India will take on Afghanistan at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Thursday — the match being a historic one with Afghanistan making their Test debut.
Afghanistan cricket has been on the rise in the last few years and they have been in red-hot form of late. After finishing as runners-up in the ICC World Cup 2019 Qualifier, as well as semi-finalists in the U-19 World Cup, three members of the senior team went on to ply their trade, and impress one and all in the process, in the recently-concluded Indian Premier League (IPL). That was then followed by a whitewash of Bangladesh in a three-match T20I series, with the three games marking the entry of international cricket into Dehradun.
India, on the other hand, haven't played international cricket since their victorious run in the Nidahas Trophy triangular series in March. The next two months of the Indian calendar was reserved for the IPL, with the ones who didn't get picked by any of the franchises heading to England to ply their trade in county cricket. The upcoming Test will be India's first match in the longest format in more than four months.
With the emergence of the young Afghan side, especially that of their spin department, the Indian team cannot afford to take the newest entrants in Test cricket lightly.
In the build-up to the historic Test, which starts on Thursday, we take a look at the men who could make a difference for Afghanistan.
The wily leg-spinner has been at the forefront of Afghanistan's rise in recent years. Having made his international debut in late 2015, Rashid didn’t take long to impress the scouts from various leagues across the world, and soon found himself playing in the Indian Premier League, Big Bash League among several other T20 events.
The Nangarhar native is known for his variations, especially his clever use of the googly, and has been the captain’s asset in the death overs, as was evident when he successfully defended nine runs in the last over of the final T20I against Bangladesh, earning him plaudits from legends such as Sachin Tendulkar and Muttiah Muralitharan. Despite his relative lack of First-Class experience, Rashid will be Afghanistan's most important weapon going into the Test.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman
The teenage spin sensation made headlines in the cricketing world when he was bought by Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) for a sum of Rs 4 crore, staggering for a cricketer who was an unknown entity before the auction.
Mujeeb has, since the auction, earned the tag of the ‘next big thing’ in cricket, following his impressive performances for KXIP in the recently-concluded IPL. Under the tutelage of captain, and established Indian off-spinner, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mujeeb collected 11 wickets from 14 games at an impressive average of 20.64, including the memorable wicket of Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Virat Kohli at the venue where he is about to make his First-Class debut on Thursday.
Mujeeb recently revealed that he was confident he would get picked for the Test, and had already begun his preparation for the historic match during the IPL itself.
At the age of 33, Nabi is the senior-most member of the Afghan squad for the upcoming Test, and that in itself leads to a variety of expectations both from teammates as well as from Afghan supporters. Having made his international debut way back in 2009, when Afghan cricket was still in its infancy, Nabi is a battle-hardened veteran who will be crucial for his team, both with bat and ball.
Adding to his list of strengths is his experience of playing on Indian surfaces, having played for Sunrisers alongside Rashid in the IPL, even if he’s not had as much game time as the leg-spinner.
Shahzad has made a name for himself as an aggressive batsman, capable of providing explosive starts. While he has become kind of a specialist for the role in the shorter formats, his temperament and skill will be tested to the fullest when he takes on the Indian attack at the Chinnaswamy Stadium.
Aside from his on-field accomplishments, Shahzad has made a name for himself for exuding confidence off it, stating in a recent interview that he didn’t need to lose weight as he could hit bigger sixes than Virat Kohli. It remains to be seen if he can carry his confidence into the format that is considered the ultimate test of a cricketer’s skill.
The leader of the pack perhaps has the biggest responsibility of them all. The match that will surely be the biggest of his career so far, will be a real test of his leadership skills and he will have the uphill task of keeping his boys motivated for the entire duration of five days against the number one Test side in the world. Aside from captaincy, Stanikzai is also a reliable middle-order bat, having scored 1,421 First-Class runs at an impressive average of 44.