KABUL: Afghanistan are making steady progress as a young cricketing nation and can boast a true star in Rashid Khan, whom they hope will to take them to the next level.
The 20-year-old, who is top of the Twenty20 world rankings, will be a key weapon in the World Cup in England and Wales.
Afghanistan can also boast 18-year-old spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman in their ranks but Rashid is regarded as the most important bowler in Test, one-day international and T20 cricket.
As well as topping the T20 charts, Nangarhar-born Rashid has climbed to third place in the ODI rankings since he made his debut soon after his 17th birthday.
He has developed an enviable ability to take wickets because he is not afraid of being hit — a trait he picked up while playing Twenty20 cricket in India, Australia and England.
Although he does not turn the ball much, he has an ability to read batsmen’s minds with his sharp thinking.
Rashid took 43 wickets in 16 ODIs in 2017, second only to Pakistan’s Hasan Ali, before topping the 2018 charts with 48 scalps in 20 matches.
The bowler achieved the feat of being the fastest to 100 ODI wickets, reaching the landmark in 44 matches, beating Australian paceman Mitchell Starc’s record by an eight-match margin.
Afghanistan coach Phil Simmons acknowledges Rashid’s importance as a bowler.
“Rashid… has got the mind of a 30-year-old. He knows exactly what is expected of him,” Simmons said.
Former captain Asghar Afghan, who was recently controversially replaced as skipper by Gulbadin Naib, made Rashid his go-to bowler.
He took 10 wickets — joint highest with India’s Kuldeep Yadav and Bangladesh’s Mustafizur Rahman in the 2018 Asia Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
“Rashid is our main bowler and he will be an asset in the World Cup, a true game changer and he knows his responsibilities,” Asghar said after the Asia Cup. “We have sounded warning bells for teams in the World Cup.”
Rashid is confident he can make the difference for Afghanistan.
“To be the best you need to believe in your skills,” he said. “How we played in the Asia Cup was totally different and we showed that we can beat any side.
“The only thing is to believe in your skills. Just to be relaxed in big matches and enjoy your game, that’s how we should be in the World Cup.”