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Afghanistan’s moment of reckoning arrives

India’s stand-in captain Rahane needs to keep his players on their toes

  • Afghan star Rashid Khan (right) performs stretching exercises with teammates yesterday during a training sessiImage Credit: AP
  • Indian fielding coach Sridhar (right) puts Cheteshwar Pujara and Karun Nair through a close catching practice Image Credit: PTI
Gulf News

Dubai: It’s nothing short of a fairytale journey for a cricketing nation when Afghanistan make their debut in Test cricket in Bengaluru against India on Thursday. Their players have truly been inspirational in putting their war-torn nation on the global cricketing map, having learnt their cricket while living as refugees in camps. Whether they put up an intense fight against a strong Indian team or not, their journey on the way to becoming a Test-playing nation will be a fascinating chapter in cricket history.

Just ponder this: India are the wealthiest cricketing nation, both in terms of money and facilities. Afghanistan, on the other hand, are a nation which had to often fly to UAE’s Sharjah stadium to train and even play their internationals matches. For such a nation to become the 12th nation to play Test cricket is something special.

Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai, a regular in the team ever since they gained One Day International status in 2009, knows the effort his colleagues have put in to gain international laurels. He has also experienced his countrymen’s deep love for cricket. “It’s a great moment for us as we embark on our Test journey,” Stanikzai remarked.

India are without their superstar and captain Virat Kohli but are still a formidable side rich in experience. Afghanistan, due to lack of exposure, may struggle as they have precious little experience in the longer version of the game — having played only the four-day ICC Intercontinental Cup.

For the Afghan batsmen, the challenge will be to showcase the patience needed to stay at the wicket long enough but they have a battery of spinners led by Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and veteran Mohammad Nabi and Stanikzai to tease the Indian batsmen. This Test match, hence, will be a contest as to whether their spinners are better than their Indian counterparts or can at least match them in performance.

Indian captain Ajinkya Rahane will have to get the best out of his players and ensure there is no complacency because the Afghanistan players have nothing to lose and will go all out. Their leg-spinner Rashid Khan impressed everyone in the Indian Premier League but Rashid himself will know that, to bowl in Test cricket, will be completely different. Their coach Phil Simmons is confident that Rashid will do well and reckons he will go on to outwit batsmen in Test cricket but, whether he can do so in the first Test itself, one will have to wait and see.

Afghanistan’s former captain Nawroz Mangal is their chief selector and knows each player extremely well and has selected the best available talent in the country.

The whole of Afghanistan may come to a standstill watching their heroes against India. It is the encouragement from the cricket-mad fans of Afghanistan that has made their players give their best. It is also the reason that many talented players are coming through from the remotest corners of Afghanistan.

Speaking to Gulf News, Afghanistan’s former coach Lalchand Rajput remarked: “Test status is the reward to the sports-loving people of Afghanistan. Now the players can be called ‘Test players’, which is the real test of a player.”

Australia are the only side to have won their first ever Test, against England way back in 1877. Afghanistan wicketkeeper batsman Mohammad Shahzad feels that his team can emulate Australia. “It can definitely happen. You know what our spinners have been doing of late. It won’t be easy for either team. It will be a good match,” an optimistic Shahzad said.

 

SQUADS

India: Ajinkya Rahane (c), Shikhar Dhawan, M Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Karun Nair, Dinesh Karthik (wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Hardik Pandya, Ishant Sharma, Shardul Thakur.

Afghanistan: Asghar Stanikzai (c), Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Javed Ahmadi, Ihsanullah Jannat, Rahmat Shah, Nasir Jamal, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Afsar Zazai, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Zahir Khan, Hamza Hotak, Syed Ahmad Sherzad, Yamin Ahmadzai, Wafadar Momand, Mujeeb ur Rahman.

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