The title of William Shakespeare’s famed comedy Much Ado About Nothing might have found a place amongst the greatest pieces of literature ever written, but its title has transformed into an idiom frequently used even away from the bibliophiles. Recently, the phrase was in the news during the Indian-Afghanistan Test match, which ended rather anti-climactically after days of build-up and excitement. As Afghanistan became the twelfth team to make their Test debut, the Asghar Stankizai-led side had a lot of attention being showered on them. Their run in the shorter formats of the game had given off hopes for a miracle performance in the whites, but a defeat in two days converted their dream into a nightmare. Here are the 5 talking points from the game.
Test cricket is a different ball-game altogether
Though no team except Australia has won a game on their Test debut, a lot of talks had circulated around the fact that the Afghans could hand India a shock defeat or even run them close, considering their recent form in the ODIs and T20Is in mind. Coupled with a number of match-winners, particularly Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, the visitors had the potential to surprise and the media channels were abuzz with the same. However, the young side realised that Test cricket is indeed the toughest format of the game, as they were constantly outplayed, with their biggest threats being reduced to zero.
Over-confidence too does not play a part in the format, and captain Stanikzai would have realised this the hard way. He had proudly proclaimed that his side had worthier spinners than the Indians for the game, a truth that was rubbished with the Afghan spin trio picking up 4 wickets in 62.5 overs. In contrast, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja scalped 11 wickets between them in the two innings.
Mohammad Shahzad too would have faced the reality of Test cricket on the very first day with the bat, after he had compared himself with Indian great Virat Kohli. Stating that he could hit bigger sixes than the Indian skipper and that fitness was not as important in cricket, Shahzad was brought back to the harsh truth after he was run-out in the first innings by Hardik Pandya.
Though it would be too harsh to criticize the debutants, they should be made aware that a huge disparity exists between the two formats of the game, and the first match would have shown them that.
Afghanistan spinners falter
As stated above, a lot was riding on the shoulders of Rashid, Mujeeb and Nabi after their skipper had fired the opening salvo in the series by claiming the three were better than the Indian counterparts. Rashid, in particular, looked pretty ordinary, opting for a number of variations instead of sticking to a consistent line and length. Shikhar Dhawan was particulary harsh on his Sunrisers Hyderabad teammate, smashing him for 13 runs in his first over. Rashid kept bowling one boundary ball after another, dishing out stuff to be hit and his googlies too failed to make an impact. It was not until he had gotten his first wicket, that of Ajinkya Rahane’s that he finally got back the control and the motivation that Rashid so badly needed. His leg-break eventually came to his rescue but when the Afghan side needed him the most, he failed to find any sort of a momentum.
The match was a reminder to the cricketers from the new country that Test cricket, after all, is the pinnacle and a major reason why the successful shorter format players fail to achieve heights in Test is, because, the two, after all, are different ball games.
Shikhar Dhawan’s blazing hundred
Shikhar Dhawan became the first Indian to score a hundred before the first session ended on Day 1 as he scored a blazing 107 in just 96 balls with 19 fours and 3 sixes. However, the Delhiite’s stupendous form does in no way solve the opening woes ahead of the all-important tour to England. While Dhawan has always been a spectacular player in India, averaging 44.37 at home, his average drops miserably when the ball is swinging or seaming. His average is a paltry 20 in England, 18 in South Africa and 27.832 in Australia, and Dhawan shows glimpses of poor footwork when facing the James Andersons and the Mitchell Starcs.
KL Rahul on the other hand, got a game after a tremendous IPL, and even though Dhawan was in fine form, it is the Karnataka player who is expected to be given a go-ahead due to his superior technique and footwork against the moving ball.
Ishant Sharma finds the fuller lengths consistently
Ishant Sharma has been in the news in recent times for bowling short lengths that gave enough time to the batsmen to read him. It was Jason Gillespie, Ishant’s coach during his county stint at Sussex who forced him to go fuller and adopt a more accurate wrist position at the point of release. He worked on improving the length of the ball that held its line, forcing the rivals to think that the ball would come back into him. Though Ishant’s natural deliveries come back into the right-handers, it was evident during the game that the bowler was bowling from different spots to create different angles when he released the ball. His 2 wickets in the first innings were inswingers that troubled the Afghans and it was clear that the player had benefited deeply from his county stint.
Ajinkya Rahane’s poor form in India continues
While a batsman generally relishes playing in his home conditions and struggles abroad, a case in point being India’s own Cheteshwar Pujara who has achieved feats in India but emerges a pauper away from home, things are reverse for Rahane. The stand-in skipper had the chance to score big runs after the top 3 had cashed in but he struggled to get 10 in 45 balls. It was against Rahane that Rashid started finding his momentum, and with this dismissal, the player’s average at home reads 32.87, as against his career average of 43.17.
The average leapfrogs to 52.05 away from home and even when Rahane had the opportunity to improve on his records, the demons of playing at home prevented him from doing so.