With Ireland faring well against Pakistan, it’s time for Afghanistan to prove their worth against India……
New chapters scare as much as they excite. Aware that the first step towards a beginning will be forever etched in memories, the initiation into the unknown remains replete with an unnerving pressure to perform and to stake a claim; to show the world of one’s worth and to give off a strong message of belonging. Ireland’s journey towards the Test arena was filled with similar emotions, even as one eagerly awaited the start of a fairy-tale beginning.
Even though rain had wiped out the first day of what would have been a historical day in Ireland’s cricketing path, the next four days were filled with nostalgia and unrivalled joy; of what ifs and could haves. After Pakistan had piled on 337 runs in the first innings and Ireland were bowled out for 82 (not unexpectedly, one must say!), a quick and an anti-climactic end to the game awaited but what followed felt fans and experts alike with a sense of pride. As Kevin O Brien raced away to a Test century and as Ireland defied the threats of Mohammad Amir for over 50 overs, the cricketing arena joined hands to applaud the grit and the determination that had been displayed by the inexperienced side.
Though a victory eluded the team, (oh, what a story that would have been!), the William Porterfield-led side set a stiff precedent for the Afghanistan cricket team who too are expected to play their first Test match against India early next month. The subcontinental side who were accorded the Test status with Ireland have been regularly pitching in with consistent performances and became the second team with West Indies to qualify for the World Cup that will be held in England next year.
The young Afghan side have been winning hearts with their charisma and their never-say-die-spirit, rising above from the ruins and the decrepit of the war-torn land to come together as a unit where passion for the sport runs wild. In a country where cricket was viewed with dubious eyes, the emergence of stalwarts like Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi is not only inspiring but also eye-opening.
Ever since they entered the 2010 World T20 tournament, Afghanistan cricket team’s trajectory has been on the rise. Qualifying for the World Cup in 2015 for the first time was a major boost and defeating teams like Scotland in that tournament a massive achievement. However, it was their defeat of West Indies in the 2016 T20 World Cup in India that seriously brought them to the forefront. By being the only team to defeat the Windies in that tournament, the Afghan players ensured that the global stage was up and staring at them.
Series wins over Zimbabwe and Ireland followed and a memorable victory over the West Indies on their first major bilateral tour helped them gain the elusive Test status and even while it was a realisation of a long-held dream, the battle is yet to begin.
However, unlike Ireland, Afghanistan will face a sterner test in their maiden outing in the white flannels. For one, the former played at home and in familiar conditions while Afghanistan will be playing at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. Though Greater Noida and Dehradun serve as the team’s home ground, Afghanistan have played a majority of their matches in UAE and playing India in India, even though the conditions are oddly familiar, is a scary prospect.
Secondly, the Ajinkya Rahane-led Indian team will be playing with their first-choice players who have performed exceptionally well at home over the last few years. Though Virat Kohli will be off to play county cricket in preparation for the crucial tour of India to England, the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rahane, Ishant Sharma and Kuldeep Yadav are sure to turn up the heat.
However, Afghanistan will come equipped with their most crucial member Rashid, who, with his devilish grin and unpredictable deliveries, promises to bamboozle the rivals. Even though the Indians are considered as one of the best players of spin, they were found wanting against the likes of Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar, Ish Sodhi, Michael Santner and Nathan Lyon in the past.
Though a victory seems a distant dream against India, and with even history going against them (Australia are the only team to win their inaugural Test match!), the Afghanistan side are up against a boulder but what they might have learnt after looking at a spirited Irish side last week is that challenges matter for little when the will to succeed looms large.