After a memorable start by Ireland in their maiden Test outing, the focus shifts to Afghanistan as they start their journey in the longer formats against India in Bengaluru. The Afghani side comprises a number of experienced match-winners who can give the host side a run for their money. We have a SWOT analysis of the squad.
Afghanistan side – Ashgar Stanikzai, Mohammed Shahzad, Javed Ahmadi, Rahmat Shah, Ihsanullah Janat, Nasir Jamal, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Afsar Zazai, Mohammed Nabi, Rashid Khan, Zahir Khan, Amir Hamza Hotak, Sayed Ahmad Shirzad, Yamin Ahmadzai Wafadar, Mujeeb ur Rahman
The biggest strength is undoubtedly the presence of the 4 spinners in the side. While Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman plied their trade in the recently-concluded Indian Premier League, thus gaining a lot of experience, the side also has two more tweakers – chinaman Zahir Khan and Amir Hamza Hotak. Even though the Indian team will be playing at home, they have had problems against the spinners in the past and have struggled against the likes of Nathan Lyon, Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar and Ish Sodhi in the last few years.
With Rashid leading the attack, an Indian team without Virat Kohli could prove susceptible to the slower bowlers and even though the game will be played on a flat track in Bengaluru, one cannot discount their presence.
Players like Asghar Stanikzai, Mohammad Shahzad and Mohammad Nabi too have played for a long period of time and will be the mainstays of the batting order. The unpredictability factor too will work in their favour and just like Ireland put on a fight, Afghanistan too can spring a surprise.
The greatest weakness is, of course, the lack of experience that the squad has. Nabi is the most experienced first-class player with 32 games and only 3 other players have an experience of more than 20 plus first-class matches. Skipper Stanikzai has played 23 matches, pacer Wafadar has played 22 and Shahzad has 29 matches. Overall, the 15 members have played 205-first-class matches and while this can prove to be a liability, the fact that not many know much of pacers like Yamin Ahmadzai and Sayed Shirzad can prove to be an X-factor.
The pace department, however, lacks any experience of playing against players of such calibre and the batting attack too lacks the depth to face Indian bowlers like Kuldeep Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav.
The Afghanistan side has a big chance to catch the Indian team off-guard and script a performance worth remembering. The fact that Greater Noida is their home ground in India can also help the young side, who will be full of confidence and excitement as they venture into the longer format of the game. The Indian team over the years have struggled when they are the overwhelming favourites but to assume that they will win the game is a far-cry indeed. At best, they can put up a scare and with all eyes on them, they can hope to stand tall and impress.
Even though Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah are not in the Test side, the Indian squad are world-beaters and especially at home, they become invincible. With players like Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay donning the batting front, it shouldn’t be a surprise if the Afghan side face an innings defeat. However, they should shy away from losing hope and know that other than Australia no other team have won a Test in the first outing. It had taken New Zealand all of 26 years to win their first Test match and the young side should just take pride in the fact that they have been able to make a mark on the international scene in such a short span of time.