Afghan bowlers hit back after Vijay, Dhawan tons

Afghan bowlers hit back after Vijay, Dhawan tons

India's Shikhar Dhawan celebrates his century on the first day of the one-off cricket test match against Afghanistan, at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Thursday, June 14, 2018. (PTI Photo/Shailendra Bhojak)

Afghanistan’s introduction to Test cricket was a mixed experience. While for the better part of the rain-interrupted opening day India maintained a stranglehold over the match, the tourists fought back valiantly in an extended final session to give a good account of themselves.

Not for nothing do they say Test cricket is the ultimate test of a player. While the shorter formats provide level-playing field to lower-ranked teams, the longer version makes for no such allowances. It demands skills of different level, extraordinary resolve and unflappable character. Afghanistan may have taken impressive strides in limited-overs cricket, but Test cricket is a different beast. And on a balmy day, with rain causing two lengthy stoppages, Afghanistan found out the difference between white-ball razzmatazz and the red-ball grind before showing that they can hold their own even against the best in the business at this level.     

Opting to bat first on what turned out to be a good batting strip, India posted 347/6 in 78 overs on the opening day at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Thursday. Openers Shikhar Dhawan (107, 96b, 19x4, 3x6) and M Vijay (105, 153b, 15x4, 1x6) added contrasting centuries to their respective accounts while K L Rahul (54, 64b, 8x4), coming in at No 3, missed out on a big one.

With the match completely slipping away, Afghanistan found a way back into it with pacers Yamin Ahmadzai and Wafadar dismissing the well-set duo of Vijay and Rahul respectively in quick succession. Star spinner Rashid Khan (120/1 in 26 overs) finally accounted for a wicket (in the 21st over), dismissing stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane; Mujeeb Ur Rahman got rid of Cheteshwar Pujara and Dinesh Karthik was out after a terrible mix-up with Hardik Pandya as India slipped to 334 for six from 280/1 at resumption after the second rain-break.   

Dhawan, who became the first Indian to score a century before lunch on opening day of a Test, was out soon after the resumption of the second session after a 168-run association for the opening stand. The southpaw, however, had done enough damage by the time he departed. In a belligerent mood from the start, Dhawan found an ideal foil in Vijay as the inadequacies and inexperience in Afghanistan’s attack stood thoroughly exposed. While pacers were decent without being extraordinary, Afghanistan would have been disappointed with the performance of their spin troika – Mohammad Nabi, Rashid and Rahman – in the first session.

Between the three, they had conceded a whopping 105 runs in just 15 overs with Dhawan pounding them mercilessly in the first session. With Afghan spinners expected to play a crucial role, the Indian batsmen seemed to have gone out with a plan to go after them and unsettle them -- Nabi went for 21 runs in his first spell of three overs, Rahman gave away 32 in four overs while Rashid leaked 51 in his first seven overs.     

All eyes were on Rashid but he was systematically dismantled by a rampaging Dhawan who slammed three fours in four balls off the leg-spinner’s opening over to race to his 50 (47b, 10x4, 1x6). The southpaw, who had feathered to stumper Afsar Zazai on 24 off Wafadar, was lucky to survive with Afghanistan deciding against taking the review but that hardly took anything away from his innings.

The Delhi batsman further accelerated and brought up his next fifty in just 20 balls with the help of eight fours and two sixes. The fall of Dhawan did slow down India’s scoring rate but only marginally and briefly. It wasn’t long before Vijay and Rahul restored the normalcy. Vijay looked iffy in the morning. While Dhawan appeared in excellent touch, the right-hander struggled to middle the ball. He consumed 80 balls for his first fifty but opened up after that to bring up his ton in 143 balls. His dismissal, confirmed after the batsman reviewed umpire’s out decision, triggered a collapse of sorts. India lost five wickets for 99 in the final session that lasted 32 overs.