Bengaluru: Afghanistan ended the Day 1 on a high, despite getting off to the worst possible start on their first day in Test cricket. They looked like the person on the first day of the job – completely lost, looking for different answers but getting none.
Pacers could not deliver the goods in the first hour of the day. Forget the wickets, there was not even a single appeal made against the two Indian openers - Shikar Dhawan and Murali Vijay - in that period. Instantly, Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai brought Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan into attack to make something happen. But they seemed to have been gripped by nerves. There were short balls, leg-stump line bowling which resulted in easy singles and boundaries. There was no pressure on the Indian batsmen in the first session. They scored their runs at will, especially Shikhar Dhawan who managed to score a ton in the first session itself.
Before the second rain interruption in the day, India dominated the proceedings. Stanikzai and Co came back strongly in the last session of the day where they took five Indian wickets for 63 runs. What they did right was plan to slow things down. When Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, KL Rahul were at the crease, the Indian team were scoring runs at a brisk rate. Thanks to the crucial breakthroughs provided by the pacers Wafadar and Yamin Ahmadzai, getting rid of Rahul and Vijay broke India's momentum. Rashid Khan and Mujeeb bowled with a lot of heart in their last spells of the day and took one wicket each. In fact, they looked like adding to their tally on a number of occasions at the fag end of the day.
What Afghanistan did better in the last session and what they should on Day 2 is bowling with a plan in place. After the loss of third Indian wicket, they slowed things down drastically. There were two new batsmen in Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane at the crease and it helped visitors create pressure. Rashid attacked the stumps more often. Mujeeb started pitching the ball on the right spots. There were more appeals, reviews and suddenly, Afghans were into the game.
When Day 2 begins, Afghanistan should continue with the same approach. They have to stick to the same plan of attacking the Indian batsmen and not letting them score runs freely. It goes without saying that their target should be to bowl the Indians out in the first hour. Both Hardik Pandya and Ravichandran Ashwin, who will resume the innings for India on Day 2, did not look comfortable against the spinners on Thursday. Stanikzai should start off with two spinners. Hardik likes to play big shots against the spinners. In fact, his past performances reflect that this has been his approach in playing spin bowling. Going into defensive mode does not work for him. Just like the last session on Day 1, they should create more wicket-taking chances.
One other thing that Afghanistan need to do on Day 2 is field well. Their close-in fielders, especially, need to start taking tough catching chances. Not to forget, there were two crucial catches dropped at first slip and then at short leg. If these were taken, things could have looked even better at the stumps.
The wicket has already started to take some turn and bowling Indians out early on Day 2 will be the key. They should aim to restrict the hosts below 400 and start off well with the bat. A solid start while batting will be crucial but the first thing in their mind would be to wrap up Indian innings as early as possible. Another intriguing day awaits us.