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Kabul Express set for ‘Test’ run in and against India

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Afghanistan

Bengaluru | 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 tomorrow.

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. No wonder the iconic CLR James line is still so relevant “What do they know of Cricket who only Cricket Know.”

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 grueling 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.

With no pressure of asking rate, a Murali Vijay or a Chesteshwar Pujara, if set, will play at their own pace. The Indian batsmen in their own backyard are not known to pull back punches.

Can a 17-year-old Mujeeb, who hasn’t played a single four-day game in his career, trouble a KL Rahul with whom he shared the IPL dressing room at the Kings XI Punjab?

This time he won’t have Ravichandran Ashwin’s guidance. Instead Ashwin might pass on a few valuable inputs to his batsmen on how to tackle Mujeeb. Will Shahzad be able to curb his natural attacking instinct as the five-day format demands different attritional skills?

That Afghanistan have no idea how difficult it can get could be gauged from their skipper Asghar Stanikzai’s pompous claims that his spinners are better than the home team.

When Dinesh Karthik was asked, his singular statement made it clear what the team thought about it.

“Our Kuldeep Yadav (2 Tests) has played more first-class games than all their spinners put together. I know from where its coming but I wouldn’t to harp too much on that,” Karthik said. However, the Indians having watched and played against Rashid will be wary of what he can do.

That’s the reason the Indian team management might just prefer a hard bouncy track knowing full well that a rank turner could boomerang on them. The problem with Afghanistan will not be their spinners but their batsmen.

How well Shahzad, Mohammed Nabi negotiate Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will have a direct impact on the kind of fight Afghanistan will be able to put on. And even before that they will have to counter the disconcerting bounce generated by Ishant Sharma and the pace worked up by Umesh Yadav.

As Kevin Pietersen said during his MAK Pataudi Lecture yesterday, a lot will depend on their “ability to take lessons from the nets into the heat of battle”. Ireland had put up a respectable fight against Pakistan on their Test debut but again it was Kevin O’Brien who was the silver lining in the batting department.

But whatever be the outcome, “a beautiful journey” has already begun for Afghanistan.

Squads:
India: Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, KL Rahul, Karun Nair, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Hardik Pandya, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini, Ravichandran Ashwin. Ravindra Jadeja. Kuldeep Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav.

Afghanistan: Ashgar Stanikzai, Mohammed Shahzad, Javed Ahmadi, Rahmat Shah, Ihsanullah Janat, Nasir Jamal, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Afsar Zazai, Mohammed Nabi, Rashid Khan, Zahir Khan, Amir Hamza Hotak, Sayed Ahmad Shirzad, Yamin Ahmadzai Wafadar, Mujeeb ur Rahman.

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Our focus is on how best we can combat Virat: NZ captain Kane Williamson

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Napier | Expressing his admiration for Virat Kohli, New Zealand captain Kane Williamson on Tuesday said that they will be primarily focussed on how to “best combat” his Indian counterpart in the limited overs series, starting on Wednesday.

Returning the compliment, the Indian run-machine also lauded the prolific Williamson, calling him one of the best in the world.

Williamson said, “Someone like Virat is certainly a player I admire and enjoy watching and he’s pushing the boundaries of the game so that’s brilliant,” said Williamson on the eve of first ODI of the five-match series.

He said Kohli was a passionate and world-class cricketer.

“He’s a respectful guy and I’ve known him for a very long time but as a player, obviously, word class and our focus is more about that and his cricketing ability and how we can combat him as best as we can,” Williamson said.

Williamson felt that the passion with which Kohli approaches his cricket has made him a crowd puller around the world.

“He’s always a challenge to come up against and is someone who is most admired in terms of how he goes about his cricket and he’s formidable in his run scoring so he’s definitely a player of note to try to shut down.”

Kohli, too, was not far behind when it came to acknowledging Williamson’s achievements.

“Williamson is easily one of the best players in the world. So easy on the eye, great to watch and I personally enjoy his batting and when he is on song he is easily one of the most attractive batsmen to watch.

“He is always going to be a solid player for NZ purely because of what all he has done over the years in all three formats.”

Kohli picked Williamson and Ross Taylor as batsmen his team would look to dismiss cheaply.

“He more or less makes the team win when he is scoring runs, so that tells you about his awareness about the game and hence he is leading the side and guiding it in the right direction. So Kane will be a factor but at the same time Rosco (Taylor) and other guys as well.

“You can’t take anyone for granted and their batting revolves around Kane and Ross in ODIs especially, the other guys bat around them and we are aware of that and working on our plans,” Kohli said.

Williamson believed the pitch at McLean Park could aid batsmen.

“…So it’s important the batting group puts together a plan that is good but, at the same time, the bowlers have a massive role in that in trying to nullify the strengths in both oppositions.”

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Virat Kohli becomes the first player to win all three top ICC awards

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Dubai | The peerless Virat Kohli on Tuesday became the first cricketer to make a clean-sweep of the ICC’s annual individual awards and was also named captain of the world body’s Test and ODI teams of the year, line-ups which were dominated by Indian players.

Kohli became the first player in history to win the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for ICC Cricketer of the Year, his second consecutive, the ICC Test and the ODI Player of the Year awards following an extraordinary 2018. Besides, the rapidly-rising wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant claimed the ICC’s Emerging Cricketer of the Year award.

“Not only is Kohli the first player to win these three major ICC awards together but he has also been named the captain of the ICC Test and ODI teams of the year for a fabulous run in international cricket,” the ICC said in a statement.

Kohli scored 1,322 runs at an average of 55.08 in 13 Tests with five hundred during the calendar year while in 14 ODIs he amassed 1202 runs at an astonishing average of 133.55 with six centuries. He also scored 211 runs in 10 T20Is.

“It’s a reward for all the hard work that you do throughout the calendar year. Having recognition at the global level from the ICC is something you feel proud of as a cricketer because you understand that there are many players playing the game,” Kohli was quoted as saying by the world body in a release.

“… obviously a very proud moment for me and something that gives you more motivation to keep repeating the same things because you have to keep the standard of cricket up and keep bringing in consistent performances,” he added.

Three players each from India and New Zealand featured in the ICC’s Test team of the year, while four each from India and England are part of the ODI side of the year 2018.

The Test team included Pant, in just his breakthrough Test year, and fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah, who was the only player apart from Kohli to be named in both the sides.

The ODI team has opener Rohit Sharma, spinner Kuldeep Yadav and Bumrah from India along with Kohli, while England are represented by Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes.

The 30-year-old Kohli, who first came into limelight when he led India to victory at the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia in 2008, finished the year as the top-ranked batsman in Tests and ODIs.

The highest scorer in both forms of the game in 2018, he was one of only two batsmen to score more than 1,000 runs in Tests and only among three to do so in ODI cricket.

Kohli was the unanimous choice of the voting academy for the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy with South Africa fast bowler Kagiso Rabada coming in second to him for both this award and the Test Player of the Year honour.

“This is well-deserved recognition for an extraordinary talent. His regard for the game and particularly for Test cricket is also recognized and appreciated,” ICC Chief Executive David Richardson said.

“He is passionate in his support of the longest form of the game and its continued importance…Virat has become a great ambassador for our sport,” he added.

Afghanistan leg-spinner Rashid Khan was runner up to Kohli for the ICC ODI Player of the Year award.

India won six Tests and lost seven during the voting period that ran from January 1 to December 31, 2018. In ODIs, Kohli led India to nine victories, with four losses and one tied match.

This was also Kohli’s second successive ODI Player of the Year award.

In other awards, the Indian under-19 team’ World Cup triumph in New Zealand was declared the Fans Moment of the Year with 48 per cent of votes.

Sri Lanka’s Kumar Dharmasena was voted Umpire of the Year by international captains and the ICC match referees, winning the David Shepherd Trophy for a second time.

The ICC Spirit of Cricket Award went to New Zealand captain Kane Williamson for “continuing to be a shining role model of how our game should be played, his behaviour setting an outstanding example on and off the field.”

The Awardees:

ICC Men’s Cricketer of the Year: Virat Kohli

ICC Men’s Test Cricketer of the Year: Virat Kohli

ICC Men’s ODI Cricketer of the Year: Virat Kohli

ICC Men’s Emerging Cricketer of the Year: Rishabh Pant

ICC Men’s Test Team of the Year (in batting order): Tom Latham (New Zealand), Dimuth Karunaratne (Sri Lanka), Kane Williamson (New Zealand), Virat Kohli (India) (capt), Henry Nicholls (New Zealand), Rishabh Pant (India) (wk), Jason Holder (Windies), Kagiso Rabada (South Africa), Nathan Lyon (Australia), Jasprit Bumrah (India), Mohammad Abbas (Pakistan)

ICC Men’s ODI team of the year (in batting order): Rohit Sharma (India), Jonny Bairstow (England), Virat Kohli (India) (capt), Joe Root (England), Ross Taylor (New Zealand), Jos Buttler (England) (wk), Ben Stokes (England), Mustafizur Rahman (Bangladesh), Rashid Khan (Afghanistan), Kuldeep Yadav (India), Jasprit Bumrah (India).

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Rishabh Pant named ICC’s Emerging Cricketer of 2018

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Dubai | India’s fast-rising wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant on Tuesday was named the International Cricket Council’s Emerging Player of the Year in the world body’s annual awards.

The 21-year-old Pant was picked by the ICC‘s voting academy for a stellar show in his breakthrough Test year in 2018.

He became the first Indian wicket-keeper to score a Test century in England and equalled the record for the most catches taken in a Test, with 11 against Australia in Adelaide in December.

He was also the first Indian wicketkeeper to score a Test hundred in Australia.

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