Afghanistan will play their first ever Test match against India on Thursday and attempt to become the first side since Australia in 1877 to win their inaugural Test match. The Afghans have a team loaded with spinners and dynamic batsmen. The team will be high on confidence after clean sweeping Bangladesh in a three-match T20I series, but do they have enough ammunition to topple a strong Indian team in the longer format? We look at the five key battles that will need to go in the visitors favour if there are any chances of causing an upset.
Rashid Khan v Chesteshwar Pujara
When you talk Afghanistan it is all about Rashid Khan. The leg-spinning maestro is arguably the most sought after bowler in the white ball format, but can Rashid weave his magic with the red ball? With Virat Kohli missing, Rashid’s toughest opponent will be Chesteshwar Pujara. Both men are the backbone to success for their respective teams. Rashid is a master at bowling a length that is difficult to hit in the shorter formats, but his challenge during the Test matches can he be as influential when the batsmen are trying to defend. Rashid will not find a sturdier player of spin bowling than Pujara and despite all his variations he will need the patience and energy to rip through the defences of the India No 3.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman v KL Rahul
Rashid might be the leader of the bowling unit, but the 17-year-old Mujeeb Ur Rahman is the surprise package. The mystery spinner has the ability to fox the best in the business as evident during the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2018. But like Rashid can he plan a wicket in the longer format of the game? Mujeeb’s variations make him a huge threat, especially to the Indian lower order, but the challenge for Afghanistan is can they run through the Indian top-order that will be led by the in-form, KL Rahul. The fact that Rahul shared a dressing room with Mujeeb during the IPL will only make life tougher for the talented spinner. Mujeeb has a terrific googly and lovely carom ball, but Rahul will be wary of the fact that Mujeeb is still inexperienced and if he can make Mujeeb bowl longer spells, it could push the youngster outside of his comfort zone. If Rahul can get on top of his Kings XI teammate, the job will only get harder for the likes of Rashid and the rest of the Afghanistan spinners.
Ravindra Jadeja v Asghar Stanikzai
Apart from Hashmatullah Shahidi, the rest of the Afghanistan batsmen are right handers meaning there is a fair chance Ravindra Jadeja will feature in the Indian playing XI. Jadeja’s immaculate line and length along with his slight variations make him a difficult customer for the right-handed batsmen. It is also hard to dominate him, a tactic Ashgar Stanikzai is bound to use against him. Jadeja averages a phenomenal 20.1 against right handers and with the Afghanistan batsmen still learning the art of patience the left-arm spinner will test their techniques and patience. It will be important for the Afghanistan batsmen to play Jadeja with the bat and not let their front pads get in the way of the line of the ball. Stanikzai is the most experienced batsmen in the Afghanistan team and it is pivotal they combat the threat of Jadeja to ensure Afghanistan doesn’t falter during the spin dominated overs.
Umesh Yadav v Mohammad Shahzad
Mohammad Shahzad is one of the most experienced and the most aggressive player in the Afghanistan top order. The pocket-sized dynamo is not shy of a challenge and is more than capable of unsettling, even the best fast bowlers in the world. However, Shahzad will have his work cut out against the in-form Umesh Yadav. Playing for the RCB in the IPL, Yadav swung the new ball consistently and dismantled opposition top orders. Shahzad will be tested with the movement while at the same time will need to cash in on any erratic deliveries. There is also the challenge of confronting a barrage of short pitched bowling. The pitch in Bangalore might not be fast, but you can bet your bottom dollar that Shazhad will get a fair share of bouncers from Yadav. Shahzad will need to tame Yadav early and then have a ploy against the short ball. Their contest will be one of the key features of the Test match.
Mohammad Nabi v Ravichandran Ashwin
To give Afghanistan’s wily spinners a chance it is pivotal the batsmen post a decent total and with a relatively inexperienced top-order a lot will depend on Mohammad Nabi. The talent all-rounder is a good player of spin bowling and his tussle with Ravi Ashwin will be crucial. The small boundaries at the Chinnaswamy stadium means Nabi will back his ability to clear the ropes, especially with Ashwin spinning the ball into his hitting arc. It is a battle Ashwin will relish and with fielders around the bat, along with his carom ball will test both the outer and the inner edge of the bat. The key for Nabi is to back his defensive game, an all out attack may work for a limited time, but for Afghanistan to post a healthy total they need a sustained and patient innings from Nabi.