BENGALURU: For most Afghanistan national cricketers India is familiar ground. With their war-ravaged country deprived of facilities, they have set up base in Greater Noida over the past couple of years. The performance in the IPL of players like Rashid Khan, Mohammed Nabi and Mujeeb ur-Rahman has given them exposure to Indian players and conditions. All this will count when they take on an Ajinkya Rahane-led home team in the one-off Test match starting here on June 14.
Rashid, their 19-year-old spin wizard, says the excitement of playing the maiden Test match after being granted Test status last year is not limited to the team but an entire cricket-crazy nation.
Rashid, who turns out for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL, explained, “Playing Test cricket is the dream of every country and player. It is a huge honour and achieving this (Test status) in a short time is a proud achievement for all of us. It will be a big moment for cricket in Afghanistan to play a Test against India. I can’t wait to be called a Test cricketer. I think there will be no one who will not watch the match (on television) back home. People in Afghanistan are crazy about cricket.”
On the mood in the camp in Greater Noida, Rashid said, “We have a 30-member team practising at Greater Noida. Everyone is keenly awaiting the Test match. It is an opportunity for us to showcase our skills. We will be tested on how good we are and if we are good enough to play Test cricket. For us as a team, it is a big challenge. The boys are working hard. I hope we will do well in the match and give a tough fight to India,” said Rashid.
A lot of Afghanistan’s success has depended on their vital strength – spin bowling and Rashid feels that his team will look to cash in on the advantage.”Every team has its strengths. Everyone knows Afghanistan has the best spin bowling attack because of which we have won a lot of matches. We have been working hard on fast bowling and batting departments as well.”
As the team gears up to take on an Indian team sans Virat Kohli, Rashid feels India’s records and reputation will not intimidate his team.
“In Test cricket, anyone can give you a tough time. You can’t relax just because certain class players are not playing. In the longer format, you have to take even a fast bowler seriously because he can make a hundred against you because he has a lot of time. Our focus will be on playing good cricket and to prove that we deserve the Test status given to us.”
While the spinners are world class, their batsmen have a lot of catching up to do. Their highest ranked ICC batsman is Rahmat Shah at 32 and is among the four Afghans in the top-100. Rashid believes their success in the Test match depends a lot on their batting. “Batting will be the key for us. If we bat well, we can trouble any good side with the ball.”
Rashid is hoping the historic Test match will open up opportunities against other major teams. “We are hoping to get more games against the big teams. And have a long series, not like one or two ODIs. It’s a tough challenge for us. We can say real cricket has started now (for Afghanistan).”