Bangalore (India) (AFP) – Afghanistan were handed a bruising introduction to Test cricket by India on Thursday as the team capped their astonishing rise from war and refugee camps to joining the sport’s elite.
Afghan skipper Asghar Stanikzai called it a “very proud moment” as he strode onto the field at Bangalore’s M. Chinnaswamy stadium for the toss, won by opposite number Ajinkya Rahane.
“All the guys have first-class experience. Inshallah (God willing), we can do well,” the 30-year-old batsman said.
Afghanistan have become one of only 12 nations sanctioned to play Tests, the five-day format considered cricket’s peak, after defying heavy odds to emerge as a force in the game.
The hosts gave no quarter to the Afghan bowlers, however, reaching 264 for one when rain stopped play for the second time in the final session. Shikhar Dhawan smashed a merciless 107 and Murali Vijay was unbeaten on 99.
The left-right opening combination of Dhawan and Vijay put together a 168-run stand to make the Afghanistan bowlers toil.
Dhawan galloped to his century in just 87 deliveries, becoming the first Indian batsman to reach three figures on the opening day before lunch.
Dhawan hit 19 fours and three sixes as he set about the Afghan bowlers including spin sensation Rashid Khan, smashing three boundaries in the teenager’s opening over to bring up his 50.
But Dhawan also became Afghanistan’s first Test wicket when paceman Yamin Ahmadzai had him caught by Mohammad Nabi in the slips early in the second session.
Lokesh Rahul, batting on 44, then joined Vijay to continue India’s momentum as they put on an unbeaten 96-run partnership for the second wicket.
– Glued to the TV –
Most cricket-loving Afghans were watching the match on TV back home as they prepared for a three-day public holiday for the Muslim festival of Eid.
Afghans took to social media to celebrate the start of the Test, which comes amid a government ceasefire during the holy month of Ramadan.
Nadir Danish in the eastern province of Khost wrote on Facebook: “I hope they (India) do not make history of us — they are piling up runs on Afghanistan. The way their openers have batted has panicked the Afghanistan team!”
Earlier, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani sent his congratulations for what he called a “historic day”.
“I am proud of the men who championed cricket in Afghanistan in the dawn of the century and believed in themselves that one day Afghanistan will play against the best in the world,” he said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “May sports continue to bring our people closer and strengthen ties.”
– From camps to World Cups –
Afghan cricket grew out of refugee camps in Pakistan where many families were based after they fled conflict in the 1980s and 1990s.
The national team have made giant strides against much richer and more stable countries, despite unrest at home which has forced them to train in India since 2015.
Afghanistan last year achieved full member status of the International Cricket Council, making them one of only 12 Test teams.
They gained one-day international status in 2009 and have qualified for their second 50-over World Cup to be held in England and Wales next year.
They have also been part of four Twenty20 World Cups.
Last week they secured a T20 series sweep over Bangladesh helped by spin bowler Khan, 19, the stand-out star of this year’s Indian Premier League.
“The terror in our home area meant we did not have access to an education while growing up. My parents even forbid my siblings and I to play cricket outside our home,” Khan, one of 12 children, said in a recent interview with Afghan media.
“But no amount of war stopped me from sneaking out to play cricket with my brothers.”
Only last month, an attack on a cricket match in Khan’s home city of Jalalabad killed eight people and wounded 45.
While Afghanistan’s successes so far have come in short formats of cricket, they must now prove they can stand the physical and mental challenge of a five-day match.