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Super franchise, but plenty of pain at the killings back home

Interview/Rashid Khan

Rashid Khan in Bangalore on Wednesday. 
Picture courtesy: Sunrisers Hyderabad

Bangalore: Teenaged Rashid Khan Arman, the hottest leg spinner around and a key member of the Sunrisers Hyderabad franchise in the IPL, spoke to The Telegraph at some length on Wednesday.

Captained by Kane Williamson, the Sunrisers qualified for the play-offs rather early and continue to top the table.

The interview with Rashid took place at the Shangri-La Hotel, which has turned into the 'base' of the Gowdas' JD (S).

Rashid, who is 19, is ranked No. 2 in ODIs and No. 1 in T20Is. In fact, he has also captained Afghanistan in four ODIs.

Clearly, quite a career lies ahead of this straight-from-the-heart talking and courteous teenager.

Excerpts...

Q It must be tough on you that there are blasts and killings in native Afghanistan every now and then...

A (Emotionally) Of course, it is. On Sunday, there were multiple blasts in hometown Jalalabad and an exchange of fire followed for hours. We were playing in Pune and, at the end of the match, a video was WhatsApped by a friend. I called home and spoke to one of my brothers. All were fine, but the blasts had been less than 2 kms from where we stay. That close... Kabhi kabhi bahut hi mushkil ho jaata hai.

Q Growing up in Jalalabad must have been stressful...

A There were times when things were bad.

Q You're only 19... But, obviously, have the mental strength of a seasoned pro. Do you consciously shut out the happenings in Afghanistan?

A If I'm to be honest, there are times when I wonder whether it's right on my part to be playing in such a high-profile T20 tournament, the IPL, when innocents keep getting killed by the dozens... Kya main theek kar rahan hoon? I do ask myself... In a way, the killings back in Afghanistan push me to do even better... That, I hope, will attract more to cricket. Already, just about everybody watches the IPL in my country, but maybe that huge number too would increase.

Q The IPL has a massive following?

A It had even before we (Mohammed Nabi, Mujeeb Ur Rahman being the others) got the chance to play. Everybody watches the tournament. In fact, most watch cricket telecasts from across the world... Cricket unites, so there's a bigger responsibility on us professionals to keep the younger generation, in particular, hooked to the sport. That can only be done by headline-making performances. Like when Afghanistan shocked the West Indies, the eventual champions, in the 2016 World T20 and when we beat the West Indies in the final of the 2019 World Cup qualifiers... I've been told individual performances in the IPL have also brought joy to the youth in Afghanistan... Till the country began taking big strides in cricket, the youngsters had nothing to focus on. They wouldn't listen to elders, wanted to fight for X or for Y and against X or Y... Things would be so bad that even very young boys moved around with guns... I used to be left dumbfounded... Cricket ne unko ek outlet diya hai, given them something to relate to. Today, one sees the youth with cricket bats and balls. Besides, more and more have begun focusing on education... It has been a huge change, a change distinctly for the better.

Mohammed Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, President of Afghanistan

Q Are there times when you keep saying a silent prayer?

A I pray that Allah have mercy on all of us, that some sense gets into the head of those who simply kill innocents. Nobody knows why this painful cycle keeps happening? Bahut mayusi hoti hai.

Q Well, what's the solution?

A Don't know... I can only try and apply some balm... Ease the pain by doing well against the world's best. Next month, Afghanistan's Test debut is against India, so that would be another opportunity to put the best foot forward. While we have respect, doing well in Tests would be like the icing on the cake.

Q You've mentioned respect... I understand Afghanistan's President, Mohammed Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, is a cricket enthusiast and leads the way in respecting you all...

A President Ahmadzai indeed is a big fan of cricket and cricketers. When he can, the President watches the IPL telecasts... It's not unusual for President Ahmadzai to invite us either individually or collectively for a meal at his residence. That the President is such a big enthusiast and so respectful of our achievements is in itself a huge motivation.

Q You'd dedicated your first MoM award in this IPL to the ailing son of a friend. How is he?

A That boy needs regular blood transfusion and my friend had exhausted his resources... I wanted other friends to know of his plight and my dedicating the MoM award (against the Mumbai Indians) to him did wonders... Besides the contribution I made, some friends back home got together to help that family. Thankfully, the very worried father is breathing easy, for now. He has enough funds for the near future.

Q One more... How supportive has your franchise, the Sunrisers, been?

A I owe plenty to the Sunrisers... To Tom Moody Sir, (VVS) Laxman Sir, Murali (Muttiah Muralidharan) Sir... I've been made to feel so comfortable, encouraged to focus only on my job... For me, the Sunrisers is a super franchise.

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