Upbeat Afghanistan strive to make Test debut memorable

Match details
June 14 to 18, Thursday to Monday
09:30 IST; 04:00 GMT
Live on Star Sports network

The main picture

That Afghanistan are now among the big boys of world cricket is a landmark on its own. So, regardless of what happens in Bengaluru on their Test debut, Afghanistan, as a nation, have every reason to be proud. The transformation to becoming a Full Member has been rapid, given that they took only four years after being granted Associate Membership (in June 2013) to attain this status.

Afghanistan became an ICC Full Member by winning the 2015-17 Intercontinental Cup, which is a first-class, round-robin cricket tournament (akin to the Test Championship starting in 2019) involving ICC’s Associate Members. They beat the United Arab Emirates in the final round fixture to finish first on the points table. Ireland had finished second and with the ICC planning (at that time) to expand the number of Test nations to 12, both Afghanistan and Ireland were granted Test status. In January 2018, the BCCI and Afghanistan Cricket Board agreed to a Test match between the two countries.

Now, the lead-up to their debut Test match couldn’t have been any better for the Afghans, who won the ICC World Cup Qualifiers in March to book their place in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 and, most recently, have whitewashed Bangladesh 3-0 in a three-match T20I series. Albeit the argument can be that the formats are different, the feel-good factor gained from those significant victories—and the manner in which they won, too—is undeniable. Afghanistan have played a tremendous amount of cricket in India (Greater Noida and Dehradun have been their home grounds) and the conditions are not alien to them.

Afghanistan, like any other team in world cricket, have a core group of players—Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi, captain Asghar Stanikzai, Rahmat Shah, among others—who need to rise to the occasion. Afghanistan’s greater concern will be their batting, which goes up against a good Indian bowling attack sans Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah. On the bowling front, they are reasonably well-stocked, though Rashid Khan is expected to shoulder much of the responsibility as the lead spinner and given his wealth of experience from playing IPL. The absence of Dawlat Zadran, who is the premier fast bowler and the third highest wicket-taker in ODIs for Afghanistan (98), because of a knee injury will be felt.

India are returning to Test cricket after nearly five months, but for them, the presence of Test specialists (Cheteshwar Pujara, Ishant Sharma and Murali Vijay) should make the transformation slightly easier. Ajinkya Rahane will lead the side in Virat Kohli’s absence due to a neck issue, while Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah have been afforded a rest ahead of a long tour of the UK. Wriddhiman Saha has been ruled out of this Test with a right thumb injury which he picked up during the IPL 2018 Qualifier 2 against Kolkata Knight Riders.

Lacking in familiarity of their opposition, India will face a challenge to stamp their authority. Playing spin has been an issue for Indian batsmen in recent years and, in Rashid and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Afghanistan have two spinners capable of troubling any batting line-up. On the flip side, the confidence and mental strength exuded by the current crop of Indian players should help in overcoming the challenge presented by the Afghans.

Pitch conditions and weather forecast

The M Chinnaswamy Stadium pitch played quite well during IPL 2018: the reasonable pace and bounce aided strokeplay, while the lack of grass helped the spinners extract appreciable turn and bounce; unlike in IPL 2017, the top surface was firm and didn’t break. But given the amount of rain Bengaluru has received since the conclusion of IPL, the pitch, which has been under covers and not had enough sunshine, might well be slow.

Showers with thunderstorms are predicted from day three of the Test match.

Only Test: Probable India vs Afghanistan playing 11

With three designated openers in the squad, the team management will once again decide between Lokesh Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan to partner Murali Vijay at the top of the order. Because this is a home Test match and considering Dhawan’s destructive ability in conditions that are less helpful for the bowlers, he may get the nod ahead of Rahul. Karun Nair has replaced Virat Kohli in the squad and may well slot in at No. 4. Dinesh Karthik is a like-for-like replacement for Saha. What will also be interesting to see is whether India pick three spinners to complement two pacers, in which case Hardik Pandya will sit out.

Likely India playing 11: 1 Ajinkya Rahane (c), 2 Murali Vijay, 3 Shikhar Dhawan, 4 Cheteshwar Pujara, 5 Karun Nair, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Ravichandran Ashwin, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Umesh Yadav, 11 Ishant Sharma

For Afghanistan, Mohammad Nabi, an all-rounder, batting in the lower middle order adds depth to the batting line-up and lends balance to the side. In the batting department, much will depend on Ihsanullah and Javed Ahmadi, who are likely to open, and Rahmat Shah and Asghar Stanikzai as top and middle-order batsmen. Sayed Shirzad and Yamin Ahmadzai are likely to be the two seamers.

Possible Afghanistan playing XI: 1 Asghar Stanikzai (c), 2 Ihsanullah, 3 Javed Ahmadi, 4 Rahmat Shah, 5 Nasir Jamal, 6 Afsar Zazai (wk), 7 Mohammad Nabi, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Mujeeb Ur Rahman, 10 Sayed Shirzad, 11 Yamin Ahmadzai

Prediction

When a resourceful team takes on a lesser outfit, the result usually depends on how the lesser outfit fares with the bat. In this case, the onus is on the Afghanistan batsmen to be solid and frustrate the Indian bowlers. Only a sizeable total on the board will allow Afghanistan’s greatest strength—the spin combination of Rashid Khan and Mujeeb—to come into its own.

The aspects to keep an eye out for are Afghanistan’s approach when they bat and the way they carry themselves on the field.

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