Statistically, it’s a classic David vs Goliath showdown but contextually, it’s the beginning of a historic new chapter in international cricket as world No 1 India take on a war-ravaged-but-resilient Afghanistan in their first ever Test match, here on Thursday.
While majority of the sports fans, in soul and spirit, will be in Russia enjoying the surreal skills of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the eternal cricket romantic will try to derive his little pleasures of life watching Rashid Khan trying to hurry Shikhar Dhawan with a flipper or bowl a googly to Ajinkya Rahane.
There is always a nervous anticipation associated with performance of a new team but the politico-social narrative associated with Afghanistan gives the game a different context.
On the surface, it is just another Test match but it is much beyond that.
The Rashids, Mujeeb Zadrans and Mohammed Shahzads would like to put their best foot forward in trying to at least provide their countrymen a refuge in sporting success.
India have been Afghanistan’s close allies and the BCCI has shown magnanimity in opening their stadiums so that the national team can practice.
But come Thursday, Ajinkya Rahane’s India will not spare an inch as they are expected to put up a ruthless show.
India, sans their regular skipper Virat Kohli along with two frontline bowlers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, will look to record a comprehensive win before embarking on their long and gruelling tour of England.
For Afghanistan, it will be a battle of attrition that they have never ever faced before. Test cricket is a different beast and Rashid’s real battle starts now.
That he is a brilliant four-over bowler, is a known and acknowledged fact.
However, the acid Test will start when he bowls that fifth over. The intelligence will be tested during the 15th over, patience during the 23rd over and endurance during the 40th over.
More importantly, will Rashid be able to maintain his quick arm speed over after over.
As Afghanistan coach Phil Simmons said, his men won’t understand what is Test cricket until they get onto the field.