He had won the Desert Challenge in the UAE and the Shpageeza Cricket League at home in 2017, but these are not tournaments where you encounter the best players in the world.
There is no obvious correlation: it is not like teams exhaust their purse on him [although they should] and end up with lesser teams, nor does he suffer from stage fright on the big night. For some reason, it hadn’t happened.
Rashid was glad he finally ticked it off. “It’s the biggest achievement of your career as a player to be part of a winning IPL team,” Rashid told Star Sports after the match. “For this competition, you have to be well prepared and be prepared for all areas. Then only you will be able to win a big competition like this.
“A win here needs a lot of hard work, a lot of practice, a lot of good energy, and I think we as a team did really well. It is one of the biggest achievements in my cricket career.”
Now to an anomaly that can be explained unlike this one. Rashid has been playing all around the world in all T20 tournaments but has never ended as the clear highest wicket-taker. Twice he has been the joint-highest wicket-taker, but usually you don’t see him among the top wicket-takers.
In eight overs in the two playoff matches [against Royals], Rashid conceded only one boundary, that too thanks to a misfield. More incredibly, there were zero boundary attempts against him. Twenty per cent of an innings is too long to cease fire, but Rashid left Royals no choice.
That’s because teams prefer to sit in when Rashid bowls. And Rashid, like someone who truly gets T20, doesn’t go chasing individual glory. He keeps creating wickets for his team-mates.
There is no bigger example of his impact than the two playoffs Gujarat Titans played against Rajasthan Royals where the opposition basically wrote off his four overs. In Qualifier 1, it was quite a sight to see the best batter of the tournament, with only three wickets down and time running out, choosing to just play out the 16th over, bowled by Rashid. Jos Buttler knew he just could not take any risks.
In eight overs in the two playoff matches, Rashid conceded only one boundary, that too thanks to a misfield. More incredibly, there were zero boundary attempts against him. Twenty per cent of an innings is too long to cease fire, but Rashid left Royals no choice.
For, like Narine, Rashid has all the ingredients. There is hardly a batter who can claim to pick Rashid because he can bowl legbreaks with the wrong’un release. And if you are not picking a bowler out of the hand, you need one of the two: either a half-volley or the ability to step out. Just like Narine, Rashid’s mastery of length is immaculate, and his pace makes sure you ca n’t step out to him. You can still guess and try to go after him, but that will give him wickets. And Royals – with R Ashwin batting at No. 7 and at times higher – were in no position to give him wickets. It was in his four overs that Royals lost both the matches.
“That was something I had in mind that I should bring my length back a little bit,” Rashid told Star Sports during the finale. “That is because of the wickets in Mumbai and here as well. Because of the red soil, I had to adjust myself because the length I bowl elsewhere was not helping because the ball was coming on nicely and there wasn’t enough turn for me in the wickets. So, I pulled it back a little bit, and that’s why I got a better economy, and that helped the team in the middle.”
It’s not like that adjustment would have impressed Sunrisers much because he didn’t suddenly become a “wicket-taker”. But Sunrisers’ loss was always going to be another team’s gain. There was a big tussle for Rashid at the 2022 auction, to the extent that Titans’ coach Ashish Nehra arrived at a unique arrangement to pay both his first draft picks, Hardik Pandya and Rashid, equally. Now Rashid has an IPL title, and the world seems a fairer place.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo