Bengaluru, June 13: It is not an often-seen sight that attention being taken away from India in a home fixture. A plethora of contemporary superstars and the tag of favourites have always ensured that the major space of cricket coloumns have been devoted to India.
But Afghanistan have managed a change of routine. In the run-up to their lone Test against India, beginning at the M Chinnaswamy stadium here from Thursday (June 14), the spotlight has been firmly fixed on Afghanistan and that is not solely because of it being their maiden five-day game.
Of course, there's the curiosity factor about Afghanistan's ability to meet the sterner demands of Test cricket after their exploits in the limited over versions - especially in T20s. Afghanistan had recently blanked Bangladesh 3-0 in a T20 series in Dehradun.
But it as much about the talent in this Afghanistan side. Be it Rashid Khan or Mujeeb Zadran or Mohammad Nabi or Mohammad Shahzad they have a fine pool of talent in batting and bowling. In that group, the cricketing world will be eager to watch two players in particular - spin duo of Rashid and Mujeeb. They have been spectacular in limited over games, in the IPL 2018 and everyone will be eager to see whether they will be able to replicate that success in red-ball cricket.
And this is also the culmination of a journey that started from the gun-booming, unrest-filled interiors of Afghanistan. Nabi will instantly relate himself to that days of struggle as he was part of that band of brothers who played against an MCC side in 2006 at the Police Gymkhana in Mumbai.
But, rest assured, the Afghanistan players will not want any undue patronization because of their background and they themselves would not be too much interested in parading all that. After all, it is their self-belief that got Afghanistan till this point that one stage seemed to improbable.
Sample this! Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai recently stated that they have better spinners than India. Imagine, India have R Ashwin, who has 311 wickets from 57 Tests, and Ravindra Jadeja, who has 164 wickets from 34 Testts - proven match-winners in Indian conditions. Here, it is easier to laugh off Stanikzai's statement as a piece of insanity than find a shard of self-confidence in it.
Cannot wait for the historic test match against @ACBofficials in Bengaluru tomorrow! It's always amazing to see the sport grow and I'm very happy to be part of this historic moment. #INDvAFG pic.twitter.com/KdMIuYdw2s— Shikhar Dhawan (@SDhawan25) June 13, 2018
It may just that Afghanistan genuinely fancy their chances against an injured Virat Kohli-less India and the mere thought of that battle of high quality spinners itself is an adrenaline riser.
The India story
Beneath that Afghanistan dominated theme and spinners meet-up, it will be interesting to see how two other individuals approach this Test. Ajinkya Rahane has recently lost his place in the India limited over side and he has just this Test to gain proper match time before the series against England starting on August 1. And Rahane has the additional burden of captaining the side as well.
Similarly, Cheteshwar Pujara, now a one-format player, will be eager to get some runs against him in this match after a torrid county season for Yorkshire - 100 runs from eight innings. The Afghanistan side will be aware of his struggle and would like to exploit it to put India in a corner.
However, Rahane was in no mood to worry about those personal situations. "Over the last three days, our focus has been on tuning our minds, because we're coming in after two months of IPL. Skill-wise, it won't make a difference, but our attitude matters, if you have to make a quick switch in terms of our mindset from T20 to Test cricket.
"Talking about Afghanistan, we won't take them lightly. From our side, we will play like how we approach any other team," said Rahane. "In Test cricket, every session matters a lot. It is important that you do your best all the time," he said.
In that context, two teams with similar intent clashing will be a riveting sight to watch.