Gujarat Titans endured a gut-wrenching three-wicket defeat against the Kolkata Knight Riders at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Sunday. But the return to wicket-taking ways of its stand-in skipper and star leggie Rashid Khan will inspire confidence as the tournament picks up pace. Rashid secured the first hat-trick of IPL 2023 against the Knight Riders and his fourth overall in T20 cricket – the most by any bowler in the format.
What made Rashid’s splendid comeback more special was the fact that his first three overs had gone for 35 without any rewards.
Last IPL season, Rashid had 19 wickets in 16 matches at 6.59. In three IPL 2023 matches, he already has eight wickets at 7.83.
Asked what KKR’s plan was against Rashid, all-rounder Venkatesh Iyer made an interesting point. “He’s a world-class bowler and on his day, can run through lineups. Our plan was to not play him out, had we done that then we would’ve allowed him to settle on a length. I think the way we scored off other bowlers in the buildup to Rashid bhai’s overs made him bowl the way he did,” Iyer said after the match.
Iyer is right. When Rashid came on to bowl in the ninth over, KKR captain Nitish Rana and Iyer were carting the ball all around the park. The pressure was on Rashid to introduce a modicum of control and it showed in his lengths as he tried to bowl largely short or short of good length. Given the high pace — delivering over 60mph regularly — at which Rashid bowls, batters find it difficult to hit him for boundaries from that length. But every time he erred on the full, Rana and Iyer made him pay.
That said, two of the three hat-trick wickets were googlies on a length, touch fuller than what Rashid had been trying his whole spell and therein lies the key to Rashid’s wicket-taking.
Rashid has realised that teams tend to play him out when he bowls a slightly shortish length, so now he is being proactive and hunting for wickets by bowling slightly fuller lengths.
A common tactic employed by teams, and this includes Afghanistan as well, is that they prefer to use Rashid in the second half of the innings when the field is spread, thus goading the opposition batters into taking more risks and risking collapses.
Rashid has had the bulk of his success while bowling in the middle overs. He has 366 T20 wickets between overs 7 and 16, 106 at the death and only 47 in the PowerPlay. He has also bowled the least number of balls inside the first six overs.
The same applies to the IPL, where he has 91 wickets in the middle overs at 6.21 and only 10 in the PowerPlay at 7.48. He has 19 wickets between 17 and 20 at more than 7. Only 198 out of a total of 2267 balls he has bowled in the IPL, were in the PowerPlay overs.
One way Rashid could look to invite batters to go after him is by bowling more in the first six and at the death. Whether that happens later this IPL remains to be seen. For now, going by the early trend, it does seem the fans will see a lot more of Rashid celebrating by lifting his arms high and wide than they did last year. That could only mean good things for the Titans.