A few months ago, one wondered whether there will be any cricket played due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Fast forward to September, England have already played matches against West Indies , Pakistan and Australia successfully while their shortened domestic season is in full swing at the same time.
However, all the eyes were on the tournament which is termed as cricket’s carnival – The IPL. Despite numerous issues, the IPL is set to begin in the UAE in less than a week’s time. So, with the previews and strategies about various teams being discussed now, let us jump into looking at one of the best bowlers in the tournament, Rashid Khan and his team, Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Ever since their inception, SRH have been one of the most consistent sides and one that is known to punch above its weight regularly. When someone talks about the side’s backbone, people will point out David Warner in terms of the batting department. Although SRH do have a premier Indian pacer in the form of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, all they focus will inevitably turned to their bowling backbone, Rashid Khan.
The Afghan star has been a fantastic performer in the IPL ever since he made his debut in 2017. However, his impact has been a bit less in the last couple of seasons as teams have preferred to play him out and target the other SRH bowlers. With his compatriots not coping up with that strategy, SRH have not been able to achieve what they have would hoped for. The best example of this tactic would be the 2018 IPL final between Chennai Super Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Even though CSK were chasing 179 for victory, the trio of Shane Watson, Suresh Raina and Ambati Rayudu ensured that they didn’t give Rashid a single wicket while taking him for 24 runs off four overs. The same treatment was meted out to SRH’s other strike bowler, Bhuvneshwar Kumar but the likes of Siddarth Kaul, Sandeep Sharma, Shakib Al Hasan and Carlos Brathwaite weren’t spared and this helped CSK to seal their 3rd title with nine balls to spare.
Rashid Khan and the length issue
In recent times, Rashid Khan has seemed to err quite a bit with his lengths. Ever since his poor showing in the 2019 ICC World Cup, Rashid has had a few games in T20 leagues where he has been taken for runs due to poor lengths. The leg-spinner has either tended to overpitch or bowl half-trackers and this has resulted in him being a lesser force to reckon with than usual. This was seen even in the CPL where the likes of Mohammad Nabi, Chandrapaul Hemraj, Nkrumah Bonner were amongst the ones who crashed Rashid’s short deliveries to the fence.
While the majority of times, these error in lengths have been unintentional, Rashid does tend to voluntarily bowl too full or too short on occasion. However, this takes away his main strength, i.e good length. When Rashid delivers the ball on the good length, he gets enough purchase off the wicket with both his leg-spin and googly. When he overpitches it, his googly loses its potency while bowling too short has given a lot of time to the batsmen him off the back-foot. While Rashid generally hovers around 90-95 KPH with his average speed, someone like Joshua da Silva did find it comfortable to go back and work the googlies towards mid-wicket or long on.
We can have a look at two matches in the previous IPL season where Rashid Khan was expensive. On both occasions (Shane Watson/CSK vs SRH, Shimron Hetmyer/RCB vs SRH) seemed to have missed his lengths.
Here, in the above pitch-maps (Left-SRH vs RCB – Shimron Hetmyer) (Right-SRH vs CSK- Shane Watson), the batsmen have feasted on some really over-pitched or short deliveries. In the same SRH vs RCB match, Rashid Khan got Hetmyer with a wide length ball. Like the former West Indian bowler Samuel Badree, Rashid’s novelty remains in the fact that he can hit the good length area again and again. Rashid also turns his googly more than Badree but as mentioned before, it loses its value when the ball is pitched too full or too short.
This doesn’t mean that he can’t experiment with his lengths now and then. After all, even in some IPL matches, he has found success with fairly full deliveries. However, the World’s No.1 T20 bowler falls could fall into trouble if he sacrifices his good length strength too much.
For now, let us look at pitch-maps of matches where Rashid found success with full or short deliveries.
In these matches, the batsmen gave away their matches to some average deliveries rather Rashid himself deceiving the opponents. The likes of Mayank Agarwal and Ravichandran Ashwin didn’t get the requisite connection on their big shots while David Miller hit a half-tracker straight to the fielder. As mentioned before, this tactic of changing the lengths could work especially given the big boundaries at Abu Dhabi and Dubai but only if it is used as a variation and not a stock ball.
Rashid Khan – bowling to left and right handed batsmen
Moving on, let us have a look at how Rashid Khan has performed against right-handed batsmen when compared to left-handed batsmen in the IPL over the past three seasons.
We have seen over the last couple of years that the likes of Chris Gayle, Rishabh Pant, Suresh Raina and Shimron Hetmyer have given harsh treatment to Rashid Khan. The general perception is that left-handers have found it much easier against Rashid Khan primarily because he is a leg-spinner. However, interestingly, Rashid’s stats improved drastically against LHB batsmen from 2018 to 2019 while his efficiency decreased against RHB batsmen from 2018 to 2019.
Rashid Khan, the all-round package
The fact that Rashid is one of the most sought after cricketers in the T20 franchise circuit is not just because he is a world-class spinner but due to the all-round package he could potentially provide. With the Nangarhar-native adding valuable runs at No.8 or 9 for various teams, there has been a clamour to utlilise his batting ability more and more by promoting him higher up the order. Last year, Rashid Khan did have a poor season with the bat in the IPL but he only ended up facing 25 balls in 15 matches.
SRH would be wise to use clever match-ups to increase Rashid’s efficiency with the bat in this upcoming season. Rashid provides his maximum value against pacers who don’t hit the hard lengths as he tends to struggle against short balls and even spinners who take the ball away from him. When Barbados Tridents promoted Rashid Khan in a game against Jamaica Tallawahs, he failed to read Sandeep Lamichhane’s leg-break and bagged a duck.
While the sample size in the IPL is pretty small, it is still evident that Rashid can be more useful against pace than spin. The IPL doesn’t have too many medium pacers but SRH can promote Rashid whenever there is a non-hard length pacer or an off-spinner is bowling. This way, SRH can get some bonus runs and probably relieve some pressure of the inexperienced middle-order options.
What Rashid Khan means to SRH’s structure and balance?
Although SRH have some quality players like Jonny Bairstow, David Warner and Rashid Khan himself, they don’t start as the favourites due to the overall make-up of the bowling attack. While Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been one of the best Indian pacers in the IPL over the years, injuries have meant that his efficiency will be a question-mark for this season. Last year, Bhuvneshwar didn’t even average one wicket per game as he ended up with 13 wickets from 15 matches.
Emerging left-arm pacer Khaleel Ahmed finished IPL 2019 on a high with 19 wickets from just nine matches but he still remains a work-in-progress at this level. The other Indian pacers like Sandeep Sharma, Siddarth Kaul and Basil Thampi turned out to be expensive whenever they played. This meant that SRH weren’t at their best when it comes to the bowling attack.
Performances of SRH bowlers in the last three seasons
Given his recent form and experience, Afghanistan all-rounder Mohammad Nabi will most likely fill the fourth overseas slot. While Nabi can be pretty valuable during the Powerplay overs, he is still a typical wicket-taker. Due to this, the attention directly turns to Bhuvneshwar Kumar and more importantly, Rashid Khan. Unlike other franchises, SRH don’t have bankable pacers like Jasprit Bumrah, Kagiso Rabada and Jofra Archer. SRH’s lone foreign pacer Billy Stanlake also had a pretty poor 2019 BBL season as he managed to take only four wickets at an economy rate of 9.03 in 11 matches.
As a result, Rashid Khan has to step up his game and provide a large chunk of wickets during the league phase of the competition. The same will apply to Bhuvneshwar Kumar with SRH certainly hoping is back to his best rhythm. The untested middle-order will continue to be a question mark until the season begins for SRH but if Rashid Khan is at his best, a lot of their problems might be solved. He has become so integral to the franchise’s plans that a Top-4 spot might hinge on his form.