IND vs AFG: 3 big challenges for the home team

History will be created in Bengaluru as Afghanistan will be expected to play their first ever Test match.

Indian team
Indian team. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

India will take on Afghanistan, the 12th team to make debut in Test cricket, at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru from June 14. It will be India’s 522nd Test match and the fans believe that the hosts will not have much problem in beating the freshers in this match.

But as any other experienced international side, Afghanistan will be no pushovers in this game, as they have proved in their recent run in international cricket. In their last 11 one-day international series – bilateral or multilateral – Afghanistan have won seven while two have been drawn. They only lost series against Bangladesh and Ireland – also a new Test-playing side – by narrow margins. The teams that Afghanistan beat included Test-playing ones and they included even the West Indies – two-time World champions.

In the Twenty20 format, Afghanistan have won five of their last six series and what is stunning is that barring the 0-3 loss against the West Indies in an away series, they haven’t lost a single game in the other five series, four of which were bilateral. They have a 16-0 record in these series.

So, although Asghar Stanikzai’s team hasn’t played in a Test yet, it has done exceedingly well in the other two formats and its performances in those will boost their game in the longest format. Stanikzai has already started playing the mind game like any other seasoned Test captain, remarking that his side has better spinners than India after some of the Afghan spinners terrific performance in the recently concluded Indian Premier League.

India will certainly be the favourites despite the Afghan assertion as the cricketing powerhouse which has won nine of their last 11 series with a cent per cent record at home against big teams like South Africa, England and Australia. They though lost their last series played in South Africa 1-2, a defeat that came after three years, but India bounced back strongly to annihilate the Proteas 5-1 in the following ODI series and 2-1 in the T20 series.

Still, India have some concerns ahead of the Afghanistan Test and they can’t afford to allow them to engulf the team’s chances to win this game. India have played two other teams in their debut Test in the last 25 years (Zimbabwe in 1992 and Bangladesh in 2000) and on both occasions, they did not seem to be cruising throughout. It was only the inexperience of the debut teams which had seen India finishing unbeaten in those games. Against Afghanistan, India need to be careful about not finishing third time unlucky.

Form of stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane worrying

But India, as said earlier, have their concerns. The first is the form of stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane. The 30-year-old batsman has been picked as the captain in the absence of the more dominating Virat Kohli, who decided to skip the Test, but his form is far from satisfactory at the moment.

Averaging nearly 44 in the longest format, Rahane’s recent form has been so disappointing that he was not even chosen for the playing XI in the first two Tests against South Africa despite being the vice-captain of the side. His last 26 innings has seen only one ton (132 versus Sri Lanka in August 2017) and in the ODI series versus South Africa which Kohli almost single-handedly won for India, Rahane could score only one half-century.

With Kohli being absent and Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay not in the greatest of touch in Tests, yet another flop show from Rahane could mean a serious challenge for the Indian batting order and it could put the other mainstay Cheteshwar Pujara under a lot of stress. The Afghans will be knowing this very well and will go after the captain to put the hosts’ batting under pressure. Rahane was not in great touch in the IPL either and it will be a major worry for the Indians in Bengaluru.

Wriddhiman Saha’s injury

The second worry India could have is about the wicket-keeper. Wriddhiman Saha’s injury and eventual ouster from the side has brought Dinesh Karthik in the Test side after eight long years and this proposition is risky. Karthik has been in great form in T20 cricket, which was also see during the IPL, but nobody really knows what the man can do in the Tests – a format he hasn’t really played (he replaced Parthiv Patel in the third Test versus SA in Johannesburg earlier this year) for long.

The tenacity to survive five days unless India’s bowlers really make merry of Afghanistan’s batsmen and also chipping in with the bat will be the 33-year-old diminutive player’s main challenge behind the stumps. Specially the pressure on Karthik will be as a batsman for the line-up will not have Kohli and feature a struggling Rahane and Dhawan. Karthik’s average in Tests has not been ordinary and it will be seen how he negotiates the Afghanistani spinners who will hunt in packs.

India’s spinners will be under pressure

The third major challenge for India will be their spinners. The Afghan captain wasn’t off the target when he said his spinners are doing better than India’s. While the names like Rashid Khan, Mujib ur Rahman, Zahir Khan, Mohammad Nabi and others have made the headlines for their performances or potential, India’s experienced spinning duo Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, who have a combined tally of 476 wickets, has been seen more with suspicion.

The reason is their lesser success of late (Jadeja hasn’t even played a Test since December) and also the fast rise of young spinners like Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. Yadav was impressive in South Africa and the IPL of late in the limited-over formats and if the two-Test-old chinaman bowler gets a chance in the Test against Afghanistan and proves his worth, he could put the career of either of the two senior spinners in jeopardy.

Hence, for the Indian spinners, the competition is more against themselves than those in the opponent ranks and this could put all of them under pressure to perform. The result can be either too good or too bad which makes it uncertain. The good news for India is that its fast bowlers are in good touch and they could hide the spinners’ vulnerability against an inexperienced batting side in the final count.