Afghanistan are about to experience Test cricket for the first time, and are up against the world’s No. 1 side in that format, but they certainly aren’t lacking in confidence. A week ahead of his team’s inaugural Test match in Bengaluru, Asghar Stanikzai raised the volume of pre-match exchanges with the claim that Afghanistan’s spinners are better than India’s.
Yes. Better than Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin, ranked No. 4 and 5 among the world’s Test bowlers.
“The whole world knows that [we have very good spinners in] Rashid Khan, Mujeeb [Ur Rahman], [Mohammad] Nabi, Rahmat [Shah], Zahir [Khan],” Stanikzai, the Afghanistan captain, told ESPNcricinfo. “In Afghanistan, the brilliant thing is that a lot of the young talent that is coming through are spinners, because they all follow Rashid, they follow Nabi, so because of that our spin department is very strong from below.
“In my opinion, we have good spinners, better spinners than India.”
Afghanistan’s first ever Test squad contains frontline slow bowlers of every variety – legspinner Rashid, mystery spinner Mujeeb, left-arm wristspinner Zahir and left-arm orthodox spinner Amir Hamza – as well as spin-bowling allrounders in Nabi and Rahmat. The limited-overs exploits of Rashid, Mujeeb and Nabi have earned them recognition in T20 leagues around the world, and Zahir – uncapped in ODIs and T20Is but with an outstanding record in the Intercontinental Cup – would have joined them in the 2018 IPL if he had not picked up an injury before the tournament.
These spin resources, according to wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad, would help Afghanistan push India hard in Bengaluru. An upset, he said, wasn’t inconceivable, taking the example of Ireland, who gave Pakistan a scare in their inaugural Test last month in Dublin.
“It can definitely happen,” Shahzad said. “You know what our spinners have been doing of late. Ireland played their [first Test] match against Pakistan, in Ireland’s conditions, and gave them a tough time. We are coming here and playing in India’s conditions, and that too against a team that plays spin very well. We will have a tough time, for us and for them too. It won’t be easy for either team. It will be a good match, Inshallah.”
Shahzad said Afghanistan’s spinners, particularly Rashid – ranked No. 1 and 2 in T20Is and ODIs respectively – were as good as any in the world.
“Not just India, but even if you look at the whole world, our Rashid Khan is the No. 1 spinner,” Shahzad said. “You can match him up against any bowler, and you’ll say, ‘yes, he’s better than him’, or ‘he’s as good as him’.
“Mujeeb, Rashid, Nabi we also have Zahir Khan, who didn’t get to play for Rajasthan [Royals], but he’s also one such bowler – you’ll see next year [in the IPL], so Alhamdulillah we have very good spinners.”
Phil Simmons, Afghanistan’s coach, hailed Rashid, Mujeeb and Zahir for their talent and capacity to work hard and improve, though he sounded a more cautious note than his captain while assessing them vis- -vis India’s spinners.
“I don’t know about better than India,” Simmons said. “I think Rashid is at a different level now, if he keeps improving, but we haven’t seen him that much in Test cricket. Well, we haven’t seen him at all in Test cricket, but in four-day cricket we haven’t seen him that much. So it’s a new frontier for him. I’m sure he will conquer it, but whether he will conquer it in the first game, we’ll have to see.”
Having been his team-mate in both international cricket and the IPL, Nabi summed up what made Rashid stand out from other legspinners, and why he might give India some problems when he dons Test-match whites for the first time.
“He’s totally different from other legspinners,” Nabi said. “He’s quicker in the air. When he bowls the wrong’un and the legbreak, it looks same when you play, and the most important thing is that the hand is very quick. Can’t judge easily.”