February 16 2019
Dhawan, Vijay put India on a sound footing
15 June 2018

Afghanistan claws its way back with quick wickets in the final session of an eventful day

The heart of the matter is you’ve got to have a heart for the battle.

Pulverised by Shikhar Dhawan’s century-before-lunch blitz, and pushed further back by M. Vijay’s solidity and measured enterprise, the Afghans displayed immense belief to fight back on the opening day of their historic first Test.

From 280 for one, India slumped to 347 for six at stumps on an eventful day of sparkling strokeplay, rain-interruptions, and some compelling bowling in the last session.

Rashid Khan, smashed for runs by Dhawan, rediscovered his mojo and seemed to adjust his mindset to the longer format better after tea, getting the ball to turn and hurry off the pitch.

The veritable leg-spinner consumed skipper Ajinkya Rahane who played across to a quickish leg-break.

Cheteshwar Pujara (35), who edged a fizzy leg-spinner from Rashid only to be dropped at slip by Mohammed Nabi, departed soon, inside-edging a mean in-spinning delivery of bounce from ‘mystery’ finger spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman to leg-gully.

Not much later, comeback-man Dinesh Karthik left shaking his head following a mix-up with non-striker Hardik Pandya. Sporting their new, bright red caps, the gutsy Afghans celebrated.

Earlier, Dhawan’s hundred before lunch — the first by an Indian on the opening day of a Test — was explosive in nature.

The feature of Dhawan’s (107 off 96 balls) batting is the manner he disrupts bowlers’ rhythm. He gets them to alter their plans, switch from an attacking to a defensive mode, bowl to his strengths.

His onslaught on Rashid was calculated. When the leg-spinner gave the ball air, Dhawan sashayed down for the lofted blows.

When Rashid sent down his googly, the ball spinning away from the left-hander, he was driving past covers. Given the slightest width, Dhawan cut; when the ball was dropped a tad short, he pulled.

Crucially, Dhawan employed the sweep to prevent Rashid from settling on a length.

The bludgeoning Dhawan’s whips scorched the turf. And a straight six off off-spinner Mohammad Nabi was a rousing blow.

Vijay (105) was tentative early on — there was some seam movement for the pacemen on a surface with a greenish tinge. Once the right-hander got his feet moving, he batted with grace and timing.

His cover-drive off Mujeeb was as classical as they come. Vijay, who played second fiddle to Dhawan in an opening partnership of 168 in only 28.4 overs, was typically organised.

And he drove with the sort of balance that only comes with a still head and a wonderful distribution of body weight.

Vijay leaned into his drives going forward, went back to guide the pacemen past point and travelled deep into the crease to late cut the spinners. He was relaxed in his stance, limited in his trigger movement.

The lively Yamin Ahmadzai, a paceman with a whippy and a rather chest-on action, moved one away from left-handed Dhawan after lunch for Afghanistan’s first Test wicket.

The absence of Virat Kohli gave the team-management an opportunity to play all three openers and they were best suited to come in at the first three slots with the opening pair being a right-left one.

K.L. Rahul, who has this lazy elegance since he picks the length early and makes subtle adjustments in his footwork, batted a with dash of panache during his 54; he smoked runs with cuts.

Afghanistan clawed its way back. Vijay padded up to an incoming delivery from lanky seamer Wafadar and Rahul chopped an Ahmadzai delivery on to his stumps.

The Afghanistan fightback had begun.



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