By Richard Edwards
There have been so many firsts for Afghanistan since they burst onto the international scene that it’s easy to get blase about a fairytale that shows no sign of ending.
On Thursday, though, at the M.Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, another glorious chapter will be penned by the 11 players who take part in the country’s first ever Test match.
No-one is holding out too much hope of victory – but just walking out on the opening morning to take on an Indian side ranked number one in the ICC World Test Rankings is triumph enough.
Andy Moles, the former Warwickshire batsman and ex-head coach of Afghanistan, will be at the ground as Phil Simmons’ side take on the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravi Ashwin in a one-off Test that represents a unique opportunity for the visitors.
And the man in charge of overseeing Afghanistan’s next generation of talent is confident that it will be a moment to remember – regardless of the result.
“Since Afghanistan won the qualifying tournament and made it to the World Cup, there has been a huge amount of excitement,” he says.
“We’ve just beaten Bangladesh in the T20 series in India as well, so there’s a really good feeling going into this first Test.
“The players have been out in India for the past six weeks or so and they’ve prepared as well as possible. Ireland have had their debut Test and now its Afghanistan’s turn.
“I think bowling-wise, especially in the spin department, they’ll be okay. It will be interesting to see how the Afghan batters survive.
“They have quality but the challenge will be whether they can bat for a long time and sustain the pressure, which is the next step in Test match cricket.
“There will be nerves and there will be expectation – and how they cope with that pressure will have a massive impact on how that Test debut goes.”
It’s likely to be a trial by turn for both batting line-ups, with India’s slow men in their element on home tracks and Afghanistan naming a first Test squad consisting of four spinners. One of them is Rashid Khan, the Afghan wonderkid, who is already drawing comparison with Shane Warne.
“Rashid Khan is the poster boy for Afghanistan cricket, there’s absolutely no doubt about that,” says Moles. “He has been for the past couple of years but in the last six months, with what he acheived in the Big Bash, the IPL and what he has been doing for Afghanistan, he has just taken it to the next level.
“He’s not only getting a lot of attention in Afghanistan, he’s now a huge figure in world cricket. People are saying he’s the next Shane Warne.
“He’s a wonderful young man who works very hard at his game. He’s very humble and I think everybody is delighted with the success he’s having.
“It’s a huge opportunity for him next week, to show just what he’s capable of doing in Test cricket as well as the short-format stuff.”
The eyes of the cricket world will certainly be on him next week and a decent bowling performance from the 19-year-old will be essential for Afghanistan’s Test bow to be remembered for all the right reasons.
Millions will follow the match on Star Sports back home in a country still ravaged by regular terror attacks. The next generation of Afghan talent, however, is already gearing up for their own crack at Test cricket when the time comes.
“We had 600 kids turn up for a recent under-19 trial, and that’s just in one province,” says Moles.
“The interest here is incredible, everyone wants to wear that shirt.”
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