Afghanistan to bank on spin power

Afghanistan to bank on spin power

Afghanistan players warm-up before a practice session on the eve of the Test match against India in Bengaluru on Wednesday. DH Photo/ Srikanta Sharma R

On a pitch that still sported a sprinkling of grass on the eve of Afghanistan’s inaugural Test here on Wednesday, it will be interesting to see how an abundance of spin talent among the tourists is going to shape the match.

Whether it was a calculated statement or an honest admission, Afghanistan skipper Asghar Stanikzai may have put his spinners under some pressure by proclaiming them to be better than their Indian counterparts. But then there is some truth to Stanikzai’s assertion about his slow bowlers. Led by leg-spinner Rashid Khan, who has been termed the best T20 spinner in the world by Sachin Tendulkar, Afghanistan have at least half-a-dozen quality spinners in their ranks.

Besides Rashid, off-spinning all-rounder Mohammad Nabi and fellow offie Mujib Ur Rahman have shown their wares in the Indian Premier League and they are certainties for the match, starting here on Thursday with rain-threat looming large over it. While Afghanistan are spoilt for choice when it comes to spinners, they have some young pacemen in 23-year-old left-armer Syed Shirzad and Yamin Ahmadzai, a right-arm quick.

If anything it’s the batting that looks a little out of depth, a fact acknowledged by their coach Phil Simmons himself.  

“I think their abundance of talent that comes through,” Simmons said when asked about the difference between Afghanistan and other lower-ranked teams that he has coached. “Zimbabwe I wasn't long enough, and Ireland I was there for a long time but Ireland hasn't produced the amount of youngsters in the last four-five years as Afghanistan has produced. The batting is a little bit less but the bowling, you will see a young fast bowler in this Test match hopefully, shows that they have young talent coming up and exciting prospects for the future.”

Even without their regular skipper Virat Kohli, ranked No 2 in Test rankings behind Steve Smith, India have enough depth and experience in their batting to quell any challenge to be thrown at them by the minnows. He maybe captaining the team only for the second time in his career but Ajinkya Rahane has shown the wherewithal to lead a team that is ranked No 1 in the world. He will have some selection issues when it comes to picking two openers among three available batsmen – KL Rahul, M Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan.

All the three openers had a forgettable Test series against South Africa early this year with only Vijay showing some stomach for a fight. The team management may also explore the option of picking all three of them and pushing Rahul to No 4, a place left vacant by Kohli. Whether they choose this safer option or go in with only two openers and accommodate Karun Nair in the middle-order remains to be seen. While the match will see the return of Dinesh Karthik to the Test fold, Ishant Sharma will lead the pace attack with Umesh Yadav and Hardik Pandya for company.

R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will not only have a point to prove to Afghanistan skipper but they also need to establish their superiority over other Indian contenders like Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal who have already jettisoned them in limited-overs cricket.         

The teams (from):

India: Ajinkya Rahane (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, M Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Karun Nair, Dinesh Karthik (wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Hardik Pandya, Ishant Sharma, Shardul Thakur.

Afghanistan: Ashgar Stanikzai (capt), Mohammed Shahzad (wk), Javed Ahmadi, Rahmat Shah, Ihsanullah Janat, Nasir Jamal, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Afsar Zazai, Mohammed Nabi, Rashid Khan, Zahir Khan, Amir Hamza Hotak, Sayed Ahmad Shirzad, Yamin Ahmadzai Wafadar, Mujeeb Ur Rahman.