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AFGHANISTAN'S AFRIDI COMES OF AGE

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From idolising Shahid Afridi to becoming Afghanistan's go-to bowler while still a teenager, Rashid Khan has come a long way in almost no time.

Sitting at home one day, Rashid Khan watched Shahid Afridi on TV. The hair, the wicket celebration, and the legspin made an immediate impression on him.

"I just saw Shahid Afridi on TV and learned from there, as I like the way he bowls," Rashid says. "I am still trying to develop few other deliveries and working a lot on them. Hopefully when I meet him I will learn more from him."

Rashid couldn't quite copy the hairstyle, but the bowling action has a definite tinge of the Afridi bustle. He runs in quickly, and whirrs his arms through his gather and delivery stride. For a moment, it looks as if he bowls off the wrong foot. But it doesn't seem to bother his rhythm, and often makes it harder for the batsmen to pick his legbreak and googly from his hand.

It's possible no one has told him if his slightly unusual action is good or bad, because Rashid has only spoken to a more experienced legspinner on one occasion, a few months ago in India.

"So far I have only spoken with the Indian legspinner Piyush Chawla when we had a camp in India," Rashid says. "I spoke to him and I have learned from him. He just told me that everything is okay. I just have to try to bowl a little bit slower."

In the first ODI against Bangladesh on Sunday, Rashid didn't really slow it down. Still bowling noticeably quicker than the average legspinner, he was still Afghanistan's best bowler, picking up the wickets of Mushfiqur Rahim and Sabbir Rahman with googlies.

Rashid's senior international career began suddenly, when he was called up last year for Afghanistan's ODI series in Zimbabwe. He gave away only 3.65 runs per over in the four ODIs, picking up five wickets. In the return series in the UAE, he took six wickets at an average of 23.00.

"It was a huge surprise for me, getting called up to the national side in Zimbabwe," Rashid says. "I talked with all the coaches, especially the Under-19 coach Dawlat Ahmadzai before leaving for Zimbabwe. He just told me, 'keep yourself calm and play your cricket'. He said it is easier than domestic cricket and just go there and play positive. I just did that."

Having performed well in the Asia Cup T20 in early 2016, Rashid was a revelation at the World T20 in India, where he finished with 11 wickets. Going back home after the tournament, he says, was a great experience, with everyone praising him for his efforts over the previous five months.

"My parents are now feeling so proud for me the way I performed in the World T20 and then the Zimbabwe series," he says. "I am getting so much love from Nangrahar and also from the whole country. People are so keen to watch cricket, they love the players."

Rashid was born in 1998 in Nangrahar, a province that is considered Afghanistan cricket's powerhouse. He is sixth among seven brothers, and says he first followed his older siblings to a local ground to play tennis-ball cricket when he was around nine years old. It helped being in a cricket-steeped environment, although facilities were at a bare minimum.

"We had no facilities as we have today," Rashid says. "Nowadays we play a lot of games. Now,Masha Allah, there are lots of academies. We have four-five grounds where we play matches, even international games as well. But still we have to improve our cricket and we have a lot of work to do and build more grounds for cricket.

Rashid loves playing for Afghanistan, particularly because of how senior members of the Afghanistan team have treated him. He is especially fond of Mohammed Nabi, who was his hero growing up, and of Mohammad Shahzad, whose dancing jigs have often accompanied Rashid's wickets.

"The senior players, especially Mohammad Shahzad, Asghar Stanikzai and Mohammad Nabi really supported me in fielding, bowling or batting," he says. "My favorite player is Mohammad Nabi and I like his batting and watching him play.

"Shahzad is always a funny person. He bothers all the players, not only me [laughs]. But it feels great to be with him and he is a great person as we all enjoy his presence."

Rashid has his eyes set on playing for his country for a long time to come. While he says the T20 format suits his style of legspin, and hopes he can get a chance to play in franchise leagues around the world, he would love to play Test cricket someday, an aim he and the rest of Afghanistan cricket are working towards.

"My bowling is especially for T20s as I bowl a bit quicker," he says. "If I get an opportunity to play in any leagues, I am ready for it.

"It is a dream for everyone in our team to play Test cricket. We are working hard for it. From the board, everyone is trying and we are getting a lot of facilities to play Test cricket. Hopefully we will play Test cricket soon."


Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.



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