As we build up to the historic clash in Bengaluru, Cricketnext takes a look at five key clashes that are expected to headline the contest.
1) Mohammed Shahzad vs Umesh Yadav
This could sound blasphemous to Indian cricket fans but Mohammed Shahzad is to this Afghan team what Virender Sehwag was to the Indian Test team of the first decade of the 2000s. His ability to launch a fierce attack at the top of the order often reduces the pressure on the batsmen who follow. A good striker of the cricket ball, Shahzad relies a lot on his hand-eye co-ordination, just like Sehwag did. His ability to hit on the up and to clear the in-field at will often disturbs the line and length of bowlers. The wicket-keeper batsman knows no other way to play and will look to take the attack to the Indian pacers at the top of the order.
The best way to unsettle a player like Shahzad is to beat him with good seam movement. If the bowler is able to move the ball in the air, then it becomes an even bigger struggle as Shahzad doesn't move his feet a lot. Umesh Yadav looked potent with his outswingers against the Aussies last year and showed good form in the IPL as well. He lost his place in the playing XI in South Africa but with Mohammed Shami dropped due to fitness issues and Bhuvneshwar Kumar rested, this is a golden opportunity for Yadav to win back his Test spot. Team India would expect him to make early in-roads into the Afghan batting line-up and Yadav with his extra burst of pace will be a handful for the tourists.
2) Asghar Stanikzai vs R Ashwin
Asghar Stanikzai has been the 'Rock of Gibraltar' in the Afghan middle-order for several years now. A first-class average of nearly 45 shows that the captain is one of the better batsmen that the newcomers have in the longest format. His role will be crucial if the top order crumbles. Patience is often the key on Indian tracks and Stanikzai has quite a lot of it. Coming in the middle-order the Afghan skipper is expected to face India's premier wicket-taker. R Ashwin has been in a league of his own on sub-continental tracks and will be keen to improve upon his 311 Test wickets.
Ashwin has added some new weapons to his armoury and will be keen to Test them against the Afghans as sterner Tests await away from home in England and Australia later this year.
3) Murali Vijay vs Yamin Ahmadzai
Murali Vijay is still smarting from a terrible tour of South Africa where he failed to register even a half-century in six innings. The opener's form in India has been good but Vijay needs runs and confidence under his belt ahead of a make-or-break tour to England. The moniker 'Monk' sat well on the Chennai batsman as he became a paragon of patience at the top of the order, leaving almost everything outside the off-stump. But a pronounced shuffle towards the off stump, seen during the South Africa tour, and a penchant to go for those drives on the up seem to have brought about a change in Vijay's game plan for the worse.
The Indian opener will be tested by the young Yamin Ahmadzai, if selected in the playing XI, who can move the ball off the pitch and in the air. Ahmadzai has 67 wickets in 22 first-class outings under his belt and will look to do some early damage before the spinners take centre stage.
4) Cheteshwar Pujara vs Rashid Khan
Cheteshwar Pujara is back from a mixed bag of a county stint with Yorkshire and he will be Indian batting's mainstay in Virat Kohli's absence. Pujara has an eye on the English tour as that will be his baptism by fire and the India no 3 would want to go into the tour with some runs under his belt. He has been a colossus on Indian soil and will be expected to hold the innings together. The biggest threat to him will be posed by Afghanistan's ace spinner, Rashid Khan. The leggy has troubled almost all top Indian batsmen in the IPL with his variety but bowling with the red ball will be a tougher challenge.
Someone like Pujara has all the time in the world while on the crease as he rarely commits to a shot. He will look to play Rashid late and off the backfoot. The Afghan tweaker though is an artist and can be expected to up his game in a showpiece encounter like this one. Whoever wins this battle could have a big impact on the match.
5) Ajinkya Rahane vs Mujeeb ur Rahman
Ajinkya Rahane is a class act but his fragility on Indian tracks in Test cricket is something which cannot be explained. Rahane doesn't look very comfortable against spin early in the innings and his failures on home soil cost him his place in the Test side earlier this year. The young Mujeeb Ur Rahman has a lot of variety and has posed a threat to seasoned batsmen, as we saw in the IPL. Indian batsmen are known for their ability to read mystery spinners off the hand but Mujeeb has been excellent with his guise. A stiff challenge is on the offing for the stand-in Indian captain.
Ajinkya Rahaneasghar stanikzaiAshwinbangalore testCheteshwar Pujaraind vs afgIndia vs Afghanistan 2018mohammed shahzadmurali vijayRashid KhanUmesh Yadav
First Published: June 13, 2018, 4:07 PM IST