NAIMISH GUPTA | 11 JUNE, 2018
Why Should Indian Batsmen Be Wary of Afghan Spinners
The Bangladesh whitewash
June 14 will go down as a golden day in the history of Afghanistan Cricket as it marks their birth into the challenging and gritty world of Test cricket and that too against the no.1 ranked side in the world, the Indian Cricket Team.
It is never easy for a nascent nation to come out and make an impact in its very first Test outing but somehow this young high-on-confidence Afghan battalion has skyrocketed the expectations with a slew of impressive performances which their players have put on display so far this year.
“It’s a big achievement for us to get Full Membership and now playing Test cricket against India in India. It will be a very big day for us and the whole country to play the first Test against India in Bangalore. I’m really excited about that. Hopefully, we will give our best performance in that,” said an ecstatic Rashid Khan in an award-show.
First, it was the World Cup qualifiers win in Zimbabwe, then an impactful IPL season for two of their golden spin twins and lastly, the 3-0 decimation of a ‘Test nation’, Bangladesh in the scenic valleys of Dehradun, all have contributed their bits in the cricketing fraternity expecting a tough Afghan challenge for the Indians when they take field in Bengaluru. What makes the June 14 contest even more riveting is the spin prowess of the Indian batsmen. They have a reputation of being the best players of spin in the world and that will be severely tested against a varied and elite three-pronged spin attack of the gateway nation between the Indian sub-continent and the Asia minor.
“The whole world knows that [we have very good spinners in] Rashid, Mujeeb, Nabi, Rehmat [Shah] and Zahir [Khan]. In my opinion, we have good spinners, better spinners than India,” said the Afghan skipper, Asghar Stanikzai spicing up the pre-match battle before June 14.
Challenges are aplenty but Afghanistan players seem to be in the right sync before the history dawns upon them as they have had a phenomenal year so far. They came from behind, when their campaign was in shambles, and won the World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe to book a spot in the now-curtailed, 10-team, mega-cricketing event that England is going to host next year. Their star spinners Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman had an exceptional IPL where they bamboozled even the modern-day greats like Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers to make an authoritative statement of their skill-set.
Mujeeb was unlucky that his side couldn’t make it to the playoffs despite going on in a cruise mode in the first half of the tournament but his fellow Afghani, Rashid Khan more than made up for his absence in the final-four stages as he put on his best show of the tournament in the playoffs to carry his team through to the finals, only to be conquered by the batting might of the Super Kings. While Rashid finished second in the bowling charts with his 21 wickets from 17 games with an economy of just 6.74 runs per over, Mujeeb racked in 14 scalps from 11 games at an equally good economy of 6.99 runs per over before missing final three games of the league stage due to an injury.
While Rashid and Mujeeb hogged all the limelight, another star all-rounder from the Hindu Kush nation, Mohammad Nabi mostly warmed the benches as there are only four overseas players allowed to play at a time in an IPL squad and Nabi was unfortunate to miss out on a lot of opportunities despite having a great skill-set with both bat and ball. The star all-rounder didn’t get bogged down after the missed opportunities at IPL and instead helped his bit in his team’s triumph over Bangladesh. He took four wickets from three games which came at a second-best economy of just five runs an over while also contributing with the bat in the second T20I game helping his side seal the three-match T20I series in the second game itself.
The three spinners were really the force behind Afghanistan’s successful taming of the Bangla Tigers as they combinedly took 14 of the 21 wickets that came the bowlers’ way at a very frugal economy of 4.82 runs per over and they will have to rise again in Bengaluru which, in crude terms, is a battle between Afghanistan’s spin troika and the masterful batting of the Indians because it is a well-accepted fact that Afghanistan don’t really have a batting unit which can match the skill-set of their opposition batting stalwarts who, despite the absence of their skipper, are still a formidable batting unit.
While Rashid and Mujeeb have a mystery factor associated with their bowling arsenal which is expected to trouble the Indian batting stars, Nabi’s calculated offbreaks with a strong right arm release serve as a perfect conventional element to the varied spin bowling repertoire of Afghanistan. On the batting front, all the three are capable batsmen with Nabi leading the way. Nabi has an established batting prowess while Rashid Khan’s batting exploits at the Eden Gardens in the second Qualifier still give goosebumps to the cricketing fraternity.
One may have a doubt over Afghan spinners’ ability to adapt to the rigours of Test cricket while maintaining the surprise element that fetches them regular wickets, but the recent Bangladesh series proved that these players are more than ready to adapt and soak in the pressure of the big-stage clashes and are willing to alter their execution successfully in order to stay ahead in the game.
A good example for this thesis is Rashid Khan, who is predominantly viewed as a wrong ‘un bowler but the recently concluded T20I series saw him bowl more leg breaks (59% than googlies (41%) while picking up four wickets at each of the two bowling varieties. The apprehensions regarding their nerve-holding abilities were put to rest in the final T20I where Rashid defended a paltry 9 runs off the last over against the likes of Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah.
Whatever may be the result of the maiden Test clash in Bengaluru, but one thing is certain that Afghanistan Cricket will see a new sun rising after that epic clash which will aid the growth of even more talented youngsters taking the big stage and preferably from various departments of the game and not just spin prodigies, as that would bode well for a long and successful Afghan innings in the international cricketing arena.