In what will be the 265th Test on Indian soil, the stage is set for Afghanistan’s debut in the longest format of the game. While the build-up to the game has been all about the historic occasion for the away side one must not forget that there is a battle waiting to happen on the field. For India, this encounter marks their return to Tests since the series against South Africa in January. However, it will not be the same Indian team which lost 2-1 in the rainbow nation as quite a few changes have been forced in the squad. The most notable among them being the absence of skipper Virat Kohli who has been ruled out due to a neck injury in the recently concluded IPL 2018. Wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha will also be out of action due to a finger injury. Hence, this opens avenues for Dinesh Karthik who has been recalled to the side for the first time since 2010. The three openers or middle order batsman Karun Nair might also get a chance to feature in the first 11. Afghanistan, on the other hand, has loaded their squad with spinners which after all is expected to be their trump card. Hence, the battle of David vs Goliath seems more like spinners vs batsmen and whichever aspect of the game gets the upper hand may well decide the outcome of the contest.
India’s opening combination continues to be a mystery. After long net sessions, Murali Vijay seems like certainty and whether the think tank opts for hometown boy KL Rahul or Shikhar Dhawan remains to be seen. The possibility of all the three playing together is also on the cards. However, if either of them is on the bench then Karun Nair may get a chance to strengthen the batting order.
Similarly, the combination of bowlers remains another area of doubt. Ishant Sharma and inform Umesh Yadav are sure starters but will India opt for another seamer? Shardul Thakur and Navdeep Saini are the other contenders. But it may all change depending on the combination of spinners India opts for- a two-pronged attack featuring R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja or does wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav get a look in. The formula will entirely depend on the nature of the surface that will be on offer.
Going by reports, the pitch is expected to offer true bounce and not deteriorate. But with continuous rainfall over the past five days, the moisture will play a part.
Meanwhile, for the visitors, any hopes for a positive outcome will depend on how their spinners fare, whom skipper Asghar Stanikzai has claimed are a notch better than their counterparts. Among the trio of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb ur Rahman and young Zahir Khan, Rashid Khan will continue to remain the potent threat and statistics back it up as he has taken a five-wicket haul in each of his four first-class matches before this one.
However, not a lot has been spoken about Afghanistan’s batting department which lacks experience and might well be found out against an experienced Indian bowling attack. The onus to bat through a day will rest on the shoulders of Ashgar Stanikzai, Mohammed Shahzad Rahmat Shah and others. But will they be able to? That will be only be answered once the match begins on Thursday.
India: Ajinkya Rahane (Captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, KL Rahul, Karun Nair, Dinesh Karthik (wicket-keeper), Hardik Pandya, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini, Ravichandran Ashwin. Ravindra Jadeja. Kuldeep Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav.
Afghanistan: Ashgar Stanikzai (Captain), Mohammed Shahzad (wicket-keeper), 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.