Cricket Captain 2018: Afghan Dreams Can Come True!

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When I accepted the challenge of performing the dual role of National Selector and Coach, ultimately being Team Manager for the Afghanistan Men’s National Cricket team, though I knew that a new dawn was about to commence, little did I envisage that the players would be writing history on such a grand scale so early in our relationship.

Having lost a competitive T20I series against Bangladesh 2-1, even if the deciding match looked a little one sided, we headed to India for my adopted nation’s first ever Test match. When a Kohliless India won the toss and chose to bat on the first morning, the following eleven men became Afganistan’s first ever Test cricket team:

Ashgar Stanikzai (c), Mohammad Shahzad, Usman Ghani, Noor Ali Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Mohammad Nabi, Haji Murad (w), Hamza Hotak, Dawlat Zadran, Fareem Ahmad, Hameed Hassan

By the time India neared 100 without loss on the first day, romance had been replaced by reality on our Test debut. With the score on 97 however, Shikhar Dhawan was run out for fifty exactly. That leaves a tricky quiz question regarding who took Afghanistan’s first ever Test wicket. When Cheteshwar Pujara perished for 91, the second wicket to fall, it was left-arm quick Fareem Ahmad who claimed the honour of being the first Afghanistan bowler to take a wicket.

India closed the day on 268-3 and though we lacked penetration, we had contained our hosts and not yet allowed them to amass a terribly imposing total. On the second day, India progressed to 326-3 before Ahmad (3-127) led the fightback to restrict them to 444 all out. As well as Pujara’s 91 and Dhawan’s 50, Murali Vijay contributed a determined 90.

Our batsmen were not to be intimidated however. Mohammad Shahzad (29) and Usman Ghani (60) put on 83 for our first ever Test partnership. Rahmat Shah, who didn’t feature in the Bangladesh matches, followed Dhawan’s example by scoring 50 exactly. Making India bat again had looked a certainty but a little middle order wobble caused concern. It was left to 29-year-old debutant wicketkeeper Haji Murad to come to the rescue. Before the match, I’d decided that it was far too much to ask even a player as talented as Mohammad Shahzad to both open the batting and keep wicket. I didn’t want him wasted down the order though, so I insisted that he reside at the top of the order. That left a difficult choice as to who to select behind the stumps. There was some reticence when I selected an uncapped (In all international formats) nearly thirty-year-old to gatecrash the big occasion. Oh how it turned out though! Murad made an assured 45 alongside Dawlat Zadran (53) in a magnificent partnership of 90 for the eighth wicket to help us avoid the follow-on. Zadran had been disappointed not to play in the T20Is against Bangladesh and responded by making vital contributions throughout his country’s first ever Test match. His attacking 53, which included seven fours and a six, was his highest score at any level while Ravi Ashwin claimed strong figures of 5-97 for India.

India then wasted a promising start for the second time in the match when 213-3 became 296 all out. Shikhar Dhawan top scored with 89 while Ajinkya Rahane made 52. There were contributions from all our bowlers including part-time spinner Rahmat Shah. Shah claimed a crestfallen Karun Nair for just 8 to the last ball of the day in his first over. Perhaps the most crucial wicket to fall however would be that of Umesh Yadav. Yadav was forced to retire hurt first ball and would not be able to bowl when we came to bat second time around.

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We were set 413 to win, just five short of the highest run chase in Test history. Rahane surprisingly opened the bowling but was ineffectual alongside an expensive Ishant Sharma. Sharma (18-0-92-0) conceded his runs at in excess of five an over. Mohammad Shahzad (148) and Usman Ghani (83) put on 163 for the first wicket. Shahzad also compiled 106 with Noor Ali Zadran to take us to 269-1 and make the entire cricket world turn their heads and believe in the impossible. Even a cricketer as exuberant as Shahzad was restrained in his celebrations upon scoring his country’s first ever Test match hundred. He knew that although his innings was special, it could yet be part of something incredible. There was a wobble as India opened the door. 304-2 became 373-7 resulting in a nervy tea for our boys on the fifth and final day.

Debutant Haji Murad (21) played his part again but it would be captain Ashgar Stanikzai (57 not out) who would write the script. He put on an unbroken 41 with Zadran and had the honour of hitting the winning cover drive for four to seal an earth-shattering victory that sent shockwaves throughout the cricket world and announced Afghanistan on the Test stage.

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Credit to India for their grace in defeat. The absence of their captain and of a member of their bowling attack in our second innings proved fatal but for Ravi Jadeja to bowl only eight overs in the entire match was criminal. I take little credit for this victory. I have been with the boys for only a short time and they are a truly talented bunch. It is they who performed and etched their place in cricketing history. Their names and their exploits will be spoken about in a hundred years time. Whatever happens in their careers from this point forth, they will always have the first Test against India to reflect upon with immeasurable pride.

Disclaimer: Don’t ask me how Dhawan robbed Shahzad of Man of the Match!

Embuldeniya Ambush!

Some encouraging signs for Sri Lanka in the form of debutant Lasith Embuldeniya. Having claimed Dale Steyn as his maiden Test victim, Embuldeniya followed his first innings figures of 1-51 by claiming 5-66 in South Africa’s second innings of the first Test in Durban. Messrs Elgar, Bavuma and de Kock were among the slow-left-armer’s victims.

Sri Lanka aren’t quite the competitive side they once were, so bright spots like the contributions of Embuldeniya are most welcome.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/18645/scorecard/1144164/south-africa-vs-sri-lanka-1st-test-sl-in-sa-2018-19

Another newcomer, Oshada Fernando, is currently 28 not out having made 19 in the first innings batting first drop. Sri Lanka could really do with finding some quality batsmen to fill the void left by the retirements of legends Kumar Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawardene.

TalkSport Commentary Review

As some of you may well know, I’m not a huge BBC Test Match Special fan. I do like many of their commentators but a particular few irk me. It’s fantastic however that they have such exhaustive domestic commentary.

I was hugely impressed by Guerrila Cricket’s coverage of Ireland’s inaugural Test but was a little tentative regarding TalkSport adopting England’s tour coverage. I haven’t always enjoyed their footballing efforts, often finding them very shouty.

I had little opportunity to tune in during the Sri Lanka series but have had more opportunity to do so during the West Indies tour. There’s noticeably a lot of commentators swapping seats, though not ridiculously frequently. This means that there are lots of different perspectives but also that listeners are unlikely to like every one. That’s theory of numbers. I’ve been impressed by what I’ve heard though and any voice is welcome ahead of Jonathan Agnew’s. I’ve particularly enjoyed listening to Steve Harmison and Darren Gough. As an erratic fast bowler, I rather rudely wasn’t sure how astute Harmison would be about the game but his insights have been… well, insightful. I was of the impression that Gough was maybe a bit brash having caught headlines from his other radio shows but he seems measured and actually quite sympathetic to the players. Neil Manthorp is there too and like other commentators who I admire (Jim Maxwell and Fazeer Mohammed), he not being an ex-player, removes some of the stuck-upness that can fester in commentary and punditry environments.

I don’t have Sky TV but do occasionally catch some cricket on BT Sport. They have coverage of some Australian cricket but the likes of Brad Hodge and more so Dirk Nannes have never endeared themselves to me. Sky Sports ex-Test players only policy just wouldn’t sit well with me I’m sure.

My first impressions with TalkSport have been promising. Long may it continue.

Burns Extinguished!

Burns extinguished and England genuinely left without a clue as to who should bat in the top three come the Ashes!

Still, it should make for an exciting start to the county season and inspire England’s white-ball batsmen as well, not that they should need any further inspiration. The ODI World Cup precedes the Ashes and good form in big matches could result in a Test call-up.

It’s such a shame for Burns who has passed 1000 First Class runs in each of the last five seasons. Like many previous incumbents, he’s hinted at what he’s got to offer but certainly hasn’t nailed down his place.

It’s not even worth mentioning names and we’ve got one Test against Ireland to fix things! What if we pick a debutante and he gets a pair? Will he keep his place for the Ashes opener?

Disclaimer: At the time of writing, messrs Jennings and Denly are not out, so might cement their places for the Ireland encounter at Lords… might!

Starc Reality!

If fit, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc will lead the line for Australia against England come this summer’s Ashes series.

Which English batsman will be taking them on is anybody’s guess!

Up until only recently, it seemed as though Australia were in turmoil and that England were near-certainties for Ashes success. With home advantage and the returning Steven Smith and David Warner likely to be undercooked, at least in the longest format then England probably can still wear the favourites tag.

The identity of the England players and in which order they’ll walk to the wicket is somewhat uncertain and because of that, this summer’s Ashes encounter seems tantalisingly poised.

Australia had a few questions answered in their most recent Test. Admittedly there’s a lot of cricket (Though not Test) between now and the Ashes but Australia’s likely XI is as follows:

Warner, Burns, Khawaja, Smith, Head, Patterson, Paine (C&W), Cummins, Starc, Hazlewood, Lyon

England’s XI is not so predictable. At the very least, opening batsman, number three and first change pace bowler are places that are very much up for grabs, though Mark Wood might have just solved the latter and the top order have today to cement their places.

Roy Ploy!

Following England’s recent batting debacles in the Caribbean, the general consensus appears to be that our nation’s willow wielders need to reign in their attacking instincts… so it’s fascinating that get Jason Roy in the Test team continues to be the latest trend!

Somebody must’ve sprouted this idea when Jos Buttler was performing so well (With plenty of luck) during the home Tests last year because it keeps coming up but at present the idea seems a little hypocritical.

England have made some decisions on certain bowlers only playing in particular countries and have hinted at doing the same with batsman. Will we only see Dawid Malan pull on an England shirt again the next time that England tour Australia? Will Keaton Jennings earn a recall for our next trip to Asia? And will Jos Buttler be dropped for the next Test, only to be recalled in the summer?

Some want Roy. Nasser Hussain wants James Vince flown in to play! As mentioned here at Silly Point, he has been performing well… in T20s! Is Paul Collingwood available?

How about this for England’s XI in the third Test…

Ed Smith (Lead by example)

Stuart Broad (Continuing the opener rotation policy)

Alex Davies (Let’s get another wicketkeeper in and wear him out at number three)

Joe Root (Captain)

Mark Ramprakash (He’s there)

Joe Denly (One more chance)

Keaton Jennings (In the all-rounder role)

Mark Wood (For the horses)

Jonathan Agnew (Test bowling average: 93.25)

Jack Leach (Errrr… for spin bowling I guess)

Any eligible Englishman currently in the Caribbean. (Yet another debutante!)