IND vs AFG: One-off Test – Nothing to lose; Glory to gain
The Afghans will be making history in the Chinnaswmay.
Updated - Jun 13, 2018 7:54 pm
As the flight touches down in the domestic terminal of the Bengaluru International Airport, several Afghanistan players who boarded the plane descend down the portable stairway. They are a 15-man strong squad, adrift of the gang they are usually referred to back in Kabul. Their dashing captain Asghar Stanikzai wears a smile and hides the hint of nervousness and speculative anxiousness under the tint of his glasses.
They are here to play a Test match. Sure, the Afghans have played Tests previously, and several times at that. But the international arena is a rather touchy subject. No one, least of all the Afghan cricket board can claim this to be an easy journey. Hailing from lands ripped apart and fractured by decades of war, a gem of a team has emerged.
The very gems of Afghanistan they are called. By the President of the nation himself. Many say that these so-called ‘gems’ ought to protect themselves from the infamy of the Taliban fatwa. And protect themselves they did. By playing a brand of cricket with an international acclaim. An international repute.
‘No,’ Stanikzai says, ‘We need to practice. We cannot do another interview.’ And he signals his band of merry men to get back and sweat it out. Rashid and Mujeeb begin the longest spell they have ever bowled in the nets. Both these lads are considered the best in the world. And mind you, the ‘World Class’ tag isn’t one that comes easily.
Phil Simmons and Charl Langeveldt keep a keen eye on proceedings. They begin to get a bit worried. Rashid, Mujeeb, and Zahir have been bowling in tandem to a bevy of Afghan batsmen for over two hours. Perhaps, it would make sense for Stanikzai to indeed make time for the media.
Bengaluru: A good place to make a Test debut
And they continue. As they walk across the lawn and astro-turf laden expanse of the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, there suddenly seems to be a lot more at stake. They are overwhelmed. Not by the expanse, which isn’t all that big. In fact, it is barely a few hundred meters to the fence. Something bigger dawns upon them.
The KSCA has proved to be a rather good place to make one’s debut. Right from the 70’s, many players of massive relevance have made their debuts. Sir Viv and his quintessential brother-in-arms Gordon Greenidge played their first ever international here. They had strolled the ground similar to the Afghans a few decades ago. Not to mention Virat Kohli, the poster boy of Indian cricket at the moment. His international exposure was in this very ground when he brushed shoulders with Vijay Mallya in his dashing RCB outfit.
The historical significance is massive. It cannot be ignored. And the funny thing is that it had dawned upon on the Indians as well.
Ravi Ashwin and Virat Kohli were due to play County Cricket. In fact, as the BCCI had planned, they were to acclimatize to the English conditions before the tour began. But now, it seems as though none of them will be playing as Ashwin chose to make history with the wily Afghans. Cheteshwar Pujara and Ishant Sharma were flown back as well.
In spite of the absence of Virat Kohli (via injury), the Indians have indeed named somewhat of a formidable side. The likes of Ajinkya Rahane and Murali Vijay are expected to play, both of whom would walk into any Test squad. That is the significance of this encounter.
The Indians will be playing Test match number 522, many have begun recounting the first time the Indians took the stage in Test cricket. It was June 25th 1932 when CK Nayudu stood face-to-face with the immortal Douglas Jardine. Unlike the other Test matches that had been played there before, this one was somewhat of a spectacle.
Such a spectacle it was that King Edward himself had taken time out to greet the Indians. Of course, he ruled over them as well, but the very presence of royal blood within the Lord’s cricket ground was a spectacle in itself.
The Bigger picture
With history and all its glory there to gain, it is least expected that the Afghans will be taking something of this magnitude lightly. Asghar Stanikzai, the skipper has already begun playing his mind games. ‘We have better spinners than India,’ he once said, something that was met with a considerable amount of criticism.
Cockiness aside, the bigger picture still remains. The small canvas is the Test match, but the larger picture depicts a struggle for freedom and a prayer to rejoin the fractured lands of a war-torn nation with little glory to boast of.
A lot many cricketing fans around the world would remember the Afghan inception into the World T20 all those years ago in 2012 scattered within the leeward islands of the Caribbean. Fewer would recall the manner in which they were trounced with the news of the fatwa.
And the most remarkable thing? It has taken them just six years to earn their much-awaited and much-desired Test cricketing status. Of course, kudos to the BCCI and the ICC for pulling this off in the spirit of the game. But the fact of the matter remains, and always shall. Bengaluru will be the scene for the creation of history and the eleven players within the Afghanistan side will surely be a part of immortality. Immortality that only a select few can boast about as their own.
Although playing a Test match for the first time and creating a piece of history isn’t going to put the fractured lands back into one piece again, it will do something far more important. It will be a confidence boost to all those good folks in the plains of Kandahar to at least dream of hope and a minuscule light at the end of the tunnel.
‘If they ever tell my story, let them say I walked with giants. Men rise and fall like the winter wheat, but these names will never die.’