It is lunch on day one, but Asghar Stanikzai doesn't want his team to leave the field.
Shikhar Dhawan has scored a century in the session, M Vijay has managed to bat 40 minutes with a blindfold on without getting out, a review that should have been taken has not been taken, nobody has bowled three good balls in a row, when an edge is produced there is no third slip, and one of the two fast bowlers has hobbled off the field. A small crowd is in, showing disinterest by chanting for the home IPL team. Jokes have been cracked, calling for a change of innings at the end of 20 overs. Pitch maps are telling us what we already know. Rashid Khan has been too short when trying to give the ball a rip, released full lobs when he tried to pitch it up. Mujeeb Ur Rahman has been all over the place.
On Wednesday, Mohammad Shahzad received his Test kit. He laid it out in his hotel room and filmed it on his phone. He shared it on Instagram. There was unmistakable pride in his voiceover. It is a distant memory now. He has shown great agility at slip, but his call for a review on Shikhar Dhawan has been negated by captain Stanikzai. On the surface, it looks a sound process. Stanikzai is at mid-off, he is in control of the situation, and doesn't make an emotional decision based on the feedback from a man known to be emotional. What irony that a team known for playing with emotion misses out on a wicket because all of a sudden they are playing Test cricket and they need to be calm.
Yamin Ahmadzai is tall and comes with a reputation for bowling long unerring spells. He walks off after bowling four overs, feeling his knee. Wafadar, the Under-19 star known for slippery pace, starts too short, then creates an edge, but so many runs have been leaked in the first seven overs that they can't afford to have a third slip. Dhawan sweeps, and the top edge lands safe.
Afghanistan right now have been brought blindfolded to a desert and asked to find their way back. There are no signboards in Test cricket. The whole world can watch them fumble their way around. Afghanistan's chief executive has come to watch them. India's sports minister is there. They can watch but they themselves don't know how Afghanistan can find a way out. The only people who know the way, who have been doing this for decades, are actually there to mislead Afghanistan.
They are throwing hands up, gesticulating at each other. The keeper wants the throw on the bounce. Why is no one backing up? Body language is being dissected. Supporters of cricket's exclusivism are sharpening their knives. All that preparation, that journey from being seen as terrorists 10 years ago to Test players, that hair-raising anticipation before getting that baggy red, and two hours later India are 158 for 0. Don't you hate cricket on such days?
It can be easy for a captain to go into his shell after making a costly error in the first session. Stanikzai instead rounds up his team even as Dhawan and Vijay walk back to a big applause. Stanikzai speaks, Mohammad Nabi speaks, Shahzad speaks. Ahmadzai later says the gist of what was said was don't go running after wickets. Stop the runs. There seems more said, though. Perhaps tell themselves it is okay to have a bad session. It is important to come back well, to not give up the ghost. They haven't come this far without learning a few harsh lessons along the way. This is time to learn more.
Lessons take time to kick in. Preparation of seven players in this XI has been a training session on a slow and low track in Dehradun. The team had to request to get a hit in the indoor nets of a private ground just so they can feel some confidence. Four star players have been preparing playing T20. This would be scandalous preparation for an established Test team. Such are the ways of the world that a debutant, who should need more preparation, has no clout to ask for it.
In between the three rain breaks, Ahmadzai has drawn an edge from Dhawan. Wafadar has bowled a lovely yorker first ball of a new spell. And Rashid has finally bowled three consecutive good deliveries that draw tentative forward defensives from the batsman. As a spinner that is what you want batsmen to do. Stretching forward and defending. Then you can get into a spell. Rashid has done this in his 15th over, having conceded 89 runs.
The third of these balls squirts off the outside edge for a single. This should tell Rashid something. Good balls strung together will bring something. And then he fires the fourth ball in short. KL Rahul cuts it for four. Pace seems on Rashid's mind. He has not been able to find the ideal pace here. India continue to hurtle at five an over.
There is more rain. Wafadar has found more control when he comes back. The big inswinger traps Vijay. On-field decision is out. Umpire's call stays. Finally something goes their way. Finally they get to breathe. They stop chasing wickets now. They bowl areas. Things start falling in place. Bad balls decrease. Pitch maps have higher concentrations in one area. There is indecision among the batsmen. They get a review right. Rashid is beating the bat. Mujeeb is not bowling boundary balls. Finally, Afghanistan are playing Test cricket.
Then Nabi drops Cheteshwar Pujara. Pujara. He bats for days. Rashid doesn't hide his emotion. We are back to it again. Who knows when Pujara will give another chance. In the next over? Bite your hand off if you offer it.
Pujara picks the carrom ball, but the ball doesn't turn, it takes the inside edge, and Nabi plucks a stunner at leg gully. He has found redemption. Mujeeb has found relief. Rashid is the first person to come to Mujeeb. The two T20 spin wizards have had an extremely tough initiation into Test cricket but have found their feet finally. The run rate is down to under 4.5 per over. Five wickets have fallen for 54.
India still hold all the aces on a pitch that's already taking turn, but Afghanistan have not withered. If you allow this space some whataboutery, established Test teams have had worse days without their status being questioned. These debutants have taken two sessions to find their feet. At the end of the day, they shake hands with each other. They know they are here. They might not have found it yet, but they know there is a way in this desert. Give them time, they will be all right.