Phil Walker reports from Edgbaston as Adil Rashid knocks Australia out of the ICC Champions Trophy.
It was 1967 when Adil Rashid’s grandfather brought his young family over from Pakistan. He landed a job in a local textile mill in Halifax, as, in time, did his son Abdul. But after two generations, the millinery work dried up for the Rashids. Any future spinning fingers would have to be used for other things.
It was Abdul, a casual club player, who pushed his sons towards cricket, improvising various coaching devices to be used around the house, such as a tennis ball on a rope attached to the ceiling of the basement. The boys played tapeball in the backstreets and the parks of Bradford. Though they all showed talent, Abdul’s third son would be the one handed the magics.
At the age of 13, the whippersnapper leg-spinner took all 10 wickets in an adult league match for Bradford & Bingley against Gomersal. The feat prompted Bradford Council to fly Abdul Qadir over from Lahore for a few one-to-one coaching sessions.
Five years later, after excelling at youth level for Yorkshire and England, he became just the third Yorkshire-born Asian cricketer to play for the county. His debut match in late July 2006 came against Warwickshire at Scarborough. There was no little fanfare. He was 18. He took six wickets in the second innings to win the game.
As a purveyor of wrist-spin at a precociously young age for a county that suffers few fools, he would soon be weathering the inevitable avalanche that drops on gifted kids who do things differently. He was just 21 and still developing emotionally as much as technically when England summoned him for his ODI debut in 2009; he played five games that autumn, took three wickets, and was discarded for the next six years. This is what happens when you bowl leg-spin in England.
Or perhaps, what used to happen. “Leg-spin is fashionable all of a sudden,” says English cricket’s last real leg-spinner Ian Salisbury, whose 884 first-class wickets more eloquently describe his qualities than 20 wickets from 15 Tests. “There are a lot coming through at the same time. It’s hugely exciting.”
Adil Rashid doesn’t talk much. Twitter? Well, he’s on there, but barely, save for the odd #mandem hashtag next to pictures of his mates. When AOC interviewed him and Moeen Ali last month, it was Moeen who did most of the heavy lifting. Rashid only really got into his stride when discussing the precariousness of his craft.
“If a leg-spin bowler in England has a bad day, it’s such a big deal. But generally in cricket, a player has more bad days than good – that’s cricket. A leg-spinner needs the backing of his captain, that belief that it doesn’t matter how many runs you go for, ‘Just look to spin the ball and get the wickets’. There’s not enough of that, there’s too much of… ‘You’ve got to keep it tight’. But as a leg-spinner, if you stop trying to spin the ball, you end up bowling darts. You should be encouraged to spin the ball and not be scared to be hit for runs. It’s a risk, spin; but it’s a risk you take.”
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Much is made of England’s bum-pattingly tight inner sanctum but there is no doubt that Morgan’s maxim to nurture and back his charges through thick and thin has contributed to Rashid’s blossoming as a top-class, perhaps world-class limited-overs spinner.
At Edgbaston today we saw his coming-out party. It wasn’t really about the figures, good as they were: his best ODI return against a Test-playing nation and the sixth time he’s taken four or more in an innings. It wasn’t even the wickets themselves, some of them a bit cheap as a desperate Aussie lower-order gave us all a laugh. It was the fact that he bowled 60 deliveries (no wides) against a team that was intent from the start on domination, and none of them went for four or six. In his opening seven-over spell he bowled 20 dot balls and conceded less than four an over.
We’re meant to be surprised, yet consider this: before this tournament Rashid is fourth on the leaderboard of most wickets in ODIs in the last two years, with 58 wickets at 34. Of those top 20 bowlers, he concedes by far the fewest percentage of boundaries (44). By comparison, Imran Tahir, who came into the tournament as the No.1-ranked ODI bowler in the world – and who has taken 80 wickets at 30, to be second on the list – has a boundary percentage of 53.3.
“Genuinely,” Moeen told AOC last month, “he is one of the most talented players, by far, in terms of skill. Of all the spinners in the world, no one has more skill and more variations, and people haven’t even seen his batting properly yet. All Rash needs is a bit of love.”
England have created something of a dream team here. If they don’t win the Champions Trophy we’ll all be demanding a recount. And right in the guts of it stands Adil Rashid, the Bosanquet of Bradford town.
Read the full interview with Adil Rashid and his mate Moeen Ali in the current issue of All Out Cricket magazine