Debutantes Afghanistan lock horns with India in a one-off Test match at Bengaluru. It is a massive moment for Afghanistan cricket. They have struggled, they have waited and finally, Test cricket will have a new nation. Exactly, it is also a big moment for Afghanistan as they enter a new millennium. A Virat-less India will host the debutantes, that itself is a big setback for fans from both nations, as Virat is loved and admired almost everywhere.
Questions are bound to rise for Afghanistan, not that they are not playing some path-breaking cricket but they are finally entering the big boys club. Nerves are bound to be there, they accept it or not! An interview of Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai shows how the visitors are trying to unnerve India by making comments like out (Afghanistan) spinners are better than their Indian counterparts.
Well, that is a massive statement to make ahead of the one-off Test considering Indians are traditionally master against spin. One thing is for certain, for both teams it is going to be ‘spin to win’, period!
So why are the first timers so-damn-confident ahead of their historic Test? We list out the reasons why we feel Stanikzai had the gall to say such a thing.
Spin to Win:
Yes, that is what it will be, the battle of the spinners. Both the sides are loaded with spinners. But, it seems going by the current form in cricket they seem to be edging out the Indian spinners. Ashwin and Jadeja have not had much match-time, hence they would be rusty. On the other hand, Rashid Khan has been winning games for Afghanistan on his own, since World Cup 2019 Qualifiers. He has been in red-hot form and assisting him are Mujeeb ur, Rahman and Mohammed Nabi. The trio has good experience of the conditions they would encounter in India and that would help.
Rashid Khan, The One Man Army!
The teenager has been running through strong batting line-ups. And if you thought with the red ball he won’t be as effective, well then think again. He has played 4 First Class games, scalping 35 wickets with a best of 74 for 8. That is surreal! He is a serial matchwinner and is still 19, he at least has a couple of decades of cricket left in him, considering he is a spinner, who has a short run-up. Also, to make things better for him, he is entering the Test high on confidence after he picked up the Man of the Series against Bangladesh, where they blanked the visitors 3-0 and mind you Bangladesh are equally good against spin like India. Also remember, Virat Kohli is not playing.
The Senior Statesmen: Asghar Stanikzai & Mohammad Shahzad
Both of them are 30 years of age and they are synonymous with Afghanistan cricket. It seems they have been there since ages. One they have inspired many more in Afghanistan to take to cricket. the captain and the burly wicketkeeper has seen the good, bad and the ugly. They are at a stage in their lives where they need a big moment before they call it a day. Well, it may be that for the first time the two cricketers would represent their country in the whites, but have played First Class cricket and have the experience of playing spin which would come in handy. Stanikzai has played 23 FC games and amassed 1421 runs with his highest score being 145. He was also instrumental in Afghanistan’s qualification to the 2019 Cricket World Cup. The keeper, on the other hand, has played 20 matches and scored 1452 runs with his highest being 214*. That means he has the temperament of batting for long hours, that is essential in Test Cricket.
The Indian Exposure!
All the Afghanistan players are used to the Indian conditions as their adopted home ground is in Greater Noida. They know these conditions at the back of their mind, hence adjusting or acclimatization should not be a problem at all. With overseas teams coming to India, they get psyched by the spin-friendly conditions but that will not be the case with the debutantes. Heat also will not be a factor as they are used to much worse conditions back in Afghanistan where temperatures soar to about 45-50 C on peak summer days.
India, not full strength!
Yes, not that Ajinkya Rahane-led India is taking them lightly but without Virat Kohli, there is bound to be a hole in the top order and the middle order does not have a lot of experience to write home about. Pujara has not played long version international cricket for a long time. Regular keeper Saha is going to miss out, Karthik would take his place and make a comeback to the Indian Test side after a long gap. Shami has not passed the yo-yo fitness test, which mean is is not going to be available and rookie Saini. Hence, there are loopholes.
We are not claiming that Afghanistan is certainly winning it hands down, but what we are trying to explain is that with India, not full strength, Afghanistan has a damn good chance of staging an upset.
The Test match starts on the 14-18 June 2018. Live streaming would be available on Hotstar.