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Two sessions, 20 wickets - a Test debut to forget for Afghanistan

Aadya Sharma
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Exclusive
1.09K   //    15 Jun 2018, 21:07 IST

Shahzad, Afghanistan's T20 star, was completely undone in the debut Test
Shahzad, Afghanistan's T20 star, was completely undone in the debut Test

It took Afghanistan all of 20 years to realize a dream, from forming a cricket board in 1995, to reaching the World Cup in 2015.

Yet, it also took them just two days to realize why Test cricket is a cut above the rest, and that it’ll take time to acclimatize to the ways and means of red ball in five-day games.

To reach the landmark of their historic debut Test against India, they've made their way through immense struggle, personal and collective, but two days in Bengaluru must have taught them that the actual grind has begun now.

"We hadn't played a Test match before this and we've learnt a lot. In the future when we play a match, we know now how to play against a full member nation like India. Yes, we were surprised by how quickly things ended", said captain Asghar Stanikzai after a thumping innings defeat.

Judging by the way the Afghan bowlers bowled their heart out, treading on new paths but still managing to bowl India under 500, not many would not have booked their tickets for Day 3.

However, a listless batting performance, deprived of any approach, formed the highlight package of the both their innings, as the tourists didn’t survive one full day, even with two innings combined.

They crumbled like a soaked biscuit in tea, the Indians knowing just how to stifle them, using pace and spin in equal measure to blank them out.

Surviving less than 400 balls in a Test game, the Afghanistan batsmen were found out, their temperament and technique stuck in T20 mode. And it started with their biggest batting star.

Opener Mohammad Shahzad is a boisterous batsman, he can give the ball a mighty whack and has a penchant for hitting maximums. Against a bright new cherry, directed towards him by a bowler almost double his height, Shahzad looked like a tamed tiger. 

Movement off the air found him wanting, as he had no approach in place to bat. He did not try to go after the bowling, that’s the only known way he plays. He tried to maintain the sanctity of the white clothing, but the love wasn’t reciprocated.

A wrong call that found him short of the crease in the first innings, and a loose waft outside off in the second, Shahzad, in his 10th international year for Afghanistan, couldn't convert his experience into a performance.

The Indian pacers made sure they made the Afghans play, and eventually pay. Ishant was swinging the ball into the batsmen, providing Shahzad with no room. The others who followed were clueless against the late deviation. They were tied to the crease, unsure and only putting, at best, half a step forward.

In the first innings, Javed Ahmadi and Afsar Zazai were undone by Ishant's movement, there was no stride forward to counter the swing. In the second innings, Ahmadi tried to fish outside off, and handed a catch to the slips, while Rahmat Shah gifted Rahane a catch at short midwicket. The drifting lines were making them uncomfortable, so were the testing ones outside off.

Through all of this, the biggest lesson for the Afghans would be patience or the lack of it shown by them.

Two set batsmen, Mohammad Nabi in the first innings and Asghar Stanikzai in the second, threw their wickets away, playing rash strokes, highlighting a clear lack of habit in keeping long vigils at the wicket.

Stanikzai, in particular, was shuffling to the back foot to every ball a pacer bowled, too tentative to venture his front foot and meet the ball on the full.

The rest walked their way into a trap - Rashid Khan, for instance, was happily sweeping full balls to the leg side, when Jadeja decided to drag his length back and made him cut, he ended up slicing the ball to Umesh Yadav at backward point, present for that very stroke.

They might have played Rashid Khan's variations day in and out in the nets, but on a Chinnaswamy track, with survival being the biggest key, they failed to read the lines of Ashwin and Jadeja.

Hashmatullah Shahidi was the lone man standing in the second innings, spending close to a 100 balls in the middle, one-fourth of the entire count in both Afghanistan's full innings combined.

Playing the ball on its merit, and going back and forth in his crease, reading the length admirably, Shahidi had focussed on sticking at the crease - he seemed to have understood that the game goes session by session, and turning the bowlers weary is part of the bigger picture.

He corrected every mistake his teammates around him made, but the single effort of a man, against the sweeping domination of the Indians, was an effort too little, too late.

It's early days, and the tide will eventually turn for Afghanistan. The times were different, and there was no white-ball cricket, but even India took two decades from their debut to win their first Test.

"Test cricket is a completely different ball game, we have a lot of time and we'll work on our weaknesses", Stanikzai added in his post-match comments.

He hit the hammer bang on the nail, it might take his teammates a while to realize that Test cricket is a 'habit' they'll need to get used to. The path could be treacherous against bullies like India, but a battle-hardened country like them has gone through sterner tests.

With Afghanistan, there's always hope.

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Aadya Sharma
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