Let’s talk about Rashid Khan’s grip.
Maybe I haven’t been paying attention, but from most of the commentary and media coverage of the young leg-spinner, it seems that he’s an orthodox leggie who bowls quickly and with a well-disguised googly.
Not so. I clipped this screenshot off TV coverage of Afghanistan’s maiden Test match, and wow, just wow.
The first thing to note is that both the leg-break and the googly are bowled from the back of the hand. That’s why nobody can pick Rashid Khan’s googly.
Now to the grip, one that I’ve never seen a leg-spinner use before. The only person who may have come close is Paul Strang, who reportedly held the ball down the seam like a seam bowler, and bowled the ball out the back of his hand like Rashid.
What Rashid does is bowl leg-breaks and googlies with an off-break grip, the ball gripped between the index finger, middle finger, and thumb. That grip is one that many young leg-spinners use when bowling with the smaller 4¾ oz cricket ball (indeed that’s how I used to bowl my leggies many years ago).
But to do that with a full-size cricket ball, out the back of your hand, and still manage to spin the ball, let alone be one of the great spinners in the world right now, is simply extraordinary.
He even – according to Dean Jones – has three more wrong-un grips and another leg-break grip, to confuse batsmen even more. That could well be true. There are many advantages to Rashid Khan’s grip, but perhaps he occasionally uses the orthodox grip to get the big side-spin his grip can’t – although at least two of his googly grips are probably bluff.
That lack of side-spin comes from the back of the hand delivery. You try ripping a leg-break sideways out of the back of your hand. If Rashid Khan can’t do it, nobody can.
Instead of side-spin, Rashid gets big overspin, meaning that he gets quick spin and bounce. Look at Nathan Lyon and Graeme Swann, two off-spinners who overspun the ball more than most: topspin is just as important as sidespin, especially at international level.
It’s easy to fetishise the lack of resources and lack of formal coaching that lead so many players from the Asian subcontinent – and in particular now Afghanistan – to unorthodox actions and grips. Just imagine how good English spin bowling could be, with all the advantages of coaching and facilities we have, if coaches resisted the urge to coach unorthodoxy out of bowlers.
That’s beside the point. Figures of 2 for 154 on Test debut didn’t give a true account of Rashid Khan’s abilities. He’s not just a limited overs bowler – his other four First-class matches have brought 35 wickets at 15.06 (including 12 wickets against an England Lions team on his First-class debut).
Whatever went wrong on Test debut, be it bowling too short, too inconsistently, attacking too much with the field, or anything else, it’s fixable. Just don’t let anyone try to “fix” Rashid Khan’s grip.