Rashid Khan has just had his 108th Covid test of the pandemic. He’s sitting in his London hotel, quarantining on a diet of Indian movies and rounds of weights, this country the latest stop on the dizzying roundabout of the itinerant cricketer. He is here for the Hundred – he was the first pick of the men’s draft – and, via a couple of Blast games for Sussex, will join Trent Rockets for their first game next Saturday.
The sixth of 10 siblings, the best T20 bowler in the world learned his cricket as a refugee in the frontier city of Peshawar when his family fled across the Afghan border after the US invasion and the war with the Taliban. He played his first ODI for Afghanistan at the age of 17 and at 19 was picked up by Sunrisers Hyderabad, becoming the most expensive associate cricketer to play in the IPL. Since then, he has been a regular in franchise competitions round the world as well as playing 130 games for Afghanistan. He is now 22. From the outside, it seems brutally exhausting, but Rashid just loves playing and enthuses about the Hundred, despite the stresses of quarantine.
“Being in the room for so long does affect you, it makes you mentally weak. It definitely affects your performance too, and your fitness, but when you get out in the match you forget. I’m super excited about the new competition. There are some rules which are quite interesting. Our bodies are used to T20, the same format, same mentality, same gameplan, but this is totally different.
“Bowling 10 balls at one end gives you an opportunity to get 10 wickets in one over, but the batsman is also getting more time to take on the bowler. I’m a spinner so I will be OK with that, but it will be a bit different for someone who is bowling 140kph and having a long run-up. Perhaps I will love it and will have four more balls to confuse the batsman.”
The early months of the pandemic were something of a blessing for Rashid, giving him time to breathe back in the family home, three and a half hour’s drive from Kabul. It was a rare trip; on the odd few days he has off, he usually goes to his second home in Dubai. “In the last five years I’ve spent about 25 days at home,” he says. “I didn’t have that opportunity to celebrate my achievement with the family because I was just so busy. I forgot my achievements and that hurts sometimes. I don’t get enough time to be with the family but at the same time it is the start of my career so I have to struggle.”
It must sting, be a constant worry, travelling the globe while hearing unsettling news from home, especially with the American race for the exit and the uncertainty that has brought. “As a player it makes you super sad. It hurts a lot, but at the same time we are just trying our best to do something special in the field to make [the people at home] happy.
“Wherever I go I see international players playing at home in front of their crowds, getting the support, getting all the love; we so much want the same in our country. Our people, they love cricket, they love sport and the moment we have a series back home it will be massive. There will be no single spot to sit.”
Who would he choose for the marquee first series? “It depends on the format. If you’re playing T20, definitely you will take West Indies. If you ask people back home, they are the biggest fans of West Indies cricket, they love all the big sixes.”
He likens the love Afghans have for cricket to the passion of Indians. There was a transformation when Afghanistan played in the 2015 World Cup. “When people saw what Afghanistan achieved, youngsters’ dreams started. Cricket is everywhere, everyone loves cricket, every street you go you’ll see cricket, that is something that satisfies a lot.
“I feel I have done something good for the country, that helps to change the mindset of the young generation. I hope once that young generation’s mindset has changed then definitely the country will start to make progress and, Inshallah, Inshallah, peace will happen.
“It is a hope of everyone back home to have peace, to be able to go around the country with freedom. We have some beautiful places in Afghanistan to visit and it is my ambition to go to those areas, the mountains, the greenery.”
For now, he must head to Nottingham, where Trent Rockets will be hoping for more magic from those fizzing leg-breaks, which came about in a fury that he couldn’t get his brothers out. Back home though, his nephews are greedy for something else. “My bowling gives me lots of achievement and the name of Rashid Khan, my batting is something I have in my pot that I can deliver when the team needs it. But still my family say they got used to my bowling, wickets, wickets, wickets, now they want me to score some runs.”
The bowlers, as well as the batters, of the Hundred have been warned.