The logic was simple: if Rashid Khan can do this much damage in Twenty20 cricket where he gets only 24 balls to work batsmen out, then imagine what he could do in Test cricket?
Turns out, it isn’t as simple after all. Rashid’s economy in One-Day Internationals is an epic 3.96 after 44 games and 100 scalps, and his T20I economy is 5.93 with 57 wickets from 33 contests. Then there’s the Indian Premier League where he has picked up 38 wickets in 31 games at an economy of 6.68 for the Sunrisers Hyderabad. Thus, the legend of Rashid was born.
Fans couldn’t get enough of him, the game’s greats waxed lyrical, current players sounded wary. he wasn’t an accidental wonder from Afghanistan’s war centre of Nangarhar anymore. He had turned into a full-fledged superstar, but Test cricket has a way of bringing even the brightest of stars to ground. Rashid was subject to this unbiased scrutiny in his first assignment as a Test cricketer at the M Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore.
India opted to bat after winning the toss and got off to a cracker with Shikhar Dhawan bringing some of his T20 skills to the table. The spattering of Afghanistan fans pleaded for Rashid and Asghar Stanikzai, the Afghanistan skipper, relented before handing the ball to the stocky bowler. A good long look at the SG ball, not the white Kookaburra he’s used to, and he hopped away from the pitch to mark his run-up. A couple of shoe drags later, he looked skywards, mumbled a prayer and stared intently at Dhawan.
He has seen enough of Dhawan in his time with Sunrisers Hyderabad so there was that confidence in his stride to the bowling crease. The first delivery was on point: a quick leg-break landing on the off-stump and turning just enough. Dhawan was right behind that one. Rashid wasn’t happy with the ball nor was he happy with how it came out of his hand. That uneasy feeling didn’t leave his side until the ball got much older and his fingers got a hang of the seam.
After being hit for four fours in his opening over, he went for 15 runs in his fourth and 13 runs in his seventh. He continued to leak like he had never before, memories of Chris Gayle (2018 IPL) and AB de Villiers (2016 World T20) belting him would have streamed back.
Rashid was able to bounce back from both those instances almost admirably. This time he was able to do the same, only on the same day. After finishing his first two spells with humiliating figures of 17-0-105-0, Rashid changed ends and found a dramatic change in fortune.
With help from a quickly drying surface, Rashid was able to put his googlies to good effect against Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. That these two players were more tentative than Dhawan and M Vijay also helped Rashid zero in on a line and length to operate with more consistency. He wasn’t dropping the ball short as often and he didn’t give too many full tosses to drive through. He kept it on the off stump and had the ball zip in and out. On one such occasion, Rahane rocked back and look to flick the spinner and ended up missing the ball. Rashid had his first Test victim. Not used to being picked apart in such fashion, he looked more relieved than ecstatic.
Finally, he was beginning to look and feel like he does during bossy spells in the IPL. The next over he got Pujara to nick a regulation leg-break. But for Nabi’s late reaction at first slip, he would’ve had his second wicket. As fate would have it, Rashid had to wait until the next day to improve his figures.
After ending the day on 26-2-120-1, Rashid returned on the second day and was zoned in from the start. Hardik Pandya managed to put him away for a few boundaries but Rashid didn’t let his head hang. He still managed to beat the allrounder a few times and a couple of times the short-leg fielder wasn’t able to react in time to pick up on the bat-pad action. Rashid eventually struck by trapping Ishant Sharma in front of the stumps. His final figures read 34.5-2-154-2. Economy: 4.42.
Several such long, painful and possibly humiliating spells will confront Rashid in time to come, and hopefully, this lesson will have prepared him to tackle that without adding more crease lines to his forehead.