At lunch, Asghar Stanikzai assembled his troops into a huddle on the field and gave a pep talk. Afghanistan’s first morning in Test cricket already had a sinking feeling, which called for immediate attention. The next two sessions, stop-start because of rains, witnessed the visitors’ fightback. But we would come to that later.
Yamin Ahmadzai became the first bowler to bowl for Afghanistan in Test cricket after India won the toss. The first delivery nipped back a little and went for a leg-bye off Murali Vijay’s pad. Shikhar Dhawan was off the mark with a single next ball, but the newcomers had a decent start. Occasional profligacy and a DRS howler notwithstanding, when Dhawan nicked Wafadar and the Afghans didn’t review, they stuck to their discipline for the next 30-odd minutes before surrendering to India’s supremacy.
Spin was expected to be Afghanistan’s strength. Its introduction, though, opened the floodgates. Dhawan jumped out to Mohammad Nabi and hit a straight six. Vijay, a little shaky to start with, swept a length ball from the offie to the fine leg boundary.
Rashid Khan came and bowled a full-toss to Dhawan. A whip sent the ball to the mid-on boundary. The leggie responded with a googly and Dhawan dispatched it to the mid-wicket fence. Rashid seemingly lost nerve. Another full-toss was offered and four more runs followed. Only a month ago in the IPL, the 19-year-old tweaker was trapping batters in a spin web for fun. He also returned with eight scalps in Afghanistan’s 3-0 clean sweep of Bangladesh in the T20s that preceded this red-ball assignment. However, his first over at Chinnaswamy on Thursday accounted for 13 runs. Rashid’s first spell here read: 12-0-82-0. Welcome to Test cricket.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Afghanistan’s other spin sensation, took a hammering too, including three consecutive fours, from Dhawan. India raced to 158 for no loss in two hours, with the left-hander becoming the first Indian to score a century before lunch on the first day of a Test match. Afghanistan looked down and defeated. But a plan change ushered in the revival.
“Stanikzai told us that the bowlers should try to stop runs, don’t try too many things and not to chase wickets. It was a simple plan,” fast bowler Ahmadzai revealed at the end of the day’s play. Patience paid off. In fact, it was Ahmadzai who pushed the door ajar by removing Dhawan in the second over after lunch. KL Rahul came to the crease instead of Cheteshwar Pujara. The makeshift No. 3 struck a partnership with Vijay, who sauntered towards his 12th Test hundred. The opener eventually got there braving two rain breaks.
Rahul also reached his half-century, hitting back-to-back fours against Rashid. By then, however, the leg-spinner had changed his trajectory and pace – loopy, slower and straight. The Afghanistan fast bowlers, on the other hand, discovered some late swing. A nip-backer from Wafadar foxed Vijay, who shouldered arms and was adjudged leg before. Rahul departed in the next over, dragging a widish delivery onto the stumps. Afghanistan got first-hand knowledge of the ebb and flow that Test cricket offers. They suddenly pushed the hosts on the defensive.
The ball started to grip and Ajinkya Rahane’s batting inspired little confidence. The stand-in captain eventually perished to a Rashid top-spinner. Pujara, too, couldn’t capitalise on a dropped chance, as Mujeeb outsmarted him with a googly. The Afghan spinners had spring in their steps. Rashid spun a wrong’un past Dinesh Karthik’s forward-defensive prod and looked to have the Indian ‘keeper-batsman out leg before. Karthik survived on umpire’s call but didn’t stay long – done in by a quick throw from substitute Nasir Jamal from point. India finished the day at 347/6.
On their first day at the game’s elite level, Afghanistan conceded 52 fours and four sixes. They still stay afloat, thanks to an excellent final session that saw India lose five wickets for 99 runs in 32 overs. The minnows proved to be fast learners.
Virender Sehwag missed it by a whisker, remaining unbeaten on 99 at lunch against West Indies at Gros Islet in 2006. Farokh Engineer stayed unconquered on 94, also against West Indies, in Madras in 1966-67. Dhawan broke the jinx on Thursday to become the first Indian to score a hundred in the first session of a Test match. The left-hander would savour the feat, for it has Don Bradman in its roll of honour.
A callow opposition notwithstanding, Dhawan played a gorgeous knock. Early on, when Vijay’s batting was iffy, he took the attack to Afghanistan. His handling of the spinners was contemptuous. The fifty came off 47 balls and Dhawan romped to his seventh Test hundred in just 87 deliveries. But the sparse turnout proved to be a big letdown.
“I didn’t know (about the feat) and it felt great after I came to know from TV,” Dhawan said.
Brief scores: India 347/6 (Dhawan 107 from 96 balls, Vijay 105 from 155 balls; Ahmadzai 2-32, Wafadar 1-53 ) v Afghanistan.