April 11, 2017 / 2:40 AM / 4 months ago

IPL's Afghan pioneer Rashid longs for long form

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Rashid Khan has set the Indian Premier League alight just two matches into his maiden season, and while he is enjoying the cut and thrust of the lucrative Twenty20 competition the teenage Afghan spinner says playing test cricket is his ultimate dream.

Sunrisers Hyderabad raised eyebrows by splurging 40 million Indian rupees (£500,763) in February's auction to land the unheralded leg-spinner from Afghanistan, where cricket is highly popular but sporting facilities are pitifully inadequate after decades of war.

However, Hyderabad had clearly done their homework as Rashid grabbed the top wicket-taker's 'purple cap' on Sunday after his 3-19 set up a comprehensive win over Gujarat Lions.

Rashid is the first Afghan to play in the IPL and while he is enjoying his time in the limelight he has not lost sight of his long-term goals.

"The target is - I should play test cricket for my country," the 18-year-old told Reuters in a telephone interview before the game against Gujarat. "That's my main target, to be called a test cricketer."

Afghanistan are knocking on the door of test cricket after beating Ireland in last month's ICC Intercontinental Cup and Rashid said it would be "wonderful" to play a five-day match.

Associate teams do not play test cricket but Afghanistan's steady progress has boosted their chances of joining 'Full Members' like India and Australia in that elite club.

For now though, Rashid has to be content with the shorter forms of the game.

He says he is using his time in the IPL to learn from elite players, pick the brains of top coaches and get used to performing in front of huge crowds.

"It's been a wonderful experience, playing with big names like (David) Warner, Yuvraj (Singh), Kane Williamson. We've one of the best coaching staff that includes Tom Moody and (Muttiah) Muralitharan. It changes your game," he added.

"To be part of such a wonderful team also shows that I've something and I'm capable of giving."

Rashid impressed immediately against Royal Challengers Bangalore, claiming two wickets, and his googly is so well camouflaged that even Brendon McCullum and Aaron Finch could not read it in the match against Gujarat.

But he would never have had the chance to shine without Hyderabad's gamble in the Feb. 20 auction, in which even Imran Tahir, who tops both the one-day and Twenty20 bowling rankings, went unsold.

AUCTION SURPRISE

Rashid was touring Zimbabwe with the Afghanistan team when he received a call from his family early one morning asking him to follow the auction.

"I woke up and was watching the auction. Imran Tahir's name came and went. I was a little bit tense and was thinking if he was not taken then how would I be?

"It was wonderful to be part of an IPL team. You can't express that feeling," he said.

South Africa leg-spinner Tahir later joined Pune as a replacement and is the joint highest wicket-taker with Rashid after Sunday's matches.

Hyderabad also signed Rashid's Afghan team mate Mohammad Nabi, though for a more modest three million rupees.

Rashid said his IPL stint would inspire similar dreams in Afghanistan where he and his team mates had to overcome a lack of facilities to make an impression.

"It means a lot for Afghanistan cricket. It's a big thing for a player from an associate member to play in such a big event like IPL," he said.

"It's a wonderful message to all the players in Afghanistan -- that if you work hard and perform well, you can achieve any target."

England's Ben Stokes was the biggest winner at the auction with Rising Pune Supergiants paying him a staggering 145 million rupees, and while Rashid remains quietly confident of justifying his own price tag he has not decided how he will spend the money.

"I have nothing in my mind. I've been playing non-stop cricket for the last three months.

"I have not been to home for a long time. Once I'm free, get some time and go home, I'd discuss with family and decide what to do with it."

Editing by Peter Rutherford

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