ICC Men's ODI World Cup 2019
Joy from Oz: Rashid revels in rivals' tips
Afghanistan's x-factor says he owes some of his startling success to one Australian in particular
Louis Cameron is a Melbourne-based journalist. A former Victorian Bushrangers fast bowler, Louis joined the cricket.com.au team with assistance from the Australian Cricketers' Association's Internship Program in 2016.
Should Rashid Khan's belief in the unthinkable – that Afghanistan could topple the reigning champions in their World Cup opener – bear out on Saturday, Australia might only have themselves to blame.
Rashid has arrived in Bristol holding the hopes of world cricket's pluckiest nation in the oversized fingers that have made his unique brand of brisk leg-spin a phenomenon.
Now the most feared and effective limited-overs spinner in the world, the 20-year-old's remarkable ascension is only partially explained by his natural gifts.
The other part of the tale lies in the way other cricketers he has encountered in domestic T20 competitions around the world – a handful of Australians among them – have fast-tracked his development.
Out of all his influences at those tournaments, perhaps none have been as important as David Warner.
At the 2017 edition of the Indian Premier League, where Rashid became the first person from his country to play in the tournament, Warner took the unknown 18-year-old under his wing as skipper of Sunrisers Hyderabad. From being seemingly a fringe player at the start of the tournament, Rashid played 14 games, took 17 wickets and went at only 6.62 runs per over.
"I definitely learned a lot from him," Rashid said of Warner, who will make his return to international cricket against Afghanistan on Saturday. "As a bowler I love to discuss with all the international stars.
"(Warner) understands what the right thing is to do at the right time. There is something very special in him. He adjusts himself very quickly in any situation, in any condition.
"That is the beauty of him. That's how he made plenty of runs in the IPL. He's someone who always believes in himself … he always believes that 'I can do it'.
"He's a great inspiration for all of us as well."
Warner missed last year's IPL in the wake of the Cape Town scandal, but was back with a bang this year. In an ominous warning ahead of the World Cup, he pummelled 692 runs in 12 innings to finish as the tournament's standout batsman.
More importantly for Rashid, neither his year-long suspension for his part in the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal nor being stripped of the Sunrisers' captaincy had diminished the Australian's infectious energy.
"I said to him when he left India (to join Australia's World Cup camp), I will be missing you," Rashid told cricket.com.au.
"Ball by ball, when he was in the slips, he was coming to me and saying, 'C'mon, you can do it' and stuff like that. It always helps you having that kind of experienced player in the team who is a specialist of T20 and knows what to do in such situations."
Rashid's fondness for Australians extends further. When his father died during his second summer with the Adelaide Strikers, he returned home briefly but refused to miss a game. He declared the "whole of Australia" was his family.
Among his closest Strikers teammates is Alex Carey, who he's watched in just a couple of years go from domestic prospect to Australia's vice-captain and wicketkeeper at this World Cup. Carey has described Rashid as "one of the best blokes I've ever played with", which is about as high as praise comes from an Australian athlete.
Rashid happily repays the compliment.
"He's the best keeper I have bowled to so far," said the Afghan. "Energy-wise and the way he supports me is something amazing. I love to bowl to him a lot and I feel proud to have him in the same squad.
"Having him at the back of batsmen, he always motivates me. Whenever things are not going my way, he's someone who brings a smile to my face. Right now, having him on the opposite (team), it doesn't matter… as a player I love him.
"He's someone who gives me the confidence where I don't need to worry about the keeper, I just worry about my bowling. He's a good teammate, he's a wonderful guy and he's always a very positive guy."
Just as Rashid has learnt from plenty from Australians, he's been happy to share his own knowledge back the other way.
Another Aussie World Cup squad member, leg-spinner Adam Zampa, explained how he sought out Rashid, who was midway through eating a Calippo icy-pole after a BBL game in country Victoria, for a bowling tutorial to see if there was anything about the Afghan's method that could potentially assist him.
Zampa discovered Rashid's abnormally-sized digits mean he's able to grip the ball in a completely different way to him, and to most other leg-spinners. "I tried doing it but they were just slipping out," said Zampa.
A cracking yarn from Adam Zampa on his @BBL meeting with Rashid Khan 😂 pic.twitter.com/SClTaXSx37— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) May 20, 2019
While Rashid couldn't teach Zampa how to bowl like him, he was able to glean some useful expertise of his own.
"We are two different leg-spinners," said Rashid. "I use the top of my fingers and he uses his whole wrist.
"We just generally shared the experience of the leagues and how to bowl in conditions when the wicket is not in your favour.
"He has a lot more experience than me. He has played more against the big teams than me. He has played more international cricket than me, more in pressure situations.
"I have played a lot in the (T20) leagues but international cricket is different."
Rashid, one of 10 children whose family had to briefly flee over the Pakistan border when the United States bombed Afghanistan after the 9/11 terror attacks, explains that his one-of-a-kind bowling style is a product of his childhood.
"It's just something natural," he said. "Bowling with the brothers at home in the yard. Working (out) how to bowl slower leg-spin … was very tough for me. That's why I was trying to bowl quicker and quicker and that's how I learned how to bowl a quick leg-spinner.
"I was trying to bowl with the tops of my fingers with a tennis ball, a taped ball. That's how I learned.
"I didn't watch anyone, I didn't learn from anyone. It was a God-given talent for me."
The poster boy for Afghanistan's most popular sport is undaunted by the prospect of spearheading Afghanistan's second World Cup campaign.
He won't be alone in carrying the burden – experienced allrounder Mohammad Nabi and teenager Mujeeb ur Rahman help form a potent spin contingent, while wicketkeeper-batter Mohammad Shahzad is a dynamic force at the top of the order.
Asked if his side can beat Australia in just their second ever ODI against them, Rashid didn't hesitate.
"Inshallah, we can," he said. "If we put enough score on the board, it will be very interesting.
"Compared to 2015 World Cup, I think you see a better team (from) Afghanistan and we can beat any side on the day.
"We have skills, ability, we have talent. The only thing that will be tested will be experience. We don't have any experience against big teams like Australia.
"We will use our experience from the leagues – me, Nabi and Mujeeb will use the experience we have from the T20 leagues. As a team we are ready for the game and the World Cup and we have worked hard for it."
2019 World Cup
Australia's squad: Aaron Finch (c), Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey (wk), Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa
May 22: (warm-up) Australia beat West Indies by seven wickets
May 25: (warm-up) Australia beat England by 12 runs
May 27: (warm-up) Australia beat Sri Lanka by five wickets
June 9: India v Australia, The Oval
June 12: Australia v Pakistan, Taunton
June 15: Sri Lanka v Australia, The Oval
June 20: Australia v Bangladesh, Trent Bridge
June 25: England v Australia, Lord's
July 9: Semi-Final 1, Old Trafford
July 11: Semi-Final 2, Edgbaston
July 14: Final, Lord's
For a full list of all World Cup fixtures, click HERE