No other batsman bottles the spirit of gully-cricket and sprays it gleefully in the international arena like Rashid Khan. Much of modern-day T20 batting has become refined appropriation of gully-shots, but Rashid can make even the most adventurous tennis-ball street cricketer gasp in awe.
Of all the dazzling shots he hit against Australia at the Wankhede – the snake shot, the tennis-smash – a brace stood out for its inventive thrill. He had just run down the pitch and improvised, after offspinner Glenn Maxwell had fired it wide outside off, with a square slash – limbs and body stretched out like a yoga practitioner. But the best was to come next ball. He perhaps anticipated that Maxwell was going for a yorker-length ball and stood still. The delivery kept traversing and at the last instant, Rashid tapped it between his legs for two to fine leg. Nothing else but his hands and bat moved. It was not a freaky accident or an inside-edge but deliberately constructed from the most zany cricketing brain out there.
Nineteen months ago, he had put up a similar shot from the nets on his Instagram account with the caption ‘Name shot???’ There is also a lovely chuckle and ‘Sahi hai, Sahi hai’ presumably from the person shooting the video.
He likes crowd-sourcing to name his shots. Understandably so, as nothing like them exists out there in conventional cricket.
The snake shot is where he picks a full-length ball from a pacer and swats it up and over square-leg with minimum fuss but with a flourish – the hand would retrace the path back to its original position. Just a short swish of the wrists – the bat moves to connect with the ball and the ricochet on impact would get the hands to travel back to their original spot – that snaky movement made it the snake shot.
In the final over of the Afghanistan innings, Mitchell Starc tried a slower short ball. Rashid was, as ever, ready. He waited to flat-bat it over long-off. The stroke on the fifth ball was even more of a stunner. It was a bouncer, and Rashid was crouching but somehow put up his bat to wallop it like a tennis shot over square-leg for a six that made even Starc smile. It’s a shot he has played in the Big Bash League before, and had described it thus: ‘I knew he was going to try to hit my helmet and the tennis shot came out’.
With all these wristy swishes, Rashid’s brain is always ticking and he is always trying to read the bowler’s mind.
He doesn’t move around too much in the crease, has a sort of a crouch, and then lets his cocked wrist do the job. If it’s the fingers that do most of his job while bowling, the wrist takes over while batting. It’s quite something to watch how he gets them to snap to extract power and crazy directions.
A full ball outside off can be sliced with minimal follow-through to the point boundary. He can cut shot his follow-through mid-way and retrace back to the original point as he does with the snake shot.
In 18 balls, Rashid entertained the crowd, stunned Australia, upped the run rate, and indulged himself.
It’s difficult to say which is more unorthodox – his batting or bowling. Once Adam Zampa, the Aussie leg-spinner, asked Rashid after a Big Bash game if he could join him for a bowl. Zampa had wanted to learn to bowl like him. After the session he came back happy with the knowledge that he should just stick being himself and not try to ape Rashid.
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“He’s not a wrist-spinner, he’s actually a finger-spinner. So as a traditional wrist-spinner, you have a loose wrist and you use your wrist to spin the ball. He actually has a locked wrist and by doing that, he just changes the angle of that and then spins it with his fingers,” Zampa once told ESPNCricinfo. “So he actually locks it [his wrist] rather than like a traditional leg-spinner.”
The palm usually faces skywards when a leg-spinner bowls the googly and faces the batsman for the traditional leg-break. Not with Rashid. As Zampa explains: “His doesn’t change, it pretty much faces the batsman the whole time. Depending on which way he wants to spin the ball, he just uses his fingers. He holds onto the ball really loosely, right until the end.”
The fingers tweak the ball this way and that while bowling. The wrist snaps this way and that while batting. Rashid, the man who retains the infectious energy of an adventurous boy in international cricket. A true original of our times.