Rashid Khan: 'As long as we play our own style of the game, we can beat any side'

Afghanistan come into the 2024 T20 World Cup on the back of their strongest showing in the ODI World Cup last year. Captain Rashid talks about their prep, key players, and confidence in their methods

Rashid Khan during the Afghanistan team huddle, Pakistan vs Afghanistan, Men's World Cup 2023, Chennai, October 23, 2023

"We can't beat teams the way India or Australia do, we have to beat them with the skills we have"  •  ICC/Getty Images

Rashid Khan will lead Afghanistan for the first time in a T20 World Cup, beginning June 1. This will be the fourth World Cup in the format for Rashid and the seventh for Afghanistan, who have never made the knockouts. This time they are paired in a tough group, comprising hosts West Indies, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Uganda.
Afghanistan's players haven't had quite the same impact in ICC tournaments as in T20 franchise leagues around the world. Still, at the 2023 ODI World Cup they beat England, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Netherlands. In an interview during the IPL earlier this year, Rashid spoke about wanting his players to show the belief they put on display at the tournament last year, using the IPL as prep, and playing the Afghanistan way.
Afghanistan are paired with hosts West Indies, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Uganda in the group phase of the T20 World Cup. What gives you the confidence this time Afghanistan can make the Super Eight stage?
The confidence is there because we have already beaten West Indies a few times in T20s. We beat them in ODIs as well. And, more importantly, there are seven to eight guys playing in the IPL, which is the best preparation ahead of the World Cup. And the conditions in the World Cup may be good for the spinners - at least, that is my expectation. Even if it is flat wickets, the kind of bowling unit we have, we don't rely much on the wicket. We have a fair few mystery spinners who make it harder for the batter to score freely.
I have also bowled a lot in the CPL. [Mohammad] Nabi, Mujeeb [Ur Rahman] and Noor [Ahmad], too, have bowled on the wickets in the Caribbean and we have all found enough spin and are well-versed with the conditions. So we have that advantage.
But the most important thing is: how we are going there mentally. Do we have that kind of belief where we can beat New Zealand? Do we have that kind of belief where we can beat West Indies? As soon as that belief comes, you can beat any side. That's the kind of belief we had in the ODI World Cup last year in India. Since we beat England, we said we can beat any side.
During the ODI World Cup last year, Sachin Tendulkar visited the Afghan squad in Mumbai ahead of the Australia match. What impact did he have and is there a takeaway from there for the belief you want to build ahead of this T20 World Cup?
That was kind of a dream for every player that he [Tendulkar] came in and gave us that time. He didn't only come for about five or ten minutes. He was there for the whole session and that was the beauty. And we have learned a lot from that experience.
The advice he gave and the ideas he shared about the wicket helped not just the youngsters, but everyone. The knowledge he gave about Wankhede really helped: as a bowling unit, he said, go harder in the first five to six overs because you can take advantage of the conditions that are favourable for bowlers. For the batters, he said, take it easy in the initial five to six overs. He said it was fine to take time because once the top order was settled, we can accelerate score big runs.
But what was more important for me was that he told us he admired the skills of everyone and what we had achieved, that you guys are capable of beating any side - like we did, beating England, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the World Cup. The encouragement every one of us got from him was a huge booster, that someone like Sachin sir is coming, he's praising us.
What was also special was he had one-on-one chats with some of our players, including Ibrahim Zadran, who scored a hundred against Australia, the next day. I asked Ibrahim after that game what he spoke to Sachin sir about. He said, "When he [Tendulkar] spoke to me, that just totally changed my mind - the way he was speaking about me, about my game, how I'm playing. And he told me his old stories. That gave me so much energy and made my mind positive about the game tomorrow."
So it has a big impact on us players when someone like him [Tendulkar] comes out [and talks to us]. Even for me, whenever I perform a little bit and a tweet comes from him, that gives me so much energy. It makes a huge difference, as it did against Australia for us as a batting unit scoring 291 against them.
Ibrahim is part of the T20 squad and plays as an opener. Unlike the rest of the specialist batters, he bats at a more conservative strike rate. Do you feel Afghanistan could use him better at the end to provide stability in the batting?
Yeah, that's the role we have given him. He knows how to change [accelerate] the strike rate, but at the same time, if he stays there for longer it's better, because we have more allrounders in the team who can finish games. We don't have someone like him who just carries on batting till the 14th, 15th over. He's the best at that role.
We don't mind his strike rate. We have a good bowling unit, good finishers, good power-hitters - the combination of all that will allow us to offset that. But it's very important that we have someone at that position who can carry the innings and just take the responsibility of batting deep.
What is the weak link that you want Afghanistan to plug this World Cup?
If we can exercise a bit of calmness, that's something that can have a massive impact on the game. If we [over]think that we are playing against New Zealand, West Indies… that's going to affect us. But if you instead think that you are just playing a normal game against anybody, that's where we can deliver the best individually and for the team.
It is about ensuring we enjoy, we express our talent and the skills we have. We need to make sure we stick to our strong points, that's how we can be most successful. And to not think about the opposition much, whoever they are. As long as we think about ourselves, what we can do best for the team, that's going to be the challenge for us.
We have to beat the teams with our own skills. We can't beat teams the way India do, how Australia do. We have our own way, our own style of playing the game. As long as we play our own style of the game, I think we can beat any side.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo