Rashid Khan is arguably the best T20 spinner in the world. He is averaging 20.49 in IPL and just had his best ever IPL season 5 months ago where he averaged just 17.2 and went under six an over. IPL 2020 is his fourth season. You would think a ‘mystery spinner’ would be worked out by now but he actually had his best IPL season so far. How does he do it? The answer to that is twofold.
Number one is that he is a unique leg spinner. It is much harder to differentiate his leg spinner from his googly compared to a conventional leg spinner.
Look at the following two GIFs. First GIF shows a conventional spinner’s googly and leg spinner. The back of the hand is pointing towards the batsman when the bowler is bowling a googly and when he’s bowling a leg spinner, his back of the hand is pointing towards himself. Also observe the seam is not scrambled for leg break, but it is scrambled for his googly.
In the last 2 seasons, the most economical length for spinners is between 5 and 6 meters from the stumps and Rashid Khan’s average length is 5.3 meters. The most economic pace range in the last 2 IPL seasons is 90-95 kph. And Rashid Khan is smack bang in the middle of it, bowling at an average speed of 93.7 kph.
No wonder he is hard to score off. On one hand, he is really hard to pick and on the other hand, even if you pick him, it is really really hard to score off him. So, how do you play Rashid Khan?
With the help of some shot type data, ball tracking data let’s see if there is a way. And for that, let me take you into the batsmen’s shoes. Let’s assume you are the batsman who’s about to face Rashid Khan and I’ll be your inner voice. Or may be like J.A.R.V.I.S to Iron Man.
Picking Rashid’s variations
A wicket has just fallen, and you are the next person in. You are walking towards the striker’s end Rashid Khan is eyeballing you. Almost saying, you have no chance against me. He has the ball in hand and is waiting for you to take your guard and do your initial routines. I suggest you take the off stump guard and open your stance a little bit.
Here is why, [Rashid can wait].
Look at Kohli’s stance against Jack Leach who’s turning the ball away from him. He stands on middle and leg so that he can open up off and play with the spin. On the right hand side of the image, watch Kohli standing on off stump, in fact outside off stump with an open stance so that he can play with the spin towards mid on or mid wicket.
Now Rashid isn’t an off spinner. But he bowls googlies 46.9 % of the time. His leg spinners, which he bowls 47.5% of the time doesn’t turn big. His other variations [5.4%] goes straight, which means angled into your stumps or pads anyway. Have a look at the below chart. Those are all the deliveries Rashid Khan bowled in IPL, where the ball tracking data is available. If zero is the line where the ball is pitched, look at how many balls that actually ended up on the right side of the pitching line.
Those include googlies and leg breaks that didn’t turn much and other variations that are meant to go straight. So, most balls from Rashid Khan actually come into the batsmen. So, you can look to play him as an off spinner. [Playing someone as an off spinner doesn’t mean you expect the ball turning in every time. It’s also about how you play his deliveries.] So, it makes a lot of sense to play him as an off spinner. So, bat on off stump and open up your stance.
Another important thing is, if you are batting on off stump and lunge forward and if the ball hits your pad, there is less chance of getting LBW, as the impact would be outside off stump.
Right, back to the stadium. Now you’ve taken your guard. Have a look around the field set, it’s stock standard 5-4 leg side field, keeping all options open. Now, let’s tap the bat on the ground to tell Rashid Khan you are ready. Don’t want to keep the legend waiting too long.
Rashid Khan exhales, takes the ball from his left hand, puts it in his right hand and starts running towards you like Usain Bolt.
Let’s pause again. Here is something, the experts in the Star Sports Select Dugout spotted that can help us pick his variations.
Grip while running in:
Rashid khan, has a different grip for his leg spinner and a different grip for his googly, unlike a conventional leg spinner who just rotates his/her wrist to make the ball go the other way. So, Rashid has to hold the ball with a particular grip based on which ball he wants to bowl, well before he gets into the delivery stride. This gives us an opportunity to pick his variations.
If there is a split finger grip, it will be a leg spinner and if the fingers are closer, it will be a googly.
Terrific. Problem solved. Or so we thought. Apparently Rashid Khan knew that the batsmen were using this tactic against him. So here is what he did.
Flash back to BBL 9. Rashid Khan is on a hattrick. It’s time for the magician to show his best magic trick to get yet another hattrick. He starts running in with a “split finger grip”. Which means it’s going to be a leg spinner. And that’s exactly what Rashid Khan wants you to think. Looks like the batsman thought so too.
As Rashid got into his delivery stride, just before he took his bowling arm behind, he changed his grip from split finger to close fingered grip. This happened at the very last moment and is incredibly hard to spot. Batsman thought it’s a leg spinner, but it’s a googly and boom, Rashid bags yet another wicket to get his fifth T20 hattrick.
So, unfortunately that method is not as reliable as you would expect. Don’t worry, there are more methods.
Now where were we? Yeah, Rashid Khan is running towards you like Usain Bolt. Let him run and release the ball. And just at the point of release let’s pause again. There are a couple more things here, which we can use to decipher his mystery.
That’s pretty neat from Rashid Khan pic.twitter.com/PAKNy3X0g7
— Flighted Leggie 🏏 (@flighted_leggie) April 11, 2021
The first of those is yet another Dugout masterclass. Kevin Pietersen spotted it according to this reddit post. Look at Rashid Khan’s non bowling arm. He is pointing one finger for a googly and two fingers for his leg spinner.
We are concentrating so much on the bowling arm and his grip to pick him out of the hand and meanwhile Rashid Khan is sending signals to the wicket keeper. He’s literally showing the batsmen what he’s gonna bowl and the batsmen aren’t looking at it.
He doesn’t always do that though. I have checked the videos. So, that’s most probably something he does to help the wicket keeper out. Also, not watching the ball that is released by one of the quickest spinners in the world is flirting with danger. Not to mention the fact that he might mess around with the signals too. So, this method is not advisable.
There is one more method, before we let Rashid Khan release the ball.
In the image below, look at the bend in his arm, when bowling a googly. His arm is much straighter when he’s bowling a leg spinner. [Straightening a bent arm is illegal. Just bending the arm isn’t.]
This is a good way of picking Rashid except, not always he bends his arm that much for his googly. It looks like, the more he bends, the more it turns. And if you are watching his arm instead of watching the ball, you can get into trouble. But this is relatively more reliable.
Now, let Rashid release the ball. Hopefully you have picked the variation by now. If not, don’t worry, there is more.
Length and Pace of his variations:
Rashid Khan’s googlies land shorter than his leg breaks on average. There is almost half a meter difference in average lengths of googlies and leg breaks. In the last two seasons, his leg breaks landed at 5.58 meters compared to 5.15 meters on average. And the difference is slightly bigger against left handers.
Rashid Khan’s googlies are slower than his leg breaks. And the difference is pickable too. His leg spinners, on average are released at 95.6 kph compared to 91.7 kph for his googlies. The difference is relatively smaller when he’s bowling to left handers, but the difference is definitely there. Here is Marcus Trescothick talking about it with Rashid Khan himself.
Now, this doesn’t mean Rashid won’t bowl quick googlies or slow leg breaks, but on average there is a difference that can be spotted.
Unfortunately for the batsmen, Rashid Khan is working on reducing the speed difference. His googly got slightly quicker and leg spinner is slightly slower. It’s not too much, but it’s a start towards becoming even harder to pick.
Watching the rotation of seam
The last method is what Sanjay Manjrekar prefers. He talked about this on commentary.
The idea is to watch the rotation of the seam of ball. This is really hard to do, as Rashid releases it at high pace for a spinner, and both his variations have his seam scrambled. But this is also the most reliable way to pick his variation. Once the ball is released out of the hand, Rashid can’t do anything about it.
So if you have a good eyesight and if you are able to look at the rotation of the seam, on a ball that is released at around 95 kph, then you are well placed to pick the variations.
There is no one fool proof way of picking his variations. But what you can do is, use all of the above to gather as much information as you can so that you know which way it’s turning.
So far, we have seen how to pick Rashid Khan. Now it’s time to play Rashid, regardless of whether you picked his variations or not.
ALSO READ: Why it’s time KKR opened with Nitish Rana
Playing Rashid Khan
Now the ball is traveling towards you and is a quarter of the way through it’s journey. Now, the first part of playing a shot is the footwork. Let’s start with it.
Rashid Khan’s average length is 5.3 meters. That’s in the shorter part of a good length. So, it makes sense to go on to the back foot and use the depth of the crease so that you can get more room to maneuver the ball and more time to read the degree or even the direction of spin.
Batsmen averaged 28 runs per wicket when they were playing him off the backfoot compared to 17 runs per wicket off the front foot. It’s not a case of Rashid bowling short and getting pulled for sixes and hence the average off the back foot is higher. Infact, even when the ball is on a length, playing him off the back foot [16 avg] is better than playing him off the front foot.[12 avg]
After the footwork, now it’s time to decide which shot to play. Obviously it depends on your intent as a batsman, which is determined by the situation of the game. More often than not, Rashid bowls in the middle overs of the innings, where the batsmen will try to play him out rather than taking him on.
If you don’t know which way the ball is gonna turn, it’s better to expect everything to be a Googly and play for it. If it turns and beats you on the outside edge, it’s okay. You will look like a fool but you are still not out. If it takes the outside edge, well, that’s the best you could do anyway, if you don’t pick him.
Here are the shots with a reasonably large sample size. [11 shots]
Here is a GIF for some of the shots in the table.
“Working” and “driving” are the two most played shots against Rashid. Those two are also in the top three shots for strike rotation. If you want to survive for longer periods, “pushing”, “sweeping” and “steer” looks to be the shots to go for. But if you want to go for boundaries, “Slog sweep and sweep” are the shots that are generally employed. As you would expect you also get out a lot more often. Late cut is also a decent boundary scoring option.
Sweep shot looks like the best suited for the middle overs. It has the best average and decent strike rate. And observe that the sweep shot is not necessarily a boundary scoring option.
Defending the ball is obviously gonna return low average, as runs aren’t gonna come off it generally. The shots per dismissal is interesting to see.
Now, with that information available, which shot are you gonna play?
I don’t know about you, but I’m not gonna dot it up in middle overs and get called a fraud for not showing enough intent. I’m gonna tee off, but not recklessly. I will slog, in an attempt to hit King Khan for a six and most probably get bowled.
Result? Rashid picks yet another wicket and does his customary celebration. Can you or I help it? Unlikely.