Afghanistan’s first day at office
Afghanistan’s first day at office
Remember that first day at kindergarten? You were scared, nauseous, eager yet silent and looked back at your parents with tears welling up in your round, curious eyes. Chances are that you ended up crying loudly as your first teacher took you to the play area where a lot of other kids were crying too.
How long did you take to go to school with a smiling, happy face? A week? A month? A year? Definitely not a day. Yet, some kids adapt really quickly and you would have envied them just like you adored them as they grew into the most popular kids in high school.
Bengaluru witnessed scenes reminiscent of kindergarten days as a bunch of excited, pumped up Afghanistan players hit the ground with the enthusiasm of four year old kids who are handed a football for the first time. They seemed eager, almost anxious to prove a point.
In their quest to conquer, they failed to close the cavities that lined the brick walls to their fortress. And Shikhar Dhawan, like a suave axe-wielder, broke the wall that housed the King. He tore through the seam attack, racing to 24 in quick time as Asghar Stanikzai, the leader placed in charge of the ecstatic bunch, turned to his trusted allies, the spinners.
It was built up as the contest to watch out for. The crafty Afghanistan spinners against the polished Indian batsman. If the hype from the IPL wasn't enough, their uber confident skipper built up Rashid Khan and co with his assertive statements a day before the Test match.
“In Afghanistan, the brilliant thing is that a lot of the young talent that is coming through are spinners, because they all follow Rashid, they follow Nabi, so because of that our spin department is very strong from below. In my opinion, we have good spinners, better spinners than India," Stanikzai had said.
It took Dhawan merely six balls to blast the King. Rashid Khan, in his eagerness to test his skills against the red ball, dished out full tosses and googlies in aplenty against his Sunrisers Hyderabad teammate. 13 runs came off the over as Afghanistan's aura before the Test vanished into oblivion.
Much like Karun Nair and Dinesh Karthik ridiculed Stanikzai's words after his claims the other day citing the inexperience of the spinners, India's experienced openers awakened them into the realities of Test cricket. Rashid Khan's first four overs leaked 34 and yielded zilch wickets. In T20s, such figures from the leggie was unheard of. Here he struggled to control his lines, his lengths and his variations.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman, his trusted ally and mystery spinner, was equally disdained. The century partnership from Dhawan and Vijay and the former’s hundred before lunch on day one stole the highlight of the first session from Afghanistan's first birthday party.
They raced to 168/0 which turned into 284/3 as Afghanistan's seamers, the least talked about clan in their XI, made a mark. Just when it looked like Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, among the most trusted soldiers in Ravi Shastri's make-up military camp, would end the day on a high for India, the wounded enemies returned with renewed vigour.
Rashid and Mujeeb, who had barely bowled anything other than rubbish in the first session, soon weaved their magic. Rahane departed to a quickish leg-break from Rashid Khan, who celebrated his first wicket with the heart-warming celebrations that Indian fans have gotten used to in two summers of IPL. He nearly had Pujara caught at slip the next over when Mohammad Nabi shelled a genuine chance.
The no.4 batsman, though, wasn't to be India's guardian at close of play. What Rashid began, his keen admirer, Mujeeb, finished off. A carrom ball had Pujara befuddled and the inside edge was snapped up by, wait for it...Nabi, as Afghanistan paid little for their dropped chance.
Dinesh Karthik was run-out in a moment of madness as India went from 168/0 to 334/6. They ended with 347 on board at stumps and might very well add a lot more tomorrow if Hardik Pandya finds his upswing.
But for now, Afghanistan will breathe easier. Their whirlwind day had begun with dizzying uneasiness but peace was restored when two of their close-to-the-heart pistols found their bullets late in the day. There is still work to be done. In plenty.
But first days aren't about making an immediate impression. They are about getting accustomed to your surroundings, your tools and your tasks. The gargantuan proportions of their endeavour were revealed the moment Dhawan tormented Rashid Khan with the ease of an experienced rider mounting on his favourite horse.
If anything, Afghanistan aced their first day at office. They not only familiarised themselves to the surroundings and the task but also found ways to break through them and make an impression. For a country which grew in stature in limited-overs cricket with the velocity of an express train, day one of Test cricket was on expected lines. Cut them some slack, and let them grow.