In the lead up to Afghanistan’s landmark maiden Test, against India, one thing was clear: The match was going to be about the spinners.
Amid all the talk of making history, one statement has been at the focus of attention: “We have good spinners, better spinners than India,” Asghar Stanikzai, the captain, had declared. The Indians, while refusing to get drawn into a war of words, have only pointed to the home spinners' considerably greater experience with the red ball.
On the eve of the Test, which begins on Thursday, 14 July, Phil Simmons, the Afghanistan coach, too talked up his attack.
"My captain knows what he is talking about,” Simmons laughed, before tempering his comments.
“When you look at it, all spinners in this contest will be excellent,” he said.
“We know that right now, Rashid (Khan) is the most difficult spinner to play around. He has not played Test cricket, [so] we have to see what happens, but his professionalism will help him adjust and I’m sure he will come out well.”
Simmons agreed that with Rashid, the No.1 T20I bowler, being such a superstar and having all attention on him, it took pressure off the rest of the team. “Rashid is so professional, he knows how to deal with it,” he said. “And while he is dealing with it the others have time to work on their own strategies. I think it's a good thing for the team.”
On Wednesday, the surface at the M Chinnaswamy stadium had a tinge of green. The coach, however, was not worried that the pitch might blunt their biggest strength.
“When I played with them in Ireland, it was a little bit more greener than this and it still turned. I think the bowlers are experienced enough to turn on that. It looks a lot darker today than it did two days ago, so I think by the time tomorrow comes, it will be dry enough to spin on it,” he said.
If Afghanistan are so confident going into the game, it’s because they’ve prepared thoroughly for this. Even as the T20I side were dismantling Bangladesh in a 3-0 sweep in Dehradun, the red-ball specialists were going through the drills keeping in mind the fixture against India. Rashid, Mohammad Nabi, Stanikzai and Mohammad Shahzad are the only ones from the T20Is who will be part of the Test squad. While one team was playing limited-overs cricket, “we still had 12-13 players training with the red ball”, Simmons explained.
“Fortunately the three fast bowlers were not in the T20 squad and they have been concentrating on Test preparation. The two senior spinners Nabi and Rashid, I'm sure will be able to adjust themselves.”
Afghanistan couldn’t have had a tougher initiation into Test cricket, against the No.1 side in the world.— ICC (@ICC) June 13, 2018
But they can dare to dream of a fairy-tale finish! Here's why 👇https://t.co/zsAHKQDvBp pic.twitter.com/kGzZFKDkFX
India will be without Virat Kohli for the Test, and Simmons admitted it was a bit of a disappointment. But it wouldn’t take away from any Afghanistan success, he pointed out.
“There will always be a bit of disappointment in the players not to be on the same field as Virat, but at the same time, we look at it as ‘win the Test match and beat India’, we don't beat Virat. So we are disappointed he is not playing, but little bit happy that we are not going to bowl to him all the time. We are happy to be here and playing India – Virat is not India.”