Since his IPL debut in 2017, Rashid Khan, along with David Warner, has been the most valuable player for the Sunrisers Hyderabad. With IPL 2020 being held in the UAE, where the pitches are expected to be spin-friendly, Khan will once again be central to the Sunrisers' bowling plans. Khan, who landed in Dubai straight from the CPL, interacted with the media on the eve of the side's first game of the season. Excerpts:
Tell us what you did during the Covid-19 forced lockdown.
Nobody was doing anything, I think (laughs). But at the same time, I focused a lot on my fitness with nothing else to do. I tried my best to not put on weight. That was something that was in my mind. In fact, I lost 3-4 kgs during that period because I knew if I put the weight on, it will be tough for me to get back to that level of fitness when we have a game. So I lost some weight in advance. But otherwise nothing special. Just being with the family, mostly trying to learn new dishes, or playing with the nephews in the backyard. That's how I was trying to keep myself entertained.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for you this IPL?
How these two months will be in the bubble. How we adjust ourselves and how we keep ourselves fresh for the game. It's 14 games and at the same time, you have those restrictions as well. The guy who can enjoy the most and keep himself mentally fresh, I think he will be successful in this competition. That's going to be the toughest challenge for all the players.
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With the whole tournament being played at just three venues, do you think spinners will have a far bigger role as the tournament progresses?
That's what I believe as well. Spinners will be the key as the competition goes on because the wickets might get better for spinners. The other thing is the grounds here are big too, 75-77-80-metre boundaries. When you have long boundaries, that helps as a spinner. Sharjah is a small ground but the wicket is still very good for spinners. But at the same time, you need to bowl your best deliveries as well.
It's not like you can depend just on the wickets. As we saw in the first game, it wasn't as supportive wicket for spinners. It wasn't turning much as it is happening here in Dubai. But as a spinner, you have to come up and deliver your best irrespective of the wicket.
"To be honest, I never think about I have to take this many wickets. I am always focusing on bowling economically. When I am bowling economically, that helps other bowlers in the side to take wickets as well"
With the pitches expected to be conducive for spin bowling, what will there be a change in how you bowl?
I think my strategy won't change a lot. I just focus on bowling on a good line and length, that's what matters for me. Change of conditions from India to Dubai doesn't matter. I still need to bowl well, I still need to bowl where I am successful. That's how I bowl wherever I bowl and adjust myself with two or three deliveries to get an idea of the wicket and what the best line and length is on that particular wicket.
Of late, teams have started playing out your four overs, and as a result, your wicket-taking ability has suffered. Are you planning something to counter that cautious approach?
To be honest, I never think about I have to take this many wickets. I am always focusing on bowling economically. When I am bowling economically, that helps other bowlers in the side to take wickets as well. I have always focused on bowling a lot of dot balls and to put the batsman under pressure, so that he tries to take risks from the other end, or even against me. That's what I am mostly thinking about. What the team requirement is at that time, do I need to make the asking rate high, do I need to bowl dot balls. If I take five wickets and the team loses, it doesn't make sense. If I take one wicket but we win the match, that's what matters.
You like to develop different deliveries. Can we expect something new this IPL?
I have been working hard on a few deliveries but I haven't made them 100% perfect so far to bowl in a game. We hardly play the longer format, i.e. Test cricket. That's the only format where you can improve those deliveries. I can bowl them very well in the nets but to bowl them in a match, it requires different energy, a different mindset. I have made them perfect in the nets, but bringing them into the game is a bit tough for me at the moment. I tried them a few times in the CPL, but I think if I get to bowl them in the longer format, I can make them more perfect. But what I feel is I need to be smarter and more consistent compared to the last few years. That's something which I want to think about more than new deliveries.
The Sunrisers start their campaign against the Royal Challengers Bangalore on Monday. Are you looking forward to bowling to someone like Virat Kohli?
Although I have just played in the CPL, the IPL is a different league, different pressure. And then you are playing against big names, like Virat, AB de Villiers. I have bowled to him in the World Cup and in the IPL previously. You have to bowl your best deliveries against him. No doubt he is one of the best players but there is no excuse for bowling a bad ball against him where he can smash you anywhere. I will just try my best to keep it simple and enjoy my game.
Do you feel any any pressure while bowling to Kohli?
Whenever you are bowling to anyone for the first time, you are always a bit under pressure. No doubt, he is a world-class player in every format, but I love it when somebody like him is batting against me. That's the competition you want it as a bowler. Rather than being under pressure, I think I enjoy myself bowling to him. It's a proud moment too bowling to him. As a bowler, I will try must best to enjoy and bowl the best deliveries to him and it doesn't matter what the result is as long as I am giving my 100%.
David Warner talked about dew yesterday. Having played here, do you think dew will be a big factor?
We [Afghanistan] have played here before, including the Asia Cup in 2018. So I am a bit used to the conditions but still, sometimes pitches behave differently. So we don't know what kind of wickets we will get. We have played here against Zimbabwe and Ireland too and have faced such conditions. As a spinner, I managed a bit to bowl with the dew. Even in India, in Mumbai, we get a lot of dew. And yeah, we have been practising with the wet ball and trying our best to get used to it.
During the first game on Saturday, we heard commentators talking about the wind factor too. How big a role wind could play here?
It's always playing a part here. There is dew and there is wind. So batting second is easier, and as a spinner, it's tough to bowl in those conditions when there is dew as well as wind. We played the Asia Cup here in the same month, in September, but that time we didn't see much dew. Even not much wind. It [the dew and wind] doesn't happen every day either. But you shouldn't be thinking about those things a lot, at the same time.
The Sunrisers have got the firepower at the top order but can the middle-order batsmen clear those big boundaries?
We have guys like Manish Pandey, Vijay Shankar and other youngsters in the middle order; they all can hit the ball a long way. But sometimes on big grounds, you need to play sensible cricket. So it's not just about hitting big sixes as we saw the last night [in the Chennai Super Kings v Mumbai Indians game] as well, how [Faf] du Plessis took it till the end and finished it well. I think the team that does these things well will be successful. That's what matters in the UAE. When you play sensible cricket in the middle overs, it helps you get positive results in the end as power-hitters can give you 50-60 runs in last five overs.
"When I was playing in the Big Bash, I was told clearly by the captain and the coaching staff that 'Rash, this is when you are gonna go in, after 14th-15th over, that's your time. It doesn't matter if we are down one wicket or two wickets'"
Will players like you who are coming here after playing in the CPL have an advantage over others?
I think everyone has had enough practice. Players have been here for the last three weeks. Still it's totally different playing a game, but if you are a professional cricketer, those five-six months shouldn't affect you that much. That's how I felt too when I played in the CPL for the first time. I had good net sessions and as soon as I came back to the field, I didn't feel I was playing after five-six months. I have been playing consistently for the last four-five years and suddenly if there is a five-six months break that shouldn't affect me a lot. I think that would be the case for everyone else as well. You just need five-six-ten deliveries to be back.
In the CPL, you were batting at No. 9 or 10. Do you think you are underrated as a batsman in T20s? Are you expecting to bat a bit higher for the Sunrisers?
I always have this thing in mind that I am more effective when I bat in the last three-four overs where I can play my shots. But if you have a long batting line-up as we had in the CPL, you cannot complain. That's why I was batting so low.
When I was playing in the Big Bash, I was told clearly by the captain and the coaching staff that 'Rash, this is when you are gonna go in, after 14th-15th over, that's your time. It doesn't matter if we are down one wicket or two wickets.' When you get the positive-ness from the coach and captain, you just focus on what you are going to do. But I shouldn't be thinking about when I am coming in to bat. What I think about is what I can do in that time, whether it's three overs, one over or one delivery.
At the CPL, there were no crowds. How was it like to play in front of the empty stands?
It was a bit tough initially. Without any crowd, I was reminded of my club cricket. But then I watched the first game of the IPL yesterday and there was some noise arranged, which helps you that there is something going on. No doubt having the crowd gives you that extra energy, but we know the fans are still watching us on the TV and we need to give our 100% and keep enjoying ourselves on the field.
Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo