Afghanistan will embark on a new journey in their cricket history when they make their Test debut against a Virat Kohli-less No.1-ranked India in the historic one-off Test at the M.Chinnaswamy Stadium here on Thursday.
Afghanistan, who are rising through the ranks of world cricket, have named a spin-heavy squad for their debut Test to give India a taste of their own medicine.
The squad comprises five spinners in Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Zahir Khan and left-arm spinner Hamza Kotak, who incidentally emerged as the leading wicket-taker in the recently concluded first-class competition.
India have a little advantage in the upcoming Test as their batsmen have already faced a couple of Afghan spinners in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Afghan stars Rashid and Mujeeb enjoyed fruitful campaigns in the IPL, playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kings XI Punjab respectively.
But the home side have to be a little conscious that they don’t slip on a potential banana skin as they come into the game without any match practice.
India also have a couple of new players in their squad, which will make Rahane’s task of fielding the right combination a bit difficult.
Three key players — regular skipper Kohli along with pacers Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have been rested as they prepare for the challenging tour to England next month.
New inclusions like wicketkeeper-batsman Dinesh Karthik, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini and Karun Nair will aim to make the most of this chance and would like to cement their place in the playing XI.
The batting department seems settled with the likes of Rahane, Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Lokesh Rahul, Karun Nair and Dinesh Karthik.
In the bowling department, India have the star spinning trio of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav along with pacers Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur.
Having won all their last six Test series at home in the previous season, the Indians are expected to sail through easily as they aim to start the season on a high and take the confidence to the five-Test rubber in England.
With a spin-heavy squad, the Afghans may be surely aiming for a fairy tale start to their Test journey as skipper Asghar Stanikzai also backed his spinners being better than the home trio of Ashwin, Jadeja and Kuldeep.
In reality, the Indians have been more or less comfortable against the slower bowlers in the previous season barring the first Test against Australia in Pune last year.
Afghanistan, on the other hand, won’t find the going too easy against the seasoned Indian campaigners.
While the star-studded bowling line-up has hogged most of the limelight, the Afghans would expect their batsmen to contribute equally if they hope for a dream start to their Test journey.
India: Ajinkya Rahane (Captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, KL Rahul, Karun Nair, Dinesh Karthik (wicket-keeper), Hardik Pandya, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini, Ravichandran Ashwin. Ravindra Jadeja. Kuldeep Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav.
Afghanistan: Ashgar Stanikzai (Captain), Mohammed Shahzad (wicket-keeper), Javed Ahmadi, Rahmat Shah, Ihsanullah Janat, Nasir Jamal, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Afsar Zazai, Mohammed Nabi, Rashid Khan, Zahir Khan, Amir Hamza Hotak, Sayed Ahmad Shirzad, Yamin Ahmadzai Wafadar, Mujeeb ur Rahman.