The Two Khans
One of the more pleasant trends in T20 cricket over the past few years has been the rise of leg spin. This makes sense. The majority of sixes that are hit against spin in one day or T20 cricket are hit between square leg and long on. A bowler who can naturally turn the ball away, forcing the batsman to hit against the spin to get his rewards becomes a key weapon against any batting line up. If he has a googly then that means he cannot be blunted by having a left-right combination at the crease. So, a leg spinner who can turn the ball both ways becomes priceless in the T20 game.
That is what explains the abundance of leg spinners throughout the world right now. Adam Zampa, Yuzvendra Chahal and Mason Crane have come through over the past couple of years and become key components of their national T20 sides. Meanwhile Ish Sodhi and Imran Tahir have found niches late in their careers too. And Shahid Afridi and Samuel Badree have been trailblazers of this trend for years, in their own unique ways. In fact, even in 2017, five of the top eight wicket takers in T20 internationals were leg spinners, with Chahal leading the way, Imran Tahir 5th and Badree 8th.
But it’s the other two in those five that I, and most of the cricket world, are most excited for – the two Khans: Rashid and Shadab.
Even beyond their surname the two share a lot of similarities. I had the chance to play against Rashid in the BPL last year, and have been following him for the past year or so. As for Shadab he made his List A and Test debuts under me, and came through during the PSL for Islamabad United. I’ve seen his development over the past eighteen months and am both impressed and proud of what he has achieved in this time.
The common thing between the two is their great temperament. Neither of them care about who is batting against them, they are not overawed by any batsman. That is what explains why they are both so successful, and appear so much at ease, at such a young age. Neither of them buckle under any pressure, but instead revel in it. Rashid has already become the go-to guy for Afghanistan within two years of his debut and he never lets his captain down. Shadab is surrounded by a far better pace attack so he doesn’t have the same responsibility for the national team, but even he has always stepped up when his captain has needed him. This is shown in the stats too: Rashid finished 2016 as the highest wicket taker in T20 Internationals, and 2nd highest in ODIs. Shadab, despite debuting in late March, finished 4th in the T20 rankings. And it’s not just that, look at the moments they have performed in. For Shadab you can look at his PSL, his bowling against India in both the Champions Trophy matches, or his six against Sri Lanka. In each case he delivered in high pressure situations. As for Rashid, his IPL numbers speak for themselves. Against, the best T20 batsmen in the world (minus Pakistanis), he finished as the second highest wicket taking spinner (behind only Imran Tahir) and went at under 7 an over.
The technical reasons why they are so successful in the shortest format has to do with the pace they bowl at. At the start of the PSL Shadab was bowling in the 80-84kph range. In his first three matches he went wicketless because of it, but we knew that we just needed to tweak a few things, give him confidence and back him until he became a star. So, through this period the team management, myself and Saeed Ajmal worked with him, and the conclusion was that he just had to change two things: he had to bowl quicker, and his line (which had been too wide) had to change so that he could target the stumps. Once he made those changes he took 12 wickets in just 19 overs over the rest of the PSL.
In Asia, especially in UAE if you want to be a wicket taking spinner, regardless of the format, you need to attack the stumps consistently. Your aim needs to be to bowl in the 89-94kph range. Once you do that you don’t give the batsman the chance to adjust to reading the spin off the pitch. The target that Saeed gave him was that his average speed must be 92kph, the rest would take care of itself.
As of 2nd January 2018
I don’t know who taught that to Rashid or its something that comes naturally to him, but his pace is his biggestweapon too. He bowls almost like a medium pacer: quick, skiddy and targeting the top of off stump. That is the basic fundamental of bowling. It doesn’t matter if you are a spinner, a medium pacer or a fast bowler, if you are able to consistently hit the top of off stump and are able to move the ball in both directions then you have the foundation to be successful anywhere in any format.
Shadab is taller than Rashid which means he gets more bounce and purchase off the surface, and which is why I think he will be a better long format bowler in the long run. But because of that bounce batsman are still able to get under his deliveries and hit him straight over the top, especially when he errs in length. That’s not an option that Rashid gives you. Even if you can read whether it’s a leg spinner or a googly his pace and length mean that it’s still extremely difficult to go over the top against him. He never seems to bowl a full ball either, remaining on a good length all the time. So, the only real way to hit sixes against him is to slog sweep him – except because of his low bounce and the pace, the batsman then becomes a candidate for LBW and Bowled. So, you need the lap, the sweep and the reverse sweep in your armory if you are going to be able to combat these two guys, Rashid in particular.
The other thing both have is exceptional control for leg spinners (their lengths are really good consistently) and super quick arms. You can have all the weapons in the world but if you are inconsistent with your lengths then the batsmen can put the pressure back on you. But if you are consistent, and force the batsman to take the risks to take you on then you are in control. These are things that Saeed was so good at for Pakistan, and was something he repeatedly told Shadab during PSL 2.
Then there are their bowling actions and the speed of their arms. Neither has a traditional leg spinners action where you can take cues from their run up and release. The first time I saw Shadab I was a bit perplexed, because he ran in like an off spinner and then bowled leg spin. The other non-traditional thing they have are their googlies, and the speed at which they bowl them. Most normal leg spinners, whenever they bowl a googly, they tend to give it more air than normal, because it is so hard to deliver from the back of your hand; this means that if you can read them off the hand, in the air or off the position of their arms then you can set yourself up for a hit towards the leg side – which will be a hit with the spin, against a well flighted ball. But in the case of these two they bowl their googlies from the same arm position as their leg spinners, and they bowl them with a lot of pace meaning that if you want to hit them you can’t really read them off the hand, and even if you do it isn’t easy to go big against them.
Eventually both of them will hit troughs, that’s just the case in international cricket. You have good days and bad days. But these two will come out of them too. That goes back to the original point on why they have been successful. If you have a great temperament that is because you have a lot of confidence in yourself and your ability, and having that is half the solution to getting back into form when you are out of it. The other half is being able to adjust and improve yourself. And that too is something both of them have shown to be good at. 2017 belonged to the two of them, and I think many years in the future will too.