Cricbuzz Staff • Last updated on Thu, 14 Jun, 2018, 07:02 PM
Ajinkya Rahane was one of the five Indian wickets to fall in the final session. © AFP
Over the last four decades, Afghanistan have been caged in what seems like a never-ending cycle of civil wars and conflicts. Carnage and mayhem seem to be part and parcel of life, as streets are littered with fire-gutted buildings and shops. But amidst all the chaos and mayhem, a sport played with leather and willow flourished in the country. Afghanistan’s cricketers had to paddle through numerous hurdles and 17 years after they became an Affiliate member, the Asian country finally fulfilled their cherished dream of playing a Test match, against the number one ranked side, India, In Bengaluru.
Day 1 of Afghanistan’s inaugural Test was in some ways a microcosm of their struggles to reach the Elite Division of Cricket. Shikhar Dhawan’s breezy 96-ball 107 gave an indication of the challenges ahead for the Asian country in the harsh world of Test cricket. Murali Vijay also helped himself to a steady 105 while KL Rahul compiled a neatly paced fifty. However, to their credit, Afghanistan showed admirable fighting spirit as they picked up five wickets in the final session, with India ending the day at 347 for 6.
Maybe the players drew strength and resolve from some of the hardships of their younger days – training in dusty camps in Rawalpindi – which helped them to make a timely comeback in the final session. Maybe Indian batsmen were a tad relaxed after finding themselves on top. It was Yamin Ahmadzai, the pacer, who led the way for the tourists with two wickets. Meanwhile, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, who were taken to the cleaners in the first two sessions, bagged a wicket each.
After the second rain break, India held all the aces at 264 for 1. Vijay, who was unbeaten on 99 before rain played spoilsport, duly reached his 12th century with a boundary off a short and wide delivery from Wafadar. The duo added 16 more runs after the break when the resourceful Wafadar lifted the tourists’ spirits with a nip-backer to dismiss Vijay LBW. Even at the start of the day, Vijay seemed to be struggling to show good judgment in the channel outside the off-stump while facing both Wafadar and Ahmadzai. The pace duo, with open-chested actions, and from wide of the crease, got the ball to jag back into the batsman and straightened the occasional delivery to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of Vijay. Eventually, Vijay padded up to a delivery that seamed back in and was adjudged out. He took the review but to no avail.
Rahul, who looked mostly serene at the crease, edged one onto the stumps, while Rahane was dismissed LBW by Rashid. The legspinner, by then, had settled into a decent rhythm and was rewarded for his perseverance. On the other hand, it was a scratchy innings from the India captain. Initially, he was given out caught behind off Ahmadzai but the batsman got it to overturn via the review. Afghanistan had more to cheer about as Mujeeb removed Pujara with the carrom ball and a mix-up between Hardik Pandya and Dinesh Karthik, resulted in the latter’s run out. Hardik and Ravi Ashwin then survived a few anxious moments to steer India through.
In complete contrast to the final session, India dominated the proceedings in the morning session. After the hosts opted to bat, Dhawan led the way by exploring every nook and corner of the ground with a string of shots. He was particularly severe while facing the spin trio of Mohammad Nabi, Rashid and Mujeeb. He welcomed Nabi into the attack by dancing down the track to loft him for a six. In Nabi’s very next over, he swept him to the boundary hoardings to alter the spinner’s length.
Asghar Stanikzai soon turned to his trump card, Rashid, but Dhawan didn’t allow him to settle down by tonking him for a few fours. Rashid, on his part, tried to fox Dhawan with a googly but the southpaw batsman picked the googly and deposited it into the stands. He also took a heavy toll off Mujeeb by crunching him for three boundaries and got to his hundred in style with a cover drive while facing Rashid. He also became the first Indian to reach the three-figure mark before Lunch on the opening day.
Fortunately for the visitors, Dhawan could add only three more runs to his tally after the break as he tried an uppish drive off Ahmadzai and was dismissed. Rahul and Vijay then combined to take India close to Tea when heavens opened up and umpires decided to take early Tea. At that juncture of the day, Afghanistan looked flat and listless on the field but at close of play, the camp would have been delighted with their fightback.
Sport isn’t all about that one moment, related to winning or losing. It is also about athletes dreaming big. It is about the personal battles they undertake, the sweat of training far away from the limelight to fulfil their goals. Afghanistan’s story too isn’t just restricted to their maiden Test against India but it is also about the kind of dedication and hark work they have put in to reach the pinnacle of sport.
Brief scores: India 347/6 (Shikhar Dhawan 107, Murali Vijay 105; Yamin Ahmadzai 2-32) vs Afghanistan.