Afghanistan fights back to reduce India to 347/6 after Dhawan, Vijay tons

Five wickets fell in the final session on day one, with Afghanistan clawing its way back after a couple of difficult sessions to begin its Test journey with.

Afghanistan's fightback began with the dismissal of Murali Vijay for 105.   -  AFP

Cometh the hour, cometh the man!

This is one phrase that could perfectly define Shikhar Dhawan. Every time the swashbuckling Indian opening batsman is put to the test, he makes it a point to fight back in his own way.

And on Thursday, the 32-year-old stole Afghanistan’s thunder in it’s first-ever Test, playing a gritty knock of 107 at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. Joining him in the party was the seasoned Murali Vijay, who too came up with a classy innings of 105.

As it happened

But then, Afghanistan bounced back in the final session of the day, restricting India to 347-6 at stumps on the first day. From being in the driver’s seat at 280-1, India’s middle-order stuttered to allow the new Test entrant fight back. 

While it would be hoping to tighten the noose early on the second day, the challenge will be on India’s seasoned campaigners — Ravichandran Ashwin and Hardik Pandya — to hold fort. While Pandya remained unbeaten on 10, Ashwin was on seven.

But ideally, India should not have been in such a tricky spot after the kind of start provided by Dhawan and Vijay. In the first session, Dhawan went hammer and tongs at the Afghanistan bowlers, and made its spin sensation, Rashid Khan, look quite ordinary. While the young Rashid — who conceded 120 runs in 26 overs — failed to find his mojo in the longer version of the game initially, Dhawan crafted his innings with 19 boundaries and three sixes. In the process, he also became the first Indian batsman to score a century before lunch on the first day of a Test match.

He is the sixth batsman to achieve the feat. The list includes legends like Sir Donald Bradman, Victor Trumper, C. Macartney, Majid Khan and David Warner.

After India’s stand-in skipper, Ajinkya Rahane, won the toss and opted to bat first, the onus was on the openers, Vijay and Dhawan, to deliver. And both of them ensured that they justified their selections. Stitching an opening partnership of 168, the two ensured that the team got off to a flier.

While Dhawan went for the shots, Vijay anchored the ship at the other end. Coming up with a resolute but calm and composed innings, Vijay made it a point that there was no mystery left in Rashid’s deliveries. Even Dhawan took a similar step while tackling another ‘mystery spinner’ Mujeeb Ur Rahman. With the top Indian batters dominating, there was little the young Afghans could do.

A while after lunch, Dhawan, however, was caught by Mohammad Nabi at the slips off Yamin Ahmadzai. With Dhawan gone, the onus was on K. L. Rahul to come good, and playing at home, the Karnataka batsman paired well with Vijay to come up with a 112-run partnership.

Even as rain played a spoilsport — stopping the proceedings twice — Vijay and Rahul looked steady and strong. There came a time when it looked the two would seal the day’s proceedings for India, but soon after scoring his century, Vijay was trapped leg-before by young Afghan pacer, Wafadar Momand. Though India took a referral, the appeal was didn't help overturn the on-field umpire's decision.

Afghanistan’s debut Test turned out to be a memorable day for Tamil Nadu cricket as well. It was after 57 years that three cricketers from the state played in a same Test match.

On Thursday, when India named Murali Vijay, Dinesh Karthik and Ravichandran Ashwin in its playing eleven, history was created. The last time three Tamil Nadu players featured in a same Test match was in 1961. Taking on England in a Test in Bombay, India team had fielded G. Milkha Singh, A.G. Kripal Singh and V.V. Kumar for the Test.

And years later, Bengaluru witnessed another unique record.

Minutes later, it was Rahul who departed for 54, after being cleaned up by Ahmadzai.

That was when India started losing the grip.

After their departure, captain Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara added 34 runs in the partnership. While the two tried to finish off the day’s proceedings, Rahane was trapped leg before by Rashid — his only wicket of the day — for 10.

That opened the doors for comeback man, Dinesh Karthik, to walk into the Test arena after eight years and test the waters at the fag end of the day. Pairing with Pujara, Karthik’s primariy role was to stick around and help India end the day safely. But the Afghans put the duo under pressure, showing the exit way to Pujara for 35. Karthik, too, was run out on four.

After dropping a sitter of Pujara at slips, when he was at 30, Mohammad Nabi made no mistake the second time as Mujeeeb caught the Indian off guard.

Coming back into the game, Afghans will be hoping to keep the momentum going on the second day. Getting a hang of Test cricket for the first time, Afghanistan’s over-reliance on spinners proved ineffective in the first couple of sessions. The side also missed a genuine seamer. Perhaps, the occasion got to the bowlers as they bowled too many loose deliveries. Taking advantage of the tactical errors, Dhawan and Vijay toyed with the bowlers.

But the new entrant would be happy the way it fought back in the world of red ball cricket.