Record five-for and CPL contract, all in a day's work for Rashid
For Rashid Khan, few days could be as good as February 20. He had become the highest paid cricketer from an Associate nation in IPL history and only the second from Afghanistan to ever be part of the tournament. But Friday came pretty damn close: in the afternoon, he took five wickets in nine balls to demolish Ireland and in the evening, he was bought by Guyana Amazon Warriors for USD 60,000 in the Caribbean Premier League draft.
"It was a special day for me taking the best figures for my country, special for the cricket of Afghanistan," Rashid told ESPNcricinfo and then went on to talk about how his team fought hard to protect their record-breaking 10-match winning streak in T20Is.
"It was a very crucial time because it was raining and we thought the match was going to go to Ireland because they were on top of us on D/L Method so coming back from that stage and winning the match, it was sort of surprising but really happy with a great performance by all the boys."
Despite the bright ending to Rashid's day, at one point, things had looked rather bleak, literally. When dark clouds and heavy rain converged on Greater Noida, halting Ireland's chase of 185 in the seventh over, they were ahead of the D/L par score by 12 runs.
Rashid admitted that Afghanistan thought their streak was over, but the moment the umpires informed them that a restart was possible, the mood in the camp changed. They were still up against it though. Ireland had eight wickets in hand to hunt down the 46 runs they needed to win off the remaining 29 balls.
"The skipper [Asghar Stanikzai] told me you have to bowl the two overs in a very crucial time," Rashid recalled. "He said just go and do your best and when I came and took two wickets in the first over, I was full of confidence and did the rest of the job."
The reason Rashid felt so good was because he had taken out two of Ireland's most experienced batsmen in the blink of an eye. He said the team had seen Kevin O'Brien and Gary Wilson as "key wickets" and only after they were gone did "we believe we could win the match." That belief translated to performance on the field as Afghanistan dragged Ireland from 65 for 2 to 93 for 9 and a win by 17 runs.
Rashid was yet to take a five-wicket haul in domestic T20s, but overnight, his 5 for 3 in two overs put him alongside the best in international cricket. In fact, his figures were exactly the same as Rangana Herath's against New Zealand in a virtual quarter-final at the World T20 in 2014.
"That's my best and this was the first time I took a five-wicket haul and on a great occasion, when the team needed me, I feel great," Rashid said. "It feels great to be in that stage, with all those bowlers in the Test nations. It's a wonderful moment for me and for my country as an Associate team player coming and getting into the top five for best bowling figures."
So what helped him do so well when the game was on the line? "I always love to play in pressure [situations]," Rashid said. "When the team is under pressure, then I love to play in that condition and love to perform. I have done it in the past and I keep enjoying it. Bowling is my strength and I always believe I can do it. Since being taken in the IPL [for USD 595,000 approx], that has given me more energy and more confidence. I'm just doing my hard work and the rest is happening."
All that was left now was to tune in to the CPL draft. "When we were leaving the ground after the match, we were saying the draft is about to start so we were watching," Rashid said.
Mohammad Nabi became the first player from Afghanistan to be picked in the draft, with St Kitts and Nevis Patriots taking him on for USD 90,000. Rashid couldn't have been more thrilled. "He's a wonderful allrounder and is a wonderful fielder as well. We're really happy for him because the way he has played over the years is really amazing."
More good news came Rashid's way for not only was he picked up in the draft, he found out he would be playing under Sohail Tanvir, who had been his Comilla Victorians team-mate in the Bangladesh Premier League. "I know Sohail Tanvir, I played with him in BPL," he said. "So when I was taken in the draft, Sohail Tanvir texted me to say what's up and congratulated me. Hopefully we'll do well this year with Guyana."
Rashid was only an 11-year-old when Afghanistan made their first trip to the West Indies, for the World T20 in 2010. Now 18, he is looking forward to playing in the various islands and bowling on what he expects to be favourable conditions for legspin.
"I haven't been to the Caribbean," Rashid said. "Hopefully we'll enjoy it. As far as it's concerned, wickets in the Caribbean are suitable for spinners. We've been discussing it with coach Phil Simmons too since he's from the Caribbean. It'll be a great experience for us to play in the Caribbean. We have a series there before CPL as well. We're supposed to play West Indies for five ODIs and three T20Is so we'll get used to the conditions before CPL."
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna