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First day, first show: Afghanistan learn their lessons quickly

by Wisden Staff 4 minute read

Rashid Khan’s first over in Test cricket went for 13 runs. In his first 10-over spell he conceded 75. He leaked 109 runs before he got his first Test wicket.

This from a bowler who in his short, exciting career so far has on an average given away 3.96 runs an over in ODIs and 5.93 in T20Is, and is the fastest to 100 ODI wickets. Was this really the best leg-spinner in the world or an impostor oscillating wildly between too short and too full and well frustrated?

Mujeeb Ur Rahman, a Test talent from the 21st century, he of the prodigious mystery spin, brought out his tricks early. But with control abandoning him, his second over produced a flat six and another down the ground.

Mohammad Nabi, veteran, hero, rock, was called on to bowl in the ninth over of the morning and offered a three-over burst that cost his team 21.

What was that about your spinners and being the best? – India’s Shikhar Dhawan seemed to ask Afghanistan with every imperious boundary that deflated just a little the excitement of the newest members joining the Test club.

And, for the longest time on Thursday, June 14, in Bangalore, Afghanistan had no response to the left-hander, who in becoming the first Indian to score a century in the first session of a Test threatened to push to second in the headlines their own big day.

In fact, they had no answer to any of the Indian top order. And it seemed they would get little help from fortune, who’d held their hands up the ranks these past 15 years.

Murali Vijay nearly chopped on – the operative word being nearly; edges ran to the boundary behind square because there was nobody in catching positions; their new-ball bowler limped off after sending down four overs; and nobody was convinced when an animated Mohammad Shahzad asked Asghar Stanikzai to call for a review for caught behind when Dhawan was on 23.

But, as the debutants themselves have so earnestly put it every day in the run up to this historic first, Test cricket is about patience and perseverance.

So they stayed patient and persevered.

The morning before they stepped on to the field was solemn and laden. A red carpet was rolled out for dignitaries, who came bearing mementos and messages from heads of state. When they lined up in their spiffy blue jackets over Test whites to collect their cheery red caps, it was the realisation of a cherished dream of more than just the XI there.

Yes, there were nerves, said Yamin Ahmadzai, the man who bowled Afghanistan’s first ball in Test cricket, after the day’s play. And no, he had no words to describe the feeling.

But once they could shake off the burden of history – and send back Dhawan – Afghanistan began to enjoy the other side of Test cricket: The rewards for grafting away all day.

Khan’s 18th over of the day was his first maiden. He would have another by stumps. His one wicket could well have been four, if edges had carried, catches had been held, and the umpire agreed with him. Having changed ends and with the ball gripping better, he suddenly looked like the match-winner he is known to be, and the proof was a praiseworthy 9-2-15-1 in his final spell for the day.

Rahman, like Khan, also brought down his economy rate that was hovering past six an over to a more respectable one. His seven-over final spell gave away just 13 runs, while he picked up his maiden wicket as well.

And all through this emotional, topsy-turvy day for them, Afghanistan kept their spirit burning. They may not all have had the showmanship of a Mohammad Shahzad to do a little jig for a cheering crowd while on the outfield, but they threw themselves around, never let shoulders droop and rallied around when their captain gathered them with the advice to keep it simple.

“We gripped the game and we started to go with another plan, which was a little bit defensive and we were successful in that,” explained Ahmadzai. It was an experience to play against the best Test side, he said. “Still there are four days to go. We will try to do our best.”

Their first day of Test cricket was a learning experience, yes, but it was far from a chastening for the format’s newest, most eager members.

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