if I hit a couple I would want to hit more!

That showed Hardik had that confidence in me to say, just go and hit it. That gave me so much energy.

After that innings I played in 2018 against KKR, in the Qualifier [Rashid hit a match-winning ten-ball 34] I felt that kind of confidence had been missing.

I don't think KKR have forgotten that match still.
Even I haven't forgotten. (chuckles). I watched that innings two days before as well.

Rashid with the Titans brains trust, Ashish Nehra and Gary Kirsten

Rashid with the Titans brains trust, Ashish Nehra and Gary Kirsten Pratik Khot / © BCCI

Before our last game [against Royals], I watched both my batting and bowling performance from that KKR game. I watched it before heading to Jaipur and then again while travelling here [Ahmedabad]. I watched it through a whole flight. Those best memories, you need to watch them again and again. They remind you of how good you are and keep away negative thoughts.

You stopped playing after the 2023 World Cup and then had back surgery. Since when your career took off, it was probably the first time you hadn't played in so long, nearly four months.
Even before the World Cup, the doctor had told me I had to go for surgery, but I deferred the decision since I wanted to play that tournament. He warned me the back issue could become bigger in case I played, especially considering it was 50 overs, where my workload would be significantly large because I would play a minimum of nine ODIs. He feared I would need a major surgery. But I told him I had to play the World Cup. I can't say no to the World Cup. So we decided I would take a couple of injections before the tournament.

But after our win against Pakistan, for the entire night I danced and celebrated a lot, from the ground to the hotel. I did not stop until late in the night. I was not behaving like someone who had a back issue. Our physio kept reminding me I needed to be careful. The entire Afghanistan squad was surprised to see me dancing and celebrating - they had never seen me in that kind of mood. That happiness was different because that jashn was in the whole country [Afghanistan].

When I woke up the next day, I was in complete pain. I told the physio I couldn't walk properly. He just gave me such a hard stare. I used painkillers to keep going, but in the final three matches of the World Cup, I was literally playing at 40% fitness.

How did it hamper you?
Not only couldn't I bend my back properly, the pain was going down my shin. I couldn't sleep. I would sleep only at four or five in the morning at times. The only way I could sleep was by taking sleeping tablets and painkillers.

Dance like there's no tomorrow: Rashid was ecstatic after the win against Pakistan in the ODI World Cup last year, but his bad back made him regret his exertions the next morning

Dance like there's no tomorrow: Rashid was ecstatic after the win against Pakistan in the ODI World Cup last year, but his bad back made him regret his exertions the next morning © ICC/Getty Images

The last three games in the World Cup, my hamstrings were extremely sore, forcing me to slide rather than walk properly. I couldn't lift my feet properly. I started having all my meals in my room. By the last match the coach said to me I didn't need to play, but I said I would manage with painkillers. Because when I was warmed up, I wasn't feeling the discomfort. I could run, dive and all that. But after the game, for like an hour I couldn't move.

After the World Cup I decided to go for the surgery. The doctor said to me, "This is your first MRI and this is your second MRI, after the World Cup, so you see how much bigger the disc bulge has become." I was nervous, to be honest. It was my first ever surgery in my career.

One thing the doctor told me prior to surgery was that maybe it could be the end of my career as well if it didn't go right. I had to sign that undertaking. I was so tense the whole night before the surgery. I didn't tell my family that I'm having surgery.

Because I didn't want them to be sad, and I didn't want them to be in that mood where they feel like, okay, this guy's going through surgery, what will happen and this and that. So the morning when I was to have surgery, I messaged them. They were nervous and asked several questions: Will this work? How long will you take to recover?

But during that time Ashish bhai, Vikram bhai, Naeem bhai and GT supported me a lot and gave me a lot of confidence. Ashish bhai, who had gone through lots of surgeries, spoke to me a lot and told me not to worry.

Rashid's back:

Rashid's back: "When I started to play again [after surgery], it was one of the best feelings to be back on the field" Deepak Malik / © BCCI

When I came out of the surgery I felt no pain. I felt so relieved. The rehab part, though, was the toughest. I badly wanted to return to playing and was missing it. In fact, I was part of the Afghanistan squad for the T20 series in India in January because I wanted to have the feeling of being at the ground.

In that last match in Bangalore, where there were two Super Overs, I was sitting upstairs in the dressing room. But when [Mohammad] Nabi got out, I instinctively got up ready to pad up, though I was not playing.

Finally, when I started to play again, it was one of the best feelings to be back on the field. I thank Naeem a lot because he helped me a lot during my rehab when I was in the UK for nearly two months. He would come early morning every single day at 5-6am and stay late and help with my recovery.

Has the surgery affected your bowling?
It did initially in the first few games [in the 2024 IPL]. Like, when I was bowling my wrong'un, it wasn't going how it should, because for that I have to use my back more than for legspin. I had that nagging doubt at the back of my mind, so even if there was a bit of stiffness in my back, I would get scared. That feeling lasted through the series against Ireland, which Afghanistan played before the IPL, and then, like I said, first few matches here.

I spoke to the Titans video analyst [Sandeep Raju] and told him I was having issues with my wrong'un. We were discussing why I was going for runs [with the googly] in the first few matches. He said I was not hitting the right lengths consistently like I was doing before. He also pointed out my wrong'un was finishing on leg stump instead of middle. That's when I told him I wasn't getting the feeling, because I'm not using my whole body. I'm just using the fingers. There is nothing wrong with my back, but I only had this fear in my mind - what if the injury resurfaced?

R is for Rashid in the stands at South Africa vs Afghanistan in the World Cup in Ahmedabad last year

R is for Rashid in the stands at South Africa vs Afghanistan in the World Cup in Ahmedabad last year Sam Panthaky / © AFP/Getty Images

Then, two days before the IPL match in Lucknow, I told him [Raju] I would do spot bowling, which I did for about an hour. I might have bowled 14-15 overs in that session without any strain on my back. I bowled again the next day, eve of the match. That's when I felt everything was okay.

This IPL you have been bowling at least one over inside the powerplay. In an article recently, one of ESPNcricinfo's stats analysts highlighted the difference in how Sunrisers used you compared to GT. The first point of difference has been that until 2022 in the IPL, your economy in the powerplay was 6.3. Since then it is 8.3*.
Well, I knew. It's not like someone needs to tell me that. But the most important thing is to understand how that happened. Because I bowled bad deliveries. It's not that I can't bowl in that phase or I am struggling. I know what to do: I need to minimise those bad deliveries.

In the past when I was bowling a bad delivery, people were getting singles. And now they are going for a big shot and scoring runs. It's not like in the past I haven't bowled bad balls. I bowled full tosses and got wickets. Personally, I don't want to think too much about how my economy was six and now it's eight. Why is it eight? Because each spell I bowled three bad deliveries, and of the three, two are punished, where batters scored big boundaries. Sixes.

I'm happy to bowl in the powerplay, but in that phase, where did I bowl [line and length]? Did I give freedom to the batsman, where he can swing it easily? Yes, I did. In the past did I do that? No, I didn't. So that's the thing I need to think about rather than saying I can't bowl with the new ball.

Also, batters have got used to playing you.
Exactly. That's also a factor. But still, a good ball is a good ball anytime. Take Trent Boult. He bowls a very good inswinger with the new ball. Everybody knows that. But he still gets a wicket with that type of delivery. And why is he getting the wicket? Because he is pitching the ball in the right areas.

One other factor that has changed is, batters are attacking more. You must have noticed your first over is going for about two runs more since 2023 compared to before that?
That's the kind of mindset [batters] now have. If there's not much happening in the wicket, and the ball turns only marginally, then they go after the bowling and they back their skills and their shots.

Sunrise days: Rashid was a lot more miserly in the powerplay in his time with SRH

Sunrise days: Rashid was a lot more miserly in the powerplay in his time with SRH © BCCI

For me, it's about how do I make it harder for them to go after me. I think I made it easier for them, because I did not know they were going to come this hard against me. But in the next games, if I'm facing the batter again, I know what his mindset is, what he's going to do. If someone is going after me, I'm going to make it super hard for him. If he still hits it, it's a good shot. But I won't ease down [on creating the pressure]. It's more about making things harder and harder for the batter. And that's something I need to think about in future.

At Gujarat Titans, of the 39 matches in which you have played, in 24 you have bowled your first over in the powerplay, compared to 24 out of 76 at Sunrisers Hyderabad. And nearly 20% of the runs you have conceded have been in this phase, at an economy rate of 9, with less than a handful of wickets. So you have been used differently by both teams.
It's all about the requirement of the team. If the team needs you to bowl in the powerplay, where they think they need to go with the best bowlers, so be it. Probably that time [at Sunrisers] the situation was different. The rules are different now. Before, it used be six-seven batsmen in the team, now it's nearly nine batsmen. And they get all the freedom to hit. Before, 200 was a winning total. Last night [RCB-Sunrirsers match on April 15] you saw 280 was not a winning total. It was nearly chased down.

As a bowler who has taken so many wickets, has amazing records, and are generally played in a circumspect way by batters, how do you feel about these increasing totals and the aggression that batters are showing?
As a bowler, if you keep thinking about the pitch more and the boundary [size] more, that's when you will concede runs. Because you, the bowler, have already accepted that you're nothing. If I'm bowling a good yorker, no one is going to hit it. But if I'm bowling a bad ball and I don't have enough practice at bowling good balls again and again, that's where I'm going to get hit.

I feel all of us bowlers should ask ourselves: are we skilful enough to bowl three back-to-back yorkers? Are we skilful enough to bowl a bouncer, a proper bouncer? Are we skilful enough to bowl a wide slower one or a wide yorker? How many times can we repeat that? That's the thing we should think about more rather than the wicket and the boundary size.

We say, oh, flat wicket, small grounds, this, that. But you need to see: where did you bowl? If the wicket is flat, it is not swinging, not reversing, what is my third option? If I'm still bowling a good length and he's hitting it for six, that is my problem.

Rashid on the importance of consistency:

Rashid on the importance of consistency: "A good ball is a good ball anytime. Take Trent Boult. He bowls a very good inswinger with the new ball. Everybody knows that. But he still gets a wicket with that type of delivery" © ICC/Getty Images

The best example is Jasprit Bumrah. He knows what he's doing. That's why it's hard to hit him, because he has control over his skills. And what are his skills? His skills are bowling good yorkers. He can bowl it on any wicket, any situation, whenever he wants. He will bowl the wide slower one similarly. Once you have those skills of bowling good yorkers, a good bumper, your other deliveries becomes more effective.

I just met Ricky Ponting this morning before coming here. He said the exact same thing: why doesn't the bowler bowl six balls in the same area and challenge the batter?
That's the problem. Once the batter hits our good ball, we think he can hit any good ball. And we bowl another bad ball. We are then going with the mind of the batsman.

How do you stop that?
You need to have consistency. That consistency is [a bowler's] strength. And you have to go with your own strength. Every batter has strong points and weak points. And you need to understand that. I'm a spinner. If I'm bowling to a batsman, and I know from [this point on the pitch] I can put him in trouble, so out of six balls, how many balls I should bowl there? If I bowl four balls there, I have more chances of getting his wicket. But if I'm bowling one ball there and three balls here and there, then that one ball is not effective because I've given boundaries on those three balls by bowling bad balls.

Why was [Lasith] Malinga very effective? Because he could bowl a good yorker. Everybody, every batsman, knew Malinga would bowl good yorkers. Still he got wickets.

The bowlers, I think, have lost a little bit of that confidence of bowling those good yorkers and good slower ones, and good short-pitched deliveries. A batsman is doing one-hour range hitting. A bowler is bowling 15 minutes [in training]. That's the difference.

What's your preparation the day before a match? Do you watch a lot of videos of certain players?
No, no. I just watch my own bowling or batting. Rest, you keep thinking positive. Like, if I'm bowling, I'm not thinking that he will hit me for boundaries. I'm thinking I'm going hit that area, it's going to spin, I'm going to beat him. I'm going to hit that area, wrong'un, hit him on the pad. Those are the things going through my mind rather than thinking that he will go for the reverse sweep or step down the wicket or this and that.

Shivam Dube made a match-winning 51 against Titans late in March before Rashid got him to mistime one

Shivam Dube made a match-winning 51 against Titans late in March before Rashid got him to mistime one R Satish Babu / © AFP/Getty Images

While you have not gone for too many runs against left-handers, do you think you attack them less?
I'm attacking left-handers more than the right-handers in my mind.

With the ball?
I set up right-handers while I attack left-handers every ball with my legspinner. As a bowler you need to understand the opposition batter and at what stage [in the game] he comes in, what your options are at that stage. You have to have those options in mind and you have to have control over your skills. Because if Nicholas Pooran comes in in the seventh over, I am bowling different compared to him batting in the 18th. You can't be bowling Test-match style bowling at the death.

Is it difficult for you when a batter takes runs off you?
If someone is scoring runs against me, it is definitely difficult. But like I said before, how did I give those runs? If I keep repeating my mistakes I am going to be conceding runs. In our game this season against Chennai, Shivam Dube hit me for a six. Last year in the final he had hit me for two sixes here [Ahmedabad]. This time I got him. Why? I knew where his strong zone was, but as bowler, I was looking for his weakness. I bowled there and got him.

This is what I want us, as the bowling community, to understand: where we can get the batsman in trouble.

If the wicket is good for batting, and, say, 200 is par, my job as a bowler must be to think, how am I going to reduce that to 180? And that's the margin you win the games by. If my over started with a six or four, it's my responsibility to figure out how I'm going to finish [by giving] less than 12 runs.

The boss of Jos: Buttler is among the batters Rashid has dismissed most frequently in T20s. This April, he got him a fifth time

The boss of Jos: Buttler is among the batters Rashid has dismissed most frequently in T20s. This April, he got him a fifth time © AFP via Getty Images

Some bowlers go for 16, 20 runs in an over because they don't think after the batter attacks off the first ball. First ball is hit for six, but after that how do you minimise the damage to recover? And to do that you have to think - next five balls I shouldn't give more than six runs. I have to close this over with less than 12 runs. And if you close that over that way on a good wicket, that's where you are winning. And if you are closing that over on 16 or 20, you are putting extra pressure on the bowler who's coming in to bowl next.

Bumrah and you both engage with the batter not just with the ball but also in your body language. You are telling him you are trying to create doubts, while never giving away what you are going to do. Is there a recent example where you worked over a batter in that fashion?
One recent example could be Jos Buttler in the Royals game. In the previous two matches [Gujarat Titans vs Rajasthan Royals in 2023], I had failed to get him, though I've got him out a few times in the past. I was wondering why, despite him not going after me, I wasn't able to get him out. When I watched the videos, I noticed he kept taking singles, each time towards midwicket. I was like, "I'm crazy! That's my mistake. Why don't I close that single off?" As soon as I did that, he went to hit over mid-off against a legspin delivery. The outside edge went to Rahul [at first slip]. If there was no midwicket, the same ball I am sure he would have flicked a single.

Those are the small things for the bowler to understand that make a big impact in the game. It was not like I was changing my skills, my pace, my action. It was just the field setting. You bring that guy here and I know what will go on in the mind of the batter. He knows he can't sweep at my pace.

So you plugged the escape route and challenged him to play differently?
Exactly. If he played a risky shot and hit me straight for a six, it wouldn't upset me. But if he's taking singles every ball to midwicket, where there's no fielder, that's something which would disappoint me more.

You have to find a way of getting the batter in trouble, getting him out. That's how you make a movie here. (points to head)

*Numbers current as on April 16, 2024
Stats inputs from Shiva Jayaraman

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo