INDIA VS AFGHANISTAN, ONE-OFF TEST
Ajinkya Rahane has the chance to repair his recent troubles in home Tests © AFP
For India, one of the challenges of playing a Test against a team like Afghanistan will be tackling the unknown entities, or the players they haven’t played against before. For a team that is constantly on the move all year, the players tend to depend on the support staff to get them up to date.
Their chief team analyst has changed since the Champions Trophy last year where they fell prey to such unknown entities in a couple of games. Ajinkya Rahane preferred to not think about Afghanistan too much and added that they will stick to their processes. Apart from the problems unknown, India have another difficult and ongoing one – the problems of choice, and those that come along with it. It offers no easy solutions but the Test against Afghanistan is yet another opportunity to attain a bit of clarity.
The openers conundrum
Over the last two years, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul have all had their share of good and bad runs. Their game of musical chairs has been relentless, but with all three fit and available, there is a chance that they get to play together in Virat Kohli’s absence. While Karun Nair, the natural middle-order replacement is also present in the squad, he will also have a chance to prove his mettle in England when he travels with the ‘A’ side.
For Vijay, who has lacked game-time recently, this could be the only opportunity to get back into the groove. The Test might just present BCCI with the opportunity to decide which two will feature as the first-choice options on the tour of England.
The spin puzzle
While this too is a problem of choosing the best amongst three available options, the solution will be different as India are unlikely to field all three – Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav – together. While Ashwin and Jadeja sail on the same boat, this Test could also see the earliest indication of how India plan to use wrist spin in the longest format of the game. If given a chance ahead of either of the two finger spinners, Kuldeep Yadav might just have the perfect opportunity to move up the pecking order for India’s next Test assignment, in England.
Slip cordon shenanigans
For the bowlers to do well though, catches need to be taken – an area of concern for India in Test cricket currently. A constantly rotating slip cordon hasn’t helped their cause. And the introduction of a new wicket-keeper in Dinesh Karthik will further force changes in the equation behind the stumps. The keeper’s position invariably dictates the fielding positions of the slip cordon too, and it needs to be precise and consistent for a catcher to grow into the role. The newest entrant to India’s first slip position is Cheteshwar Pujara, who essayed the role against Sri Lanka at home and then in South Africa, looks set to continue at that position. Just the one Test against Afghanistan might be too little, but it’s another opportunity to get better.
Winds of change for Rahane
He was dropped from the eleven in South Africa but the tides have turned quickly and is now the captain of the Indian team. But, the runs have been lacking. He was a vital cog in India’s middle-order during their previous overseas season a couple of years ago. This Test presents him with a chance to get back again into that zone before another overseas season. Being handed the chance to captain the team shows just how much he’s valued within the setup despite being out-of-favour in just the previous series.