10 February, 2018

Sussex have pulled off an absolutely magnificent coup by securing the signing of leg spinner Rashid Khan for the first half of their T20 Blast campaign. The Afghan prodigy was the breakout star of the Big Bash, where he led the league with 18 wickets and had the best bowling economy. That put him ahead of modern day greats like Nathan Lyon and Ashton Agar and it drove his team, the Adelaide Strikers, to the unlikeliest of BBL triumphs. The Sussex Sharks will hope that rubs off on them as they bid to claim a maiden T20 Blast title.

Much scepticism surrounded the Strikers at the start of BBL7, with pundits arguing that whoever was in charge of their recruitment had “some answering to do”. That came after they signed Khan and Colin Ingram, described by The Daily Telegraph as “hardly enthralling” additions to a squad depleted of the services of stars like Ben Dunk. The Strikers were tipped to finish second bottom in the ladder, but the critics were made to eat their words as Khan flourished and Adelaide beat the Hobart Hurricanes in the Big Bash Final. “You talk to people around the world you trust and the feedback on Rashid was he was special, better than most,” said South Australian Cricket Association high performance manager Tim Nielsen, as the Strikers moved quickly to lock the teenage sensation into a new contract for BBL8.

At just 19 years of age, Khan has the world at his feet. He is already ranked as the world’s second best T20 bowler and is just one point behind the leader, Mitchell Santner, so he should soon overtake him and claim top spot. Khan has just been dubbed “million dollar baby” after Sunrisers Hyderabad snapped him up for a cool $1.4 million at the IPL auction, putting him in the top 10 most expensive players at the sale. He took 17 wickets for the Sunrisers last year, so their keenness to snap him up once more was understandable.

He is the poster boy for a new wave of optimism coming out of Afghanistan, a country where sport is no longer outlawed and the youth are now more aspirational in their outlook. He made his international debut just weeks after his 17th birthday and has never looked back. He has become the star player for his country and has also lit up the Caribbean Premier League and Bangladesh Premier League. He posted the fourth best figures of all time when he went 7-18 against the West Indies in June 2017, and he also became the first bowler to take a hat-trick in the Caribbean Premier League.

Last month Khan was named Association Cricketer of the Year after taking a record 60 wickets in 2017. He embarrassed the Irish with 6-43 in an ODI and a barely believable 5-3 in a T20 contest. Nowadays Afghanistan can go into games against the likes of Ireland and Zimbabwe as favourites at bookmakers like Sun Bets, and that is thanks to the meteoric rise of Khan. Remarkably for such a devastating spinner, he is also a better than average bowler, so Sussex have probably pulled off the signing of the season, even if he will only be available for the first half of the campaign.

Incoming Sharks coach Jason Gillespie knows him well as he is also the coach that masterminded the Adelaide Strikers’ famous Big Bash win this year. “I have been incredibly impressed with his attitude, work ethic and team-first mentality,” said Gillespie. “His form for Afghanistan and the T20 teams he has played for over the last couple of years has been phenomenal.” Khan added: “I have heard a lot of good things about Sussex and am excited to join a talented squad and I hope to help the team push for T20 silverware.”

Suddenly Sussex are among the favourites for the T20 Blast. Gillespie and Khan will bring a winning mentality with them, and that can only be a positive for a team that crashed out in the group stage last year. They have not tasted success since winning the T20 Cup back in 2009, and the furthest they have gone since it became the T20 Blast is a quarter-final appearance in 2015. But Khan has made a significant impact on all the teams he has played in so far during his fledgling career, and he will line up alongside another wunderkind in Jofra Archer, giving the Sharks will have a formidable line-up as they bid to overhaul the likes of Nottinghamshire and Birmingham Bears in the upcoming season.

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