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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Newcomers Afghanistan in confident mood ahead of historic first India Test. And why shouldn't they be?

Afghanistan are intent on making an impression as they become the 12th country to play the game’s oldest format

Afghanistan cricket team captain Asghar Stanikzai, centre, takes a break during a practise session at a cricket stadium in Greater Noida, India. AFP
Afghanistan cricket team captain Asghar Stanikzai, centre, takes a break during a practise session at a cricket stadium in Greater Noida, India. AFP

When Afghanistan first played in serious international competition, their coach was sure they were going to win, on account of the fact the opposition were training with soft cricket balls rather than proper leather ones.

Taj Malik Alam was right to be confident. Japan were no match for the Afghan arrivistes in the 2008 World Cricket League Division 5 in Jersey.

Ten years on, the scene is entirely different. Instead of the green fields of the Channel Islands, now they will be playing at one of the international game’s most atmospheric stadiums.

And rather than sides from the nether regions of the ICC ladder, their opposition is now Test cricket’s No 1 team, the sport’s greatest behemoth.

Afghan confidence remains strong, though. "In my opinion, we have good spinners, better spinners than India," Asghar Stanikzai, the captain for Afghanistan’s first Test match, said this week.

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Read more from Paul Radley:

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India. The country of Bishan Singh Bedi and Anil Kumble. Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Harbhajan Singh. Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

The country whose very name is basically a cricket synonym for spin. Having to defer to a team who has not yet played a five-day match.

But why not be confident? Asghar has been there through the entire journey. The son of a wealthy Afghan gem merchant, he was one of the originals when Afghanistan first set up a cricket team.

Nothing has stopped them so far. So why worry now?

In pushing Pakistan close in Malahide last month, Ireland showed it is possible for a debutant Test side to be, at the very least, competitive.

Playing away in India might be a different challenge, but Afghanistan are intent on making an impression.

India, who are without regular captain Virat Kohli, are happy to be part of history, according to Ajinkya Rahane, who will deputise for Kohli.

“It's a privilege to be playing in Afghanistan's first Test match,” Rahane said.

“It's a historic moment for them and an opportunity for us to be part of the occasion.

"They have a fine team and some talented players, who have proved themselves in shorter formats. I am sure they are looking forward to do the same in Test cricket.”