Bengaluru: Afghanistan become the 12th Test-playing nation, capping a journey that has been as exhilarating as it has been dramatic.
On Thursday, at Bengaluru’s M Chinnaswamy Stadium, they will add the latest, and perhaps most glorious yet, chapter in that story by making their Test debut.
Rashid Khan, arguably the best short-format wrist-spinner in the world, is the leader of the attack. Him aside, there’s Mujeeb Ur Rahman, the finger spinner who moves the ball both ways and is extremely difficult to get away. Mohammad Nabi has been picking up wickets with his off-spin for a decade or so now. And there’s Zahir Khan, the left-arm wrist-spinner with 34 wickets from seven first-class games.
Stanikzai’s confidence is well founded, except that, of course, none of them have played Test cricket, and how they go over five days is anybody’s guess. If the track at the Chinnaswamy aids spinners, they will be in business all right.
Both the teams are more than just their spinners. Afghanistan’s batting might have looked a bit under-cooked in the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018, but in Mohammad Shahzad, Stanikzai, Rahmat Shah, Nabi, Javed Ahmadi and others, there’s a pack of batsmen who have scored lot of runs against varied bowling attacks in different parts of the world over the years.
How they go against the Indian spinners, as well as a strong pace attack headlined by Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav, remains to be seen, but Afghanistan should also be confident because the Indians are without some of their regulars specially captain Virat Kohli.
In his absence, Ajinkya Rahane will lead India, and Rahane won’t have the services of many players who have played key roles in making India the No.1 Test team in the world. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been rested, as is the case with Jasprit Bumrah. Wriddhiman Saha, India’s first-choice Test wicket-keeper, and Mohammed Shami have withdrawn from the match with injuries.
India: Ajinkya Rahane (Capt.), Ravichandran Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Kuldeep Yadav, Karun Nair, Hardik Pandya, Cheteshwar Pujara, Lokesh Rahul, Navdeep Saini, Ishant Sharma, Murali Vijay, Shardul Thakur, Umesh Yadav.
Afghanistan: Asghar Stanikzai (captain), Afsar Zazai, Amir Hamza, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Ihsanullah, Javed Ahmadi, Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Nasir Jamal, Rahmat Shah, Rashid Khan, Sayed Shirzad, Wafadar, Yamin Ahmadzai, Zahir Khan.
Stats and trivia
Pitch and condition
The forecast for Thursday and next two days are of more dark skies and downpours. It comes and goes in the city, though, and while there may be interruptions through the day, we should have some play on what is expected to be a good pitch for Test cricket.
14-18 June, 2018
Start time 9.30 local (04:00 GMT)