The other day, Dinesh Karthik was forthright. But stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane chose to be more polite on Wednesday. Asked about the Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai’s claim that the visitors having better spinners, the comeback man had pointed towards the experience-overload in favour of Ravi Ashwin and company.
But Rahane offered a more considerate view: “Every member of a team will always believe that his team is good, batting is good and all that. We all know stats but we don’t want to focus on stats. In a Test match, each and every session matters a lot. We should give our best all the time. Ashwin, (Ravindra) Jadeja, Kuldeep (Yadav) – they all are experienced and quality spinners. They back each other and enjoy each other’s company,” Rahane said.
A cut-throat comparison between the two teams, making a detour on the historical significance of India hosting Afghanistan for their first-ever Test, will highlight the gulf in class. India have a three-way competition between Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul for the two opening slots. Vijay has an experience of 56 Tests, with 3802 runs and 11 centuries. The South Africa tour earlier this year had witnessed his form slump, but the challenge was stiffer, and he is likelier to retain his spot. Dhawan had lost his place in the playing XI on the heels of jus-t two low scores in South Africa. But the left-hander’s average is 42.62 over 29 Tests. The excess of riches makes KL Rahul’s inclusion uncertain, notwithstanding the fact that three of his four Test centuries so far had been scored overseas. Besides, Rahul is fresh from a purple patch-hitting IPL for Kings XI Punjab. Maybe, he could be slotted into the middle-order, though it’s not as straightforward.
Cheteshwar Pujara is one of the best number threes in the long-form, along with Joe Root and Kane Williamson.
Steve Smith’s fall from grace has temporarily ruled him out of contention. Pujara has scored 1,240 runs in 14 Tests in the last one-odd year. In Virat Kohli’s absence, Rahane is likely to follow Pujara in the batting order. Karun Nair, brought back to the fold at the expense of Rohit Sharma, remains the only batsman in the history of Test cricket to be dropped straight after hitting a triple ton. In fact, the Karnataka boy faded into domestic cricket after his 303 not out against England at Chennai in December 2016.
A healthy rivalry between Rahul and Nair, if at all the former is considered for a middle-order slot, is good for the Indian cricket. Against Afghanistan though, the playing XI is incidental.
Whoever plays, the hosts will boast of a far stronger batting than their rivals. Also, it’s sort of inconsequential if the team management picks three spinners and includes Kuldeep, or goes with three fast bowlers. Jadeja and Ashwin are ranked No. 4 and No. 5 in the world. The duo has a collective experience of 92 Tests, accounting for 476 scalps. Kuldeep had bowled a match-winning spell on his debut against Australia last year. The chinaman bowler is keeping his senior colleagues on their toes. Even after a few rounds of mowing, the Chinnaswamy pitch retains a tinge of green. Playing three seamers appears a likely option. And weather permitting, India will go into the game as the outright favourites.
No disrespect to Afghanistan though. The best part is that they are showing enough positivity to prevent nerves. “What nerves! I’m hearing this for the first time,” Stanikzai said at the pre-match press conference. An excellent spin attack led by Rashid Khan is a reason for Afghanistan’s confidence. “Right now Rashid is the most difficult spinner to play around. He hasn’t played Test cricket so we need to look and see what happens. But I’m sure his professionalism will help him adjust and he will come out well,” coach Phil Simmons observed.
Rubbing shoulders with the big guns and attaining the IPL stardom has made Rashid arguably the most talked about spinner at the moment. The leggie, like his team mates, however, is a novice in red-ball international cricket. In fact, the 19-year-old has turned up in only four first-class matches. Stanikzai, Mohammad Nabi and Mohammad Shahzad are the veterans in the squads, first-class experience wise, with 23, 32 and 20 matches respectively in their bags. But the Afghans are game, making the Test build-up fascinating.
ICC to fete Afghanistan
Ahead of the historic Test, the ICC chief executive David Richardson will hand over the Afghanistan cricket team a souvenir/memento at Chinnaswamy tomorrow, it is learnt. Afghanistan’s rise to Test status is a serious shot in the arm for the world body, which has globalisation high on its agenda. Live from 9.30 am on Star Sports