Expert opinion: A new dawn and a new age for Afghanistan cricket, writes Monty Desai
It is an exciting time to be in whites and a huge moment of pride for Afghanistan, a war-torn country, playing their first ever Test. It is THE biggest landmark of the country who are going to be handed the Test cap for the first time and to be facing the number one Test side in the world, it is the best possible platform for them.
The handing over of the Test caps prior to the Test is certainly going to be emotional and exciting at the same time.
However, the Afghans will have to overcome their emotion and get back to taking on their roles and playing with all their heart.
Having experienced the dugout and dressing room for three months, I can say that they will be up to the task. Their brand of cricket has been quite different from the rest of the world. Time and again, their character has been tested. As we saw in the World Cup Qualifiers, they were almost knocked out, however, luck and hard work are what got them back into the tournament. They showed their mettle in that tournament, taking on two Test sides as well in the form of Zimbabwe and West Indies.
Test cricket is not going to be any different. It's going to be a challenge for the Afghanistan side, who will have to be up to the task, which is going to be extremely hard as they are taking on a side which has an abundance of experience under their belt playing in this format.
While one side will be playing with plenty of experience, the other side will be playing with plenty of passion.
It is going to be interesting to see how Afghanistan tackle the longer format of the game. Rather than playing for overs, they will have to play for sessions. It will be interesting to see how they utilise their skill in each session. This is going to be worth looking out for in this red ball battle.
Traditionally, Bangalore produces a seaming wicket, and also knowing that Afghanistan has a strong spin bowling unit, I'm not sure that we will get to see a spin-friendly surface.
The one aspect where they have faced concerns in the past is their fielding. However, over the last four months, the fielding process has been put in place thanks to the new fielding coach. In Tests, fielding is quite different from ODI and T20I cricket, hence the Afghan boys have to be adept with fielding in the longer format of the game.
Player battles to look forward to
There are numerous players battles which I am looking forward to. Rashid Khan bowling to the Indian batsmen is going to be extremely interesting to watch. He has dismissed a few of them in the IPL and has even played with Shikhar Dhawan, hence, it is going to be a mouth-watering battle when he takes on the Indian batsmen.
Another battle which I am looking forward to is that of Ravichandran Ashwin taking on the Afghan batsmen. Ashwin has had immense success in this format of the game and it is going to be interesting to see if the Afghan batsmen can read his bowling.
Watching batsmen like Mohammed Nabi against spin is going to be a good battle as well since he has shown his prowess against them in the past. Asghar Stanikzai, with his footwork, coming down the track when he sees something, is going to be something to watch out for as well. As a captain, Asghar has proven himself as a leader time and again. However, this is going to be his biggest Test till now and he will have to bring his A-game. It will be amazing if he can he bring in his first test hundred against India. In fact, it will be exciting if anyone gets it.
Rahmat Shah is the Afghan wall, who will play a pivotal role in the middle order. He has got the appetite of staying at the wicket for a long time and batting for long. He could be the key to Afghanistan's success in this Test and if he sticks around for long, they have a good chance of posting a big total.
Mohammed Shehzad, on the other hand, is a fierce warrior, who will go after the new ball and take on all the Indian bowlers. Having worked closely with him, I am excited and nervous at the same time about this approach of his.
The Mujeeb-Rashid bowling partnership is what everyone will be looking forward to. Both of them are very aggressive and we can afford to have this type of partnership in test cricket. To have them bowling in tandem looking for wickets, it will be interesting to see how the Indians respond to this.
They will have to look out for the short deliveries from the Indian pacers. With Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, and Hardik Pandya bowling, it will not be easy for the Afghan batsmen.
There are also a few talented young pacers in their ranks and they could be the ones to make the difference, as well as the Indian batsmen, have not seen them a lot.
The real Test awaits Afghanistan
Test cricket is a test of character. It is going to be interesting to see if they go and attack like they do in limited overs cricket or they go and absorb the experience and play the way Test cricket should be played.l
Additionally, in Test cricket, the consistency in thinking is very important. With no experience of having played test cricket, despite how much ever coaching staff guides them, it will come down to what thinking they bring in as individuals and how well they execute all the plans they are working for. Even if they get one or two plans executed, it will be good for them since they are just starting out.
Test cricket also tests your character and it is quite grinding. They have to be ready for instances where they might not get any success for a few hours or for a whole day. They will have to keep their head in the right place and stick to their roles and look to bounce back. In Test cricket, the match can change in a matter of a few overs.
Having said this, Afghanistan have proven themselves time and again and they have shown their mettle. I think that they feel blessed and lucky to be in this situation so quickly and thus, they value that, which is why they bring in all their hard work.
Honestly, if two sessions go in their favour in the first two days, it will be a huge success for them and if the match goes on to fourth or the fifth day, it will be good for the young side.
In the end, the result will not matter much but in fact, since it is their first Test, it is the participation and the individual performances of the Afghanistan stars which will stand out.