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Match Analysis

Rashid breaks out of his rut with all-round show for the ages

The Afghanistan allrounder might just have given the rest of the teams a warning that he is close to being back to his very best

Hemant Brar
Hemant Brar
In this age of data analytics, it was something very intangible that was bothering Rashid Khan: the ball was not coming out of his hand the way he wanted.
Rashid had undergone a back surgery in November. As a result, he was out of the game for close to four months. While he made a successful return in March, picking up eight wickets in three T20Is against Ireland, things were not going as smoothly in the IPL. In the first five games for Gujarat Titans, he had picked up only five wickets and conceded 40 or more twice.
So when Titans faced Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur on Wednesday, Rashid was under the scanner. While he had done well against almost all Royals batters in the past, it was not going to be easy. Apart from Rashid's own form, Royals were unbeaten with four wins in as many games. Three of those wins had come in Jaipur.
After moving to Titans in 2022, Rashid has been bowling more and more in the powerplay for lesser and lesser returns. During this period, his powerplay economy has been 9.63, the worst among those who have bowled at least 120 balls in that phase.
Against Royals, he was once again bowling in the powerplay. Sanju Samson took a single off his first ball, which brought Jos Buttler on strike.
The Buttler vs Rashid is a peculiar match-up. Before this game, Rashid had bowled to Buttler on 11 occasions in T20 cricket. On the first four, Buttler stood no chance, with Rashid dismissing him each time. And it took Rashid just ten balls, and cost four runs, to do so.
Since then, Buttler had never got out to Rashid even though he scored only 46 runs off 62 balls (strike rate 74.19) against him.
But against all other bowlers in these games, he smashed a combined 388 runs in 229 balls at a strike rate of 169.43. There were four fifties and a 124, his highest T20 score. It was as if he was happy to lose his battle against Rashid to win the war.
Rashid did not allow that on Wednesday. In fact, the whole battle lasted just three balls.
The first was short of length, kept low and beat Buttler. Luckily for the batter, it had pitched well outside off stump and caused no harm. The second was a googly on the stumps that Buttler defended towards short midwicket.
Rashid then went slightly fuller than good length. Buttler tried to hit him down the ground but his front foot was nowhere near the pitch of the ball. All he managed was an outside edge that went straight to first slip.
Riyan Parag had a similarly lopsided match-up against Rashid: two dismissals in 13 balls for 11 runs. Here, Rashid could have had him twice in six balls. But Matthew Wade failed to latch on to the outside edge on each occasion.
Among the Royals batters, only Samson had a somewhat respectable record against Rashid: 111 runs off 96 balls, one dismissal. He decided to play him safely once more and scored only five off six balls against him. Against all other Titans bowlers, he ransacked 63 off 32.
Despite Royals posting 196 for 3, Rashid finished with 1 for 18 from four overs. On the same pitch, Noor Ahmed registered figures of 0 for 43, R Ashwin 0 for 40, and Yuzvendra Chahal 2 for 43.
"I did not bowl much in the last three-four months after the surgery," Rashid told the host broadcaster. "I am still getting used to bowling in the middle. In the first few games, I was struggling a bit, especially with my line and length. I bowled a few good balls but inside I was not feeling it. There was no satisfaction. I was like no, no, that is not me.
"I felt my grip was a bit off. But before the previous game, I had a good [net] session. I did spot bowling for about an hour and a half, which really helped me. More importantly, my fingers got used to the ball once again."
But Rashid was not done yet.
Shubman Gill set up the chase with his 72 off 44 balls. But Royals were the favourites when Rashid came out to bat, with 40 required from 15 balls and four wickets left.
Rashid's quick hands came to Titans' rescue again. In the 19th over, Kuldeep Sen aimed for a yorker but ended up bowling a low full toss. Rashid duly scythed him over extra cover. Such was the power that it almost went all the way. On either side of that, Rahul Tewatia picked up a four to make it a 20-run over.
With 15 needed from six balls, Samson decided to go with Avesh Khan despite Trent Boult having two overs left.
Avesh had defended a similar target against Delhi Capitals. With 17 required, all he allowed Tristan Stubbs and Axar Patel was four singles. He had bowled an excellent 18th over here too, conceding only seven and dismissing a dangerous Shahrukh Khan. Boult, on the other hand, does not have a great record in the death overs.
But luck was with Rashid now. Royals' slow over rate meant Avesh could have only four fielders outside the 30-yard circle. By standing outside off stump to connect wide yorkers, Rashid showed his game awareness, too.
Avesh's first ball was a low full toss, which Rashid clubbed to the deep-midwicket boundary. Three balls later, he nailed the yorker but Rashid got just enough bat on it and the ball went past a diving Samson for four.
With two needed from one ball, Avesh banged one into the pitch. Rashid's fast hands were in the picture once again as he cut it over point to end Royals' winning streak.
Rashid finished unbeaten on 24 off 11 balls and was named the Player of the Match. Talking about his mindset during the chase, he said: "It's just a matter of hitting three or four sixes. That's something which brings the run rate very down. You just need to be positive. It doesn't matter if you need 30 or 35 from ten balls. You need three sixes and it becomes 15 or 16 from seven."
He also said that he was back to 90-94% of his best and was looking forward to be 100% for the rest of the games. He was just giving an update but it must have sounded like a warning to other teams.

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo