BANGALORE, India — Afghanistan will take a sense of excitement, not nerves, onto the pitch for their maiden test match on Thursday, skipper Asghar Stanikzai says.
Afghanistan will become only the 12th test nation when they face India, the world's top-ranked side. But Stanikzai doesn't expect the enormity of the occasion to affect his players.
"Are we nervous? Not at all because this is the first time I am hearing that word," said Stanikzai. "We are excited and the people back home are excited that we are playing the number one ranked side in our first test.
"They have seen us do well in shorter formats, and our fans will expect us to do similarly well in test cricket as well," he added.
Afghanistan has made quick strides in white-ball cricket since its international debut in 2001. It played at the ODI World Cup for the first time in 2015 and has already qualified for next year's championship in England.
It also reached the Super Ten stage in the World T20 in 20016 and beat eventual champions West Indies in a league match.
The troubled country has yet to play an international game at home and the possibility of doing so in the future is remote as well. It has set up an adoptive base in India, playing limited-overs series against Ireland and Bangladesh in the past three years.
"The domestic structure is now in place back in Afghanistan. Players are coming through different grades and progressing quickly. We have a young pacer (18-year-old Wafadar) to showcase in this game as well. The exciting thing about Afghanistan cricket is that there is a great young talent pool available and it only bodes well for the future of this team," said coach Phil Simmons, who has previously been in charge of Zimbabwe and Ireland as well.
Having played international games in Noida and Dehradun, along with countless IPL matches, should make the conditions they will face in Bangalore familiar to the Afghanistan players. And while there is a major gulf between the teams, the Afghans intend to try to bridge that gap with a plucky attitude.
"Only four players (from this squad) featured in the T20 series against Bangladesh. The core of this test team has been practicing with the red ball. We are prepared. Our batsmen have faced different bowlers - spinners and pacers both - and that is the best preparation. So we are confident of a good showing," Simmons added.
India will field an under-strength side in the one-off test as they have one eye fixed on the long international schedule ahead.
Skipper Virat Kohli is nursing a neck injury and undergoing rehabilitation in a bid to be fit in time for the impending tours of Ireland and England while pacers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah have been rested after a hectic IPL season.
Additionally, Mohammed Shami failed a fitness test on Tuesday and has been excluded from the squad and senior batsman Rohit Sharma was dropped after a poor showing in South Africa. Vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane will lead the side in Kohli's absence.
"It is a big moment for Afghanistan and an honor for us to be a part of this history. At the same time, we will not be taking them lightly. We will approach this test like we do with any other game. We will focus on our strengths and positives," said Rahane.
The pitch at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium bore a green tinge on Wednesday and with the monsoon clouds hovering over Bangalore, pacers will come into play early. This could blunt Afghanistan's strength in spin, perhaps balancing the scale with India's duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
The match-up of Afghan spinners versus Indian spinners has been talked up and it remains to be seen if leg spin star Rashid Khan and company can rattle India.
"Rashid has done well to deal with the limelight. It takes pressure off other bowlers and they can concentrate on their jobs. I am sure they can turn the ball even on green tracks. As for big names missing from the opposition, we are playing against India and not Virat or any other individual," Simmons said.