What Afghanistan did right in their lone Test against India
It was partly cloudy, and the winds were not too strong either. The readings from anemometer were hovering between ‘gentle’ to ‘moderate’, making it a perfect day to bat on the pitch. The Afghans, however, weren't able to wither the storm in the form of Indian bowling. It was a dreary show on field from the debutants, as they were at the receiving end in every department of the game, by an impeccable performance from ‘Men in Blue’.
It is impossible to judge any team from their performance in the first Test, but given India's packed schedule for rest of the year, it looked impossible to arrange for another 5-day contest. And I'm sure that had there been another one, it would have given Phil Simmons and the team enough observations to analyze upon and prepare the team for future contests.
On 15th June, the beginning of Afghan’s first innings wasn’t a fairytale. The fragile looking and inexperienced batting line-up, was never a match for India’s experienced bowling attack. The first verse witnessed the promising innings of Mohammad Shahzad, which was nipped in the bud by Hardik Pandya who did an old-school, pick up and throw towards the non-striker's end.
Post that, the innings became very predictable. Almost every alternate over, the Afghans were hitting a boundary and losing a wicket (advice – keep calm and let the storm pass). The flurry finally stopped with the penultimate ball of the twenty-eighth over, when the young Mujeeb fell prey to Jadeja’s wile. Imposing follow-on was a no-brainer.
The message from coach would have been very clear as everybody expected the visitors to show some spirit. A defying performance from skipper and the openers was all that needed. However, the hopes shattered quickly as after a couple of cheeky boundaries, Shahzad gave away his wicket and fell prey to little foot movement (area of improvement).
The rest is history, which dramatically repeated itself on the same day, same pitch and Afghanistan were bowled out twice, inside 70 overs. Hashmatullah Shahidi did his best with 88 balls 36 but ran out of partners. Stanikzai, who stood for 57 deliveries, got bored with his own blocks and went for a slower one, which wasn’t in reach and paid the ultimate price.
It was lack of application and not intent, coupled with nervousness of the big stage that went against the Afghans.
From the first ball of this historic Test, it seemed everything was scheduled to go against the visitors. The Southpaw with twirled moustache became the first Indian to score a century in one session (on day 1) and Vijay chimed in with another brilliant knock of 105. India posted a mammoth total (474), followed by dismal batting performance of the visitors.
If we read the summary of this match anywhere, everything will appear gloomy. But let’s try to read the fine print of massacre that happened on the Chinnaswamy pitch, and you will see a ray of hope for the Afghans. I’m not trying to take anything away from India as they not only performed well but literally dominated every area of the game on those eventful two days. However, we should be very careful before we completely write-off the Afghans.
India were cruising on 284 for the loss of two wickets when Rahul chopped one on his stumps. The captain (Ajinkya Rahane) never looked comfortable and the scorecard went through a period of lull, as India scored mere 34 runs in 14 overs, a drop from 5.5 to 2.4 runs per over.
The Afghans were able to tighten the noose as the Blue brigade slipped from 318/3 to 474 – all out. The home team lost seven wickets for just 156 runs and had it not been the unusual calmness of Pandya, India could have been wrapped up under 400.
Yes, the Afghans fought back. The slippage saw the fall of Pujara, Rahane, Jadeja, Karthik, Ashwin, and the bowlers. Yamin Ahmadzai led the pack with three wickets and gave away 51 runs with an impressive economy rate of 2.7. He also got the prized scalp of Dhawan and dangerous looking Rahul, thereby putting brakes on the scoring rate.
The other bowlers, who went for plenty initially, chipped in with few useful overs and took wickets at regular intervals. Simmons, should give credit to Yamin for containing the Indian batsman and place his bets more carefully in future (Rashid Khan, anyone?).
The spirited bowling performance should have lifted them up, but the lack of experience at the international level, and of playing the “tigers” in their backyard, did them. The Afghans showed a lot of potential during the 2nd day in their bowling department, but somehow they failed to channelize that sharpness and stability into their batting.
The team had loads of lessons from the first match, and I believe there is a lot left for them to absorb from future games. They should also go for thinking about a separate batting coach, who will work on their technique as well as the ever important – ‘temperament’.
Considering their recent performances against Bangladesh, Indian Premier League (IPL) and the bowling effort in India, it’s given, that they are here to stay.