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[Cricket] A Test of Nerves for Afghanistan in Historic Test Debut Against No.1 India

In less that 24-hours we find out which Afghan goes down in the annals of Test cricket history when captain Asghar Stanikzai leads his team out for their first ever Test match against No.1 side India.

The historic Test at Bengaluru’s M. Chinnaswamy Stadium will be the second time in a month that a nation debuted in this format and will undoubtedly be a massive occasion for the 11 Afghan players stepping out to the ground in front of a packed home crowd. That shouldn’t be too much of problem though, as, the Afghanistan Cricket team is accustomed to playing in Indian conditions as India is their adopted cricketing home. Instead, this is a big opportunity for the debutantes to gain experience while taking on an experienced Indian side and to impress fans and increase their following. Sport is a contest where winning is supreme. Not so in Bengaluru this week. A nation will look to a sport for joy and hope.

Test begins tomorrow @ 09.30am

Afghan cricket grew out of the refugee camps in Pakistan where many families were based after fleeing the Afghan conflict in the 1980s and 1990s and will now make Afghanistan the 12th nation to play Test cricket when they take on the Virat Kohli-less hosts.  Historical moment indeed and ahead of the game, captain Asghar Stanikzai did not hesitate to claim that his side have spinners with better profile when compared to experienced campaigners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja – who have led the hosts to several Test victories.  

And, he’s not totally wrong, going by the record books. The country is consistently churning out world-beaters like 19-year-old spinner Rashid Khan. In March, the teenager became the fastest bowler to reach 100 one-day international wickets, and is currently the world’s top-ranked Twenty20 bowler. Khan was one of a handful of Afghan players in this year’s Indian Premier League and proved one of its most dangerous bowlers. He took 21 wickets for runners-up Hyderabad, who paid $1.4 million for his services. Others in the fray include Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Mohammad Nabi, Rahmat Shah and Zahir Khan, who after impressive performances in the limited-overs formats, must prove they can withstand the stress of a five-day game.

Here are the key battles that could decide the trajectory of the fixture. One thing looks certain, for both teams it will be ‘Spin to Win”!

Mujeeb Ur Rahman vs KL Rahul
Mujeeb has been growing as a cricketer and the IPL was a testament of that, where he turned up for Punjab. KL Rahul, who too was a part of the team would know Mujeeb’s style, his variations, which could help nullify the Rahman factor. But if someone looks at the other side of the picture, Mujeeb too knows KL’s game in and out, so that would be a great battle to watch out for. Mujeeb during an interview stated that he would like to dismiss KL Rahul, as during the net practice of IPL, Rahul used to play him quite well.

Rashid Khan vs Entire Indian Team
Rashid Khan is among the best modern spinners currently, if not the best. He is in everyone’s wishlist and he undoubtedly would be the biggest threat, not for a single batsman but for the entire Indian cricket team. Rashid Khan has shown he has the hunger and appetite for picking wickets at any given stage of the match. Realising he is the biggest threat, the India cricket team called in Shivil Kaushik and Chahal to bowl in the nets. They bowled for three hours to give Indian batsmen a feel of wrist spin. Rashid has the knack of picking wickets in cluster which could dent India if it happens. Hence, Khan versus the entire Indian team will be another key battle to watch out for.

Cheteshwar Pujara Vs Left-arm Spinner Amir Hamza
Considering Cheteshwar Pujara does not have a good record against left-arm spin, Afghanistan could go in for Amir Hamza who is a left arm spinner. Pujara has found it hard against left-arm spin and hence we also saw then-coach Anil Kumble bowling left-arm spin to Pujara in the nets during the Australia tour of India series, after India faced a 333-run defeat in the hands of Australia at Pune and Pujara was dismissed by Steve O’Keefe.

India: Ajinkya Rahane (c), Dinesh Karthik (wk), Murali Vijay, Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Karun Nair, Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Shikhar Dhawan, Kuldeep Yadav, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini
Afghanistan: Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Asghar Stanikzai (c), Javed Ahmadi, Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Nasir Jamal, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Yamin Ahmadzai, Sayed Shirzad, Wafadar, Zahir Khan, Ihsanullah Janat, Amir Hamza, Afsar Zazai

Afghanistan has been the story of world cricket in the 21st century!

You could argue about India and the giant wealth it controls, about the great Australian teams at the turn of the century, about the Ashes of 2005 and of England’s waking up to white ball cricket, about the West Indies and their two World T20 titles, about Pakistan having to endure no home cricket…

You could argue more vehemently about the impact of the first World T20 in 2007 and the phenomenon of the IPL. It would be a difficult argument to win against that. But for sheer emotion, for the exhibition of hope and determination, for the journey from playing in refugee camps to gracing the capitals of world cricket, for moving from Division 5 of the World Cricket League to Test status in ten years, for overcoming the pain and the struggle of being in one of the most difficult parts of the world, the story of Afghanistan has no parallels in world cricket. From Harsha Bhogle – Voice of Cricket.

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