Mohammad Shahzad, one of Afghanistan’s best batsmen, in an interview to ESPNCricinfo revealed his preference for making six runs in a ball over running six singles in six balls. This was while his team is readying for its first-ever Test against the world’s top-ranked side in the format: India.
Shahzad’s mindset could be explained by the fact that he’s played 96 T20s – more than four times the number of his first-class games (20).
In fact, most batsmen in the Afghanistan squad that will play the Test against India in Bengaluru have played more T20s than first-class matches.
The team’s batting coach from Mumbai, Umesh Patwal, however said this isn’t a major concern for a side that has been building its reputation in the shortest format of the game. Umesh has been Afghanistan’s batting coach twice before (in 2014 and 2016) and knows the members of the team well.
“Afghanistan only being good in T20s is a myth,” he said, before mentioning their two triumphs in the Intercontinental Cup, ICC’s first-class tournament for associate nations. He recalled the 2010 game against Canada, when the Afghan batters, led by Shahzad’s 258-ball 214, chased down 494 runs on the final day.
This is Test cricket, though. Against the best-ranked side in the world. In their backyard.
Pressure? No, said Umesh.
For one, the opponents aren’t unfamiliar. “International cricket has become so much closer. You know about everybody and everything. You watch and learn because all the stats and videos are available,” he said.
The place, for Afghanistan, isn’t alien. In December 2015, they moved their home base to Noida and have been training there.
Some of their players are familiar faces in the Indian Premier League. One of them, a superstar. Rashid Khan tormented the best of the batters in the IPL – finishing with 21 wickets in 17 games at an economy rate of 6.73.
Asked about the team’s dependency on the 19-year-old leg-spinner against the Indians, Umesh replied, “There is always an era. Now, for Indian cricket, it’s Virat Kohli. That doesn’t mean India doesn’t have good bowlers. If you don’t have a good score on the board, how can Rashid defend it?
“This game is a team game. It looks like the team is only Rashid Khan, but no, it’s about Afghanistan and Rashid is a part of it. There are batters like Javed Ahmadi and Rahmat Shah who have scored plenty of runs. We have chased down nearly 500 runs in a day in a first-class game. And that’s a big deal.”
Umesh doesn’t believe in tampering with the technique of the batsmen, which he fears may prove counterproductive. “As a batting coach, I am making our batsmen aware of the different scenarios that they could face,” he said.
“For instance, it’s not that they are going to bat in the first session. If India bats first, then maybe we need to bat only on the second day, maybe in the afternoon or evening, that’s why we practice during different times. Sometimes, I ask them to face a minimum number of balls. Sometimes, they have to score so many number of runs within a particular time. So, it’s about these scenarios.”
There are talks of the pitch-makers at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium laying out a pacer-friendly track to counter the spin-heavy bowling line-up of Afghanistan. But Umesh said his batsmen will be ready. “It will still be the same. These days even bowlers of associate nations bowl over 140 [kph]. And, we have videos of the Indian bowlers. So, we’re very positive about the way we have worked for this match.”