When a bunch of 11 Afghanistan cricketers take the field in Bengaluru against powerhouses of world cricket, India in the much-publicised one-off Test on Thursday, June 14, history will be made. The journey of Afghanistan cricket which began in refugee camps has reached an important landmark.
The passion for the sport has helped them take giant strides in international cricket. Afghanistan, who began playing international cricket in 2009, are no more minnows in the white-ball formats.
Their recent 3-0 thrashing of a well-established Bangladesh in a three-match T20 series is a testament to their growing reputation in world cricket. The team has its own superstars, who are becoming crowd favourites even in foreign countries, far away from their war-torn home.
With uninhibited passion and positive results under their belt, Afghanistan are gearing up for their maiden outing in whites. Talks about a possible upset are floating, thanks to spirited performances from their proven limited-overs stars in international as well as franchise-based tournaments across the world.
The likes of Mujeeb Ur Rahman, the finger spinner with umpteen variations, veteran all-rounder Mohammad Nabi, charismatic wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Shahzad and a few other top-order batsmen with healthy first-class averages, Afghanistan seem to have the side on paper to challenge, if not test the mighty hosts over the next few days.
IBTimes India lists a few reasons explaining why beating India in India will still be a tough ask for the latest entrants to Test cricket.
1. History doesn't favour Afghanistan
Barring powerhouses Australia, none have won their inaugural Test. New Zealand played 44 Test matches before tasting success while Bangladesh needed 34. India registered their first win in their 25th Test match.
Stat alert: No of matches taken by each team before they won their first Test (Credit: Bharath Seervi)
- Australia: 1
- England: 2
- Pakistan: 2
- West Indies: 6
- Zimbabwe: 11
- South Africa 12
- Sri Lanka: 14
- India: 25
- Bangladesh: 35
- New Zealand: 45
2. Amid much hype, Afghanistan spinners face an uphill task
Afghanistan have named a spin-heavy squad, which has the likes of Rashid, Mujeeb, chinaman bowler Zahir Khan, off-spinner Nabi and leg-break bowler Rahmat Shah. Captain Asghar Stanikzai even made a bold claim when he said their spinners are better than the ones in the hosts' camp.
The duo of Rashid and Mujeeb have found a lot of success in the shortest format of the game. While the former has been a standout performer in franchise-based T20 leagues across the world, the latter impressed in his maiden Indian Premier League (IPL) outing for Kings XI Punjab earlier this year.
Despite the experience of bowling against Indian batsmen in the cash-rich league, it would be unfair to expect the spin twins from Afghanistan to make an impact straightaway in the longest format of the game.
The likes of Rashid and Zahir have played four-day matches (during their successful Intercontinental Cup campaigns against Associate Nations) but the longest format will offer them a lot of new challenges.
Patience will be key as batsmen will be willing to spend more time and take fewer risks than they do in the shorter formats of the game. It will be interesting to see if the exciting young spinners can maintain consistency over sustained periods of time during the Test match.
Going up against Indian batsmen, who are one of the best exponents of spin bowling, is not going to be easy for Rashid & co.
3. Rain gods helping hosts India?
Afghanistan are heading into the Test match after playing on spinner-friendly tracks in Dehradun and Greater Noida, their training base.
However, they are unlikely to get a track that offers similar assistance to spinners as the sun has been playing hide and seek over the last few days in Bengaluru. The pitch at M Chinnaswamy is not going to be dry as it had been kept under the wraps due to occasional rain in the South Indian city.
While India would not complain about the situation, given they are heading to England to play on pacer-friendly conditions, Afghanistan face a big setback, given they have four frontline spinners in their squad.
4. Batsmen: Afghanistan's biggest weak link
While their bowlers are capable of winning matches single-handedly, Afghanistan batsmen are going to face a tough challenge against the high-quality Indian bowling attack, which has two of the world's top-ranked spinners in R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja and in-form pacers Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav.
Afghanistan batsmen had been impressive during their Intercontinental Cup 2015/17 campaign as they helped the team post mammoth totals (in excess of 400) consistently against the likes of Ireland, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates.
While captain Stanikzai, Nabi and Shahzad are proven talents in the shorter formats, youngsters of the likes of Ihsanullah and Hashmatullah Shahidi have more than decent first-class average.
However, without any warm-up games in the lead-up to the historic Test, batsmen are more likely to let the visitors down in Bengaluru over the next few days.