International Cricket

Rashid’s ability to bridge gap between T20 and Tests will dictate how Afghanistan’s debut pans out

Spin will be a key factor as Afghanistan cross swords with India in their debut Test.

Afghanistan cricket has come a long way. Its cricketers, most of whom have braved violence in their homeland, will on Thursday finally see their toil find fruition as they step onto the field to play their first-ever Test match. That it comes against India – the most high-profile team around – only makes the tie memorable.

While a few Indian fans might be right in considering Afghanistan as minnows, the challenge for the hosts might not be as straightforward. While the tie on paper looks lop-sided in favour of India, individual players from Afghanistan have proved in the past couple of years that they are more than capable of putting up an impressive show on the big stage.

Star spinner Rashid Khan leads the charge for his side. The 19-year-old has been a revelation since bursting onto the scene two years ago. His prowess in the limited-overs format has been well-documented. An impressive show in the recently-concluded Indian Premier League, even saw him garner praise from batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar. The leg-spinner picked up 21 wickets and was the second-highest wicket-taker in the tournament.

His presence as a potential match-winner is one of the key reasons why most cricket followers would be reticent about calling this encounter in favour of India in the lead-up to the toss. A few barbs have already been exchanged between the two sides to add a bit of spice to the encounter.

“In my opinion we have better spinners than India,” Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai told reporters on the eve of the clash. Along with Rashid, the Afghan squad also includes Mujeeb Ur Rahman, who was also one of the bright spots in the IPL.

The challenge, though, for these promising youngsters would be to prove they can stand the stresses of a five-day match. Thankfully for Afghanistan, the conditions won’t be alien. They have been training in India since 2015 owing to the security concerns in Afghanistan.

Getting into the groove

According to former Afghanistan coach and ex-India cricketer Lalchand Rajput, the team has enough potential to hit the ground running in the five-day format.

“For a spinner in Test cricket, the key is to never get upset if dispatched for one or two boundaries,” said Rajput. “No one is ever going to hit you for six sixes or six boundaries in an over.

“So one should never curtail their attacking style while bowling in the longest format. If these bowlers can stick to this resolve they will not face any difficulties in combating batsmen in the longest format.” Rajput added.

Rashid, he feels, has shown the right temperament needed to bridge the gap between the shortest format and the longest.

Lalchand Rajput (left) during his stint as coach with the Afghanistan cricket team. Photo: AFP
Lalchand Rajput (left) during his stint as coach with the Afghanistan cricket team. Photo: AFP

“If you see Rashid, he doesn’t compromise on his wicket-taking deliveries even in the shortest format,” said Rajput, who stepped down from the Afghanistan role earlier this year.

“His stock delivery is the leg-break, but despite the threat of being smashed around in T20, he has stuck to it. In fact, he has now perfected the delivery further and even improved on his googly which has brought him more success,” he added.

Most bowlers tend to adopt a defensive bowling style in the shorter formats. For someone like Rashid, who has largely played T20 over the course of the last year, it would have been the easier route. Thankfully for him, he has stuck to his attacking style, even perfecting it, a trait Rajput feels will keep him in good stead in Tests.

Mentally ready?

While bowling style is an important component, the challenges of Test cricket go beyond the technicalities and sometimes depend largely on which side is mentally tougher.

That this will be Afghanistan have never played five-day cricket puts them at a disadvantage almost immediately, however, Rajput reasons that the lack of experience is circumstantial and not reflective of the side’s actual ability.

“When I took over in 2016, the team had little experience apart from playing one-day cricket,” said Rajput who was at the helm of affairs of the side for over a year. “To train them in the longer format, we organised three-day and four-day games against local teams and the Uttar Pradesh Ranji Trophy team.”

“It was during these clashes that we hoped they would pick up the nuances and patience required to play through a five-day game. To keep oneself motivated and physically fit for multiple days is a task which is easier said than done. But this team took to it naturally.

“This side scored over 600 runs during a four-day game against Ireland. There is immense potential, which is why the International Cricket Council expedited their progress into Test cricket,” he added. In that match, Stanaksai and Afsar Zazai had both notched up hundreds while Mohammad Sahzad had scored a half-century.

Afghanistan, though, are facing an opposition that has been all conquering at home. Other than the absence of skipper Virat Kohli, India go into the encounter with a full-strength unit. Like most home games, they will want to dictate how the match plays out.

The visitors, however, will want to disrupt the practice. Rashid will be key for them in this regard. Will he be able to deliver the goods? It’s a question only he can answer, not with words but with the ball.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.