Battle of the tweakers in historic Test

“We have better spinners than India,” says Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai. Even before his side challenges the number one Test team in their own backyard, cricket pundits around the world have rated this as an equal contest.

History beckons us as India get ready to host Afghanistan in their first-ever Test match at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on June 14th. The visiting Afghan team will become the 12th nation to play the longest format when they take the field against an Ajinkya Rahane-led Indian team.

From the Indian team dressing room:

A lot will rest on the shoulders of stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane when he walks out to the field on the morning of the 14th. But even before it, he will have to get his combinations right. Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan have been India’s first-choice opening pair with KL Rahul serving as a back-up. A not so fruitful tour of South Africa where he managed only 30 runs from four outings was followed by a tremendous IPL season where he scored 659 runs in a rich vein of form. With Virat Kohli’s absent, this might be an opportunity for all the three openers to play.

If this happens, KL Rahul might drop to the middle order and the returning Karun Nair will have to be sacrificed. However, local boys Rahul and Nair both know the conditions well. The other option for the team management could be to pick Rahul ahead of Vijay who hasn’t had enough game time since the South Africa tour. Cheteshwar Pujara at number three will be crucial to India’s chances to torment the spin-heavy visitors.

Dinesh Karthik marks his return to the Test side after 8 long years and will be a shoo-in. India’s lower order looks lethal led by the aggressive Hardik Pandya. He can play a big role in helping India counter the likes of Rashid and Mujeeb. Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin can also contribute with the bat if needed but their main duty will be with the ball when the pitch starts to turn. Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav is another option for the team management to look at if the wicket is a rank turner. To accommodate all three spinners, India will have to play a fast bowler less.

Umesh Yadav returns to the setup with Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar resting and Mohammed Shami out with an injury while Ishant Sharma is expected to lead the attack which will also consist of Hardik Pandya. Shardul Thakur and Navdeep Saini may have to wait for their first Test cap.

From the Afghanistan dressing room:

The expectations from this team are sky-high. And the Indian conditions are not alien to them. The Afghanistan team has been training and playing International cricket at Dehradun. Their premier spinner Rashid Khan, mystery spinner Mujeeb Ur Rehman and former captain Mohammed Nabi are well versed with Indian conditions too, thanks to IPL.

For their Test debut, Afghanistan has included a spinner of every variety. Along with Rashid, their prodigy Zahir Khan also bowls wrist spin from the other arm (Chinaman) while Amir Hamza is the other finger spinner apart from Mujeeb. All-rounder Rahmat Shah can also roll his arm over. But if their spin bowling department looks a force to deal with, the pace battery looks equally inexperienced sans the injured Dawlat Zadran.

A lot will rest on Afghanistan’s batsmen. Not a lot of visiting batsmen have found solace against India’s spinners in the subcontinent so the task for Asghar Stanikzai’s men will be cut out. The experience of attacking wicket-keeper batsman Mohammed Shahzad, Hashmatullah Shahidi and Nabi will be crucial to the touring Afghans.

The hype for this historic first Test is in place and only time will tell if Afghanistan will pose any kind of threat to the best in the format.

From the venue:

The Chinnaswamy wicket has traditionally supported the spinners but persistent rains have kept the curators at bay from preparing the track. Only time will tell if the iconic venue will support the slower bowlers or become a batsman’s friend.