India vs Afghanistan: Five Things To Look Out For

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Afghanistan bowler Zahir Khan celebrates after dismissing JP Kotze during the ICC Intercontinental Cup between Afghanistan and Namibia at a cricket stadium in Greater Noida on April 12, 2016. Afghanistan won the match by an innings and 36 runs. / AFP / CHANDAN KHANNA (Photo credit should read CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)

India vs Afghanistan: Five Things To Look Out For

History is going to be made on June 14th. Afghanistan will be playing their first ever Test match, completing their rise to prominence in the cricket world. They will be playing against India, currently ranked as they number one Test side in the world. Provided the weather in Bangalore holds out, the contest should be enthralling. In the run-up to this landmark Test match, here are five things to look out for in the match.

The Afghanistan Spin Attack

Afghanistan have decided to go in with four spinners – Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Amir Hamza, Rashid Khan and Zahir Khan. Mohammad Nabi will also be expected to play the role of a spinner. The lineup Afghanistan chooses to play is unknown at this stage, however, if Afghanistan are to pull off an upset in their inaugural Test match, the performances of their spinners and specifically Nabi, Rashid, and Mujeeb will be paramount.

Nabi has been with the Afghanistan team since its inception. He has proven himself on countless occasions with his variations and ability to outsmart experienced batsmen. Rashid Khan ranks number one as a T20 bowler and shows up on the biggest stages. This has been demonstrated by his performances with the Sunrisers Hyderabad. Mujeeb is the latest sensation and had a very successful IPL with the Kings XI Punjab.

Something they have in their favour at the moment is form. Aside from the IPL, all three played big roles in their first bilateral series win against Bangladesh. How the three bowl together and how the captain Asghar Stanikzai utilises them will be crucial. In addition, how the bowlers adapt their game to the longer format might be their biggest challenge of all. If Afghanistan is to pull off the improbable, it will require something special from their spinners.

My prediction: The pressure of Test cricket will be too much to handle at this stage for Afghanistan. The spinners will show fight in the Test match but will be overwhelmed by the occasion.

Captain Rahane

Aside from Kohli (and maybe MS Dhoni?), is Ajinkya Rahane the most controversial player on the Indian team? Those who support him believe he should be given more chances in the shorter format. They were also outraged at his omission from the first two Test matches in the South African series. Those who oppose him will tell you he is not suited for the shorter format. They might also say that he was deservingly replaced by Rohit Sharma in South Africa.
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Rahane is coming off an average performance with the Rajasthan Royals, averaging 28.46 in fifteen games. His form as of late has been scratchy with few good performances. However, his performance against South Africa in the final Test was crucial in India’s eventual victory. His last captaincy stint resulted in India beating Australia to seal a home series after a Kohli injury. Rahane has not been the model of consistency he once was, but he has played some important innings. This one-off Test match will be a great chance for Rahane to get some runs in home conditions. Furthermore, he will hopefully take that momentum through to England.

My prediction: Although there will be some pressure on Rahane, he has dealt with such situations well in the past. This Test match should provide him with a great opportunity to get some confidence before the series in England.

Opening Partnerships

India have three opening batsmen who are all deserving of their chances in the Test match. Shikhar Dhawan is no stranger to taking a game away through his aggressive style of play. He is at his best against lower ranked opponents. Against the West Indies, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, Dhawan averages close to 64 in 12 matches, whereas he averages fewer than 32 against South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and England. If Dhawan plays, Afghanistan might face the same fate Sri Lanka did recently where he scored multiple centuries against them. Or even worse, the same fate that Bangladesh faced in 2015 when he scored 175 off just 195 balls. KL Rahul is coming off a sensational IPL and he’ll be looking to continue his form. Vijay was not a regular feature in the IPL and will be hungry to get back into test cricket.

Afghanistan’s keeper batsmen Mohammad Shahzad has had a hit or miss career in the shorter formats so far. He has, however, has been crucial to Afghanistan’s meteoric rise. He has shown that when he gets his eye in he can create havoc for opponents in little time. If Afghanistan are to put up a fight in the Test, a big innings from the opening batsmen Shahzad along with contributions from experienced players such as captain Stanikzai and Nabi will be of the utmost importance.

My prediction: It’s a tough task for Afghanistan to contain the openers from India. This is more so due to their dependence on spinners bowling with the older bowl. India’s opening batsmen should set the platform for big first innings score whether they bat first or second.

Afghanistan’s Debut

Afghanistan’s rise to international cricket has been nothing short of spectacular. A country constantly in the news for all the wrong reasons, cricket has been a shining light. Whilst their success in the shorter format has been impressive, with their most recent series victory against Bangladesh, international Test cricket is something they will need to adapt to very quickly. The patience of their spin bowlers, the tactics executed by their captain, how they approach batting across several days and how they field will all be factors which will come into play in determining their success.
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Ireland recently played their first Test match against Pakistan and fared quite well. However, unlike Ireland, Afghanistan have focused on the shorter format of the game with key players having success in the shorter format of the game (such as the IPL and other T20 tournaments). Ireland’s focus was to send players to play county cricket where many of them had success. The change of format is much more drastic for Afghanistan than Ireland and how they fare in Test cricket will be determined by their experienced players and their composure.

My prediction: The learning will be very steep for Afghanistan and they will struggle when things do not go their way. India will take advantage of their inexperience and apply pressure wherever they sense an opportunity.

Who Will Take Their Chance

For the first ever India vs Afghanistan Test match, the Indian squad is without Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Wriddhiman Saha. All players played key roles in the most recent series against South Africa. The upcoming Test match against Afghanistan welcomes back a number of players and also gives chances to some players looking to continue to make a name for themselves. Dinesh Karthik is back in the mix after not playing a test match since 2010. Triple centurion Karun Nair, if selected, will have another chance to restore his now tarnished reputation. After not cementing his spot in the team yet, Hardik Pandya may get the chance to prove he is still worthy of retaining his spot as a useful seaming all-rounder. After being around the team for some time now, will Shardul Thakur debut in place of one of the other seamers?

There will be a big focus on individual performances this series. In the absence of some key players for India, it will be interesting to see who steps up and takes their chance in the Test match.

My prediction: Ever since his match-winning performance against Bangladesh to win India the Nidahas trophy, Karthik has made the most of his opportunities. He has continued his form with the Kolkata Knight Riders leading them to a semi-final appearance and he played some crucial match-winning innings. With England on the horizon, one eye will be on Karthik as a potential keeper who has had success in England in the past.  I expect him to continue his run in the inaugural India vs Afghanistan Test match.

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