When Yamin Ahmadzai ran-in to bowl the first ball to Murli Vijay, he got etched in the history books forever, for being the one to bowl his country's first ball in Test match Cricket. He sprinted through the run-up, and let the ball go in full steam to let it all go, for one ball. All the emotion, all the feelings and all the love for the game, that he and his country exemplifies, behind one ball that his team must have been waiting to get their hands on and deliver for days, was bowled and Yamin must have felt relieved. This is passion, this is triumph of human spirit, this is Afghanistan.
Nobody cares what that ball actually did. The ball that was delivered with Yamin getting short-heighted at the crease because his front foot was bending low, and his ball was pointed seam up. It ended up going in with the angle and hit Murli Vijay on his pads. The ball wobbled on its way and never quite responded to its ambition. When Yamin's partner Wafadar, who looked fitter and quicker through the air, bowled to Shikhar Dhawan the next over, the youngster with just 11 first-class games behind him and at a tender age of 18, didn't bowl two balls at the same place and the over was dispatched for two cracking Shikhar Dhawan boundaries.
Yamin and Wafadar were playing their country's first Test, ahead of Shapoor Zadran, Hameed Hassan, Dawlat Zadran and Gulbaddin Naib, it serves as an example of their exceptional skills but this was unlike Tim Murtagh and Boyd Rankin bowling against Pakistan in their first Test. On a similar surface(atleast on day 1), the Irish duo ran through the Pakistan top order.
Murtagh and Rankin are decently talented bowlers but the key difference is that they were playing their first Test after already having played over 100 first class games each.
Yamin and Wafadar have a lot of spirit, much like Afghanistan but they need to blend their game with the knowledge, understanding and technical equipment of bowling with the red ball.
When Rashid Khan arrived into this match, the most lethal limited overs bowler made a genuine effort to be mentally ripe for this. When a rampaging Shikhar Dhawan started threatening to take the game away from his team, Asghar Stanikzai threw the ball to his main weapon in search for that much-needed wicket.
Rashid has skills, a lot of it, he has the accuracy to make him deadly in a T20 but here he bowled his first ball that left his hand and never landed. Shikhar Dhawan put this ball away for a boundary and two more in that over. Three half volleys and Shikhar brutally put them away because Rashid Khan couldn't grip the SG Test ball in his hands.
He has never played with this ball but was bowling with it, in his first Test. Rashid contributes only 4 first class games to Afghanistan's combine 157 match experience. 157 is less than 20% of the combined experience of Ireland's five best players. Ireland is the 11th Test entrant and received their Test status along with Afghanistan last June.
Rashid is Afghanistan. He has the spirit, and a lot of raw red-ball skills but not the technical nuance yet, to know how to use them. To understand, how to play Test Cricket.
Test Cricket is beautiful but it can be brutal if you aren't ripe for it. Its the toughest format of Cricket and one of sternest sporting challenges, for a reason. This is a sport, within a sport. The sport that has never been absolutely mastered.
Bradman's "invincibles" played in only two countries, West Indies dominated the world but even in their hay-day lost a series in New Zealand and it took Australia a few really determined attempts to finally conquer their "final frontier"
India got Test status in 1932 but won their first Test 20 years later. New Zealand took 44 games to win their first. Bangladesh have only just started to compete at home, 18 years after their debut.
Apart from Bangladesh though, all these countries had a proper first-class domestic scene for years, grooming the generation that eventually played their first Test. First class cricket is the schooling you need to excel in Test Cricket.
They need schooling, Afghanistan needs to blend experience with their spirit and raw skill. How do you gain this experience? By playing a substantial amount of red ball cricket for 4-days across numerous games.
They got bundled out inside 2 days here. Their batsmen lack sound defensive technique and an overall understanding of how to bat in a Test match. Their bowling, which has to be one of the most skillful playing its first Test, lacks technical nuance for this.
You can't be playing Test Cricket to actually learn how to play it.
If you go about the first class numbers of Mohammed Shahzad, Asghar Stanikzai, and Mohammed Nabi, you would see players averaging above 40 but the match revealed where they stand with their basic games against top class bowling.
It shows a genuine dearth of technical expertise in the coaching back home as well. Afghanistan has 5 regional academies but the game perhaps exposed the need to fill them up with coaches who impart basic technicalities to young players growing up at U-19, U-23 and below.
It felt music to ears when various corners of the cricketing world suggested that an Afghanistan XI should be featuring in the Ranji Trophy. Learning its trade, where it is actually meant to be. The best players from their own first-class system, make up an Afghanistan A side that travels around England, Australia and South Africa in alternative years before arriving to India for the Ranji Trophy. These players must go through high-level coaching, while on their way up.
This is merely a thought yet but needs to be genuinely looked at, as an option by the Afghanistan Cricket Board. This will facilitate their growth quicker and more substantially for the red ball game. A young Rashid Khan playing for Yorkshire at Headingley for 14 first class games will make him learn what he doesn't yet know playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad across 2 months.
Afghanistan won't play a lot of Tests in their early years. They've had a tough initiation into it but they must not look at it as something they can't play and excel at. They must not deride it. Test cricket needs the bright and shiny red caps to be worn over its whites. They must fill it with their spirit but they must also become ripe for it.
A lot of people will question their Test status, like Bangladesh's has been questioned for years, but they must not be perturbed by these voices.
Afghanistan is currently the 8th ranked T20I side. They have Rashid Khan. It's a nation that has reached a 10-team ODI World Cup, starting off from basically nothing. When Taj Malik made all the efforts that a man can and made his country fall for a sport, he and Afghanistan just wanted to play this sport and see their admirable story reach immense heights. Well..they've now reached the pinnacle. They must not think they can't excel this, they have defied far stiffer challenges before than Test Cricket.
Test Cricket needs the 36 million people of Afghanistan. It needs the love, the passion, the spirit...it needs Afghanistan.