India Afghanistan Test 2018
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India, ranked no. 1 on ICC rankings, will take on Afghanistan  for the latter’s inaugural Test, at M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru. Ajinkya Rahane  has announced that India will not be taking Afghanistan lightly, and rightly so. The Afghans have been in tremendous form of late. While one might argue that Test cricket is an entirely different format from what they are used to, there is little doubt that the Afghans will be a force to reckon with.

Asghar Stanikzai dismissed the obvious question with “what nerves?” a day before the Test. He had also announced that Afghanistan have a spin attack superior to India’s — this, despite the presence of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, and perhaps Kuldeep Yadav.

Thanks to IPL, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman are already familiar faces in India. They have been India for some time now, including a 3-0 whitewash over Bangladesh at Dehradun. While Rashid, ranked No. 1 in T20 Internationals, is Afghanistan’s greatest force, Mujeeb has certainly benefited from his stint with Ravichandran Ashwin at Kings XI Punjab.

Mohammad Nabi will lend balance to the side with his all-seasons batting and off-breaks. Amir Hamza may be drafted in as further back-ups if the pitch is a turner. Even Rahmat Shah bowls leg-breaks.

The spin stock reads Rashid (leg-spin), Mujeeb (everything), Nabi (off-spin), Hamza (left-arm orthodox), Zahir Khan (Chinaman), and Rahmat (leg-breaks). Has a squad boasted of more?

On the other hand, the seam attack does not look too convincing in the hands of Yamin Ahmadzai and Wafadar Momand; will this be a throwback to India’s Pataudi days?

Stanikzai himself will form the fulcrum of the batting alongside Nabi and Mohammad Shahzad, the latter likely to be a flesh in the thorn unless dismissed for under 20. The rest need to support them.

Afghanistan likely XI: Mohammad Shahzad, Javed Ahmadi, Rahmat Shah, Asghar Stanikzai (c), Mohammad Nabi, Nasir Jamal, Afsar Zazai (wk), Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Yamin Ahmadzai, Wafadar Momand.

With Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, and the in-form KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan more or less certain, the only spot left for grabs will be a toss-up between Murali Vijay and Karun Nair. While Nair seems the obvious choice, Rahul has batted down the order before, and Rahane may reconsider doing that.

The Bengaluru Test between India and Australia was dominated by finger-spinners (Ashwin, Jadeja, and Nathan Lyon), but Josh Hazlewood had taken 6 for 67 as well. There may be help for seam bowling, in which case Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, and Hardik Pandya may all play. On the other hand, it may be a good idea to sacrifice Hardik for Kuldeep.

India likely XI: Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (c), Karun Nair, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav.

Predictions: Afghanistan may have been in terrific form, but India are table toppers for a reason. While there may (or may not) be some merit in Stanikzai’s words about the Afghan spinners, they can play only three of them (four, if they stretch), and India are clearly the better side in all other departments. However, expect a very, very keen contest, for those Afghans have — literally — risen from the ashes to take the world of cricket by storm.