Big Bash League 2015-16 January 18, 2016

Rashid rips himself a new chapter

Adil Rashid's superb form in the Big Bash League has propelled Adelaide Strikers to the knockouts and turned him into one of the players to watch at the World T20

Adil Rashid claimed 15 wickets in the group stages of the Big Bash, more than any other bowler © Getty Images

It is little surprise that Adil Rashid is the sort of cricketer to inspire a cult following. There is much to fall in love with; the drifting, spinning, fizzing legbreaks, delivered with those supple wrists atop that twirly, balletic action, and so often followed by that cheeky grin.

Rashid is a fascinating, boom-or-bust cricketer prone to baffling lows and brilliant highs, often in the same game, as his maiden Test series in the UAE last year revealed. Whether you're watching Rashid through your fingers or you can't take your eyes off his rolling wrists, he makes for truly captivating viewing.

Rashid is also the sort of cricketer, however, who is just rather confused by such interest in his work. He is relaxed, almost to the point of being aloof. Unlike some players, he appears utterly unburdened by the game's history and what others might say, think, or write about his game, and he lives - for want of a better cliché - in the moment.

Whether he's having half-trackers belted out the park or ripping googlies through unlatched gates, the game goes on, and life does too, and thus Rashid's method, he believes, should remain the same. Fuss, it seems, is a word alien to Rashid, a state of mind he credits his faith with fostering.

Towards the end of a breakout year in international cricket, in which he made that long-awaited Test debut and became a fixture in England's white-ball teams, the decision was made (by committee: Andrew Strauss, Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace, in conjunction with Rashid himself) to send him to Adelaide Strikers and the Big Bash League, where Jason Gillespie, his coach at Yorkshire, had sounded him out to play some three months earlier, rather than South Africa, where his England team-mates have just dethroned the top-ranked Test team.

It was "a win-win situation," Rashid tells ESPNcricinfo, "Trev was very honest with me. He said it's very unlikely we would play two spinners, and I'd always rather be playing cricket than carrying drinks. It's great to see the boys do so well, but I've got it pretty good here!"

With a World T20 around the corner, Adil in Adelaide is proving a fine match. The city is full of familiarity for Rashid; he played T20 for South Australia in the pre-BBL badlands of 2010-11; Gillespie is his coach, and the recently retired Yorkshire allrounder Richie Pyrah is on the staff; Mahela Jayawardene, with whom he has worked with England, is his fellow overseas pro.

The pair "have been tight," he says, "I've been driving him to the ground and all that, we hang out a lot."

He has enjoyed the BBL and feels there is an extra intensity and a greater buzz than domestic T20 in England has offered. "It's pretty cool that everyone in Australia is talking about it," he says, "we just don't get that in England. The wickets are much better here too, they are just producing better cricket."

Rashid finished the group stages as the tournament's leading wicket-taker, with 15 in eight games at an economy rate (6.38) better than any bowler with more than ten wickets. His efforts have endeared him to fans; how heartening it was to see him mobbed by kids - and duly pose for myriad selfies - when trying to leave the Adelaide nets ahead of Strikers' New Year's Eve fixture against Sydney Sixers.

Rashid's team-mate Alex Ross describes him as "a legend" and "the sort of bloke who's right up in your face in the nets". By all accounts, he is an immensely popular figure in a dressing room packed with local talent that has topped the group stages. Next up comes a home semi-final against Sydney Thunder this Thursday.

Strauss was keen for English players, such as Rashid and David Willey, to feel the heat and the expectation of life as an overseas player. Typically, even with vast crowds and the eyes of a nation on him, such pressure has not occurred to Rashid. "I don't see much point in burdening yourself with those thoughts," he says. "Why not just keep it simple, have a clear mind, turn it hard and have some fun?"

Adil Rashid finished his Test debut on a high with a maiden five-wicket haul © Getty Images

Just as at Yorkshire, Gillespie has given him licence to attack, he says. Bowling in the middle of the innings, five of his 15 wickets have come with the googly, and another with the slider. Strikingly, he's made a habit of taking a wicket with his first ball and just once has he gone wicketless at more than 8.5 runs an over, and both were in Strikers' only defeat, when the bowlers were given the thankless task of defending just 117 against Sydney Thunder.

Adelaide is an unforgiving place for spinners to bowl, with extremely short square boundaries. Again, Rashid has been unperturbed. "It is tricky because it's very short," he says, "but I adjust, either bowling a bit fuller or shorter depending on the batsman. Sometimes I'll even go a bit slower so it's hard for them to force it away, and the variations become key, trying to outfox them with the wrong'un too."

What is abundantly clear is that Rashid is learning and progressing. Two thousand fifteen was an unforgiving year, and Rashid occasionally sank, but swam plenty too. After a triumphant return to ODI cricket against New Zealand in May, when he scored a daring 69 and took 4 for 55, Rashid was tipped to make his Test debut against Australia at Lord's, when his good friend Moeen Ali was an injury doubt.

Eventually, Moeen recovered to play. There was talk - not that Rashid would have heard it - that he had bottled an opportunity, but he dismisses that, saying the focus was on Moeen, not himself. "There was a 50-50 chance, is he fit, is he not fit?" he says. "I had a little niggle and my finger wasn't fully fit, so we didn't want to take a risk on me at 50-60%. It was the best decision, I think."

When he did eventually debut, on the autumn tour to the UAE, he met an occasionally chastening experience, but one that taught him plenty. "It was tough and very different to Championship cricket with so much more competitiveness and hype," he says.

"It was a contrasting debut but I had the same mindset on the first day [when he took 0 for 163, the worst figures on debut in Test cricket] as I did in the second dig [when he became the first English legspinner since 1959 to take a Test five-for]. Some days they just don't feel like they're coming out right yet you get wickets, then other days you bowl well enough but you don't. My attitude didn't change but in the second innings something just clicked.

"Why not just keep it simple, have a clear mind, turn it hard and have some fun?"

"I'd be far more confident going back to play Test cricket in subcontinental conditions now. There, you have to bowl quicker and a bit straighter than my natural pace. It's all about adapting and learning on the job. I had to speed up to be more effective and I'd learned that after a tough first innings.

"If I had gone to South Africa, there I think my stock delivery would have been more effective, because there too much pace would be easy to smash. In England if you bowl it quick you might skid onto the bat so you want to toss it up and spin it a bit. But you have to learn very quickly wherever you are." The willingness to adapt and to learn is unquestionably there.

Rashid describes 2015 as a year that "makes me very proud, and gives me a boost and energy and belief that I'm good enough to play at the highest level," but there was one standout low. In his second Test, in Dubai, he batted for a minute short of four hours to take England to within 6.3 overs of saving a Test they had fallen badly behind in, only, with men all around the bat, to fail to spot the man lurking at cover.

"That was a gutting moment," he recalls, for the first time without any of his customary joy clear in his voice. "To have batted for all those hours and get so close, I just couldn't cross that line. That was tough, but I'll learn from the pain."

There, once more, is that unflappable attitude. "I do believe my mindset is just my religion taking over," he says. "It's about believing through the good days and bad that everything is happening for a reason. I don't dwell on getting smashed out of the park. That happens to spinners. I'm not into what-ifs and could-I-have-done-thats.

"Me and Moeen are on the same level, he really is one of my closest mates. We spend a lot of time together on tour and time passes quickly when we are together and we relax each other, which also helps pick each other up when one isn't performing as well, reminding each other not to dwell on our bad days. We keep each other motivated."

Looking forward, while he believes the IPL "would be fun" and "something I have thought about for the future," he won't be entering the auction this year, in part because Yorkshire would not allow him to do so. But Rashid believes the BBL has been "perfect preparation" for the World T20, where his impressive form suggests he could be a genuine point of difference for England's young thrusters in a tournament where spin - especially that with a lot of wrist and a bit of mystery - should play a key role. "Very much a match-winner in that tournament, is Rashid," said Kevin Pietersen, a man who should know, during Channel Ten's coverage of his final group match against Melbourne Renegades.

Rashid, though, is just going to keep on doing his own thing, for that is all he knows. That attitude has served him pretty well throughout what has been a breakthrough stint with Adelaide Strikers. It could yet serve his country with equal distinction.

Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp

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