Shikhar Dhawan became the first Indian and only the sixth batsman ever to make a century before lunch in the opening session of a Test.
He was imperious in attack, exposing the inexperienced Afghanistan spin arsenal, and leading their initiation by fire on their historic first day of Test cricket in Bengaluru on Thursday.
Dhawan’s 107 in a first-wicket partnership of 168 followed by Vijay’s 105 took India to a commanding 347/6 in the 78 overs possible on a rain-hit day. It could have been very different with India at 280/1 at one stage, but Afghanistan fought back hard with five wickets in the final session and will be pleased at how they finished the day, given how it started.
Afghanistan’s spinners were expected to be their biggest strength as they started out in the red-ball game. But the trio of Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Zadran, so successful in the shorter formats, failed to contain and were quickly thrown off their lengths. It was only in the last session that Khan and Rahman found some bite.
Once India chose to bat, the debutantes’ new-ball bowlers caused some excitement with their movement and angles. The young Wafadar elicited what seemed like an edge from Dhawan that carried to the keeper, but captain Asghar Stanikzai chose not to review.
On the whole, Dhawan stayed in control. With Vijay looking streaky, it was left to him to take on the bowlers. Anything on his pads was put away smartly and anything short raced to the boundary.
Khan, the leg-spinner with a googly that batsmen world over have struggled to pick in limited-overs cricket, was introduced in the 14th over, just after drinks, and was immediately punished. Dhawan took him for three boundaries that over, the last past mid-wicket to bring up his fifty in just 47 balls.
The left-hander seemed especially intent on nullifying the Khan factor. One big scare came in the 20th over, when a sequence of four, six, four off the bowler was cut short by a big appeal. Pitching in line, the delivery straightened up and rapped the batsman on the pad, beating his inside edge. The visitors, who’d gone up in an appeal for caught, gambled on a review for lbw as well, but were unsuccessful.
Dhawan got better at picking the famed wrong ‘un, and made no mistake in dispatching a googly for an off-side boundary to bring up his hundred.
The record century came off 87 balls, and included 18 fours and three sixes. Virender Sehwag, who made 99 before lunch against the Windies in 2006, is the only other Indian batsman to have come close to the feat.
Dhawan wasn’t able to add much after lunch, however. Yamin Ahmadzai, who had bowled Afghanistan’s first ball in Test cricket before limping off the field temporarily, also got the team’s first Test wicket.
The batsman edged to second slip, where it popped out of the fielder’s hand, and it was only fitting that Nabi, one of their rocks since their early years, was waiting with a pair of safe hands at first slip.
Combining with KL Rahul, who came in at No.3, Vijay kept up the brisk pace of scoring. They were without the flourish of Dhawan, but as the field was spread out, had little trouble in piercing the gaps with deft touches.
Yamin Ahmadzai became Afghanistan's first wicket-taker in Tests Yamin Ahmadzai became Afghanistan's first wicket-taker in Tests
A change of ends seemed to work better for an increasingly fired up Khan, and that began a better half of the day for Afghanistan. But before the visitors could press ahead with their new strategy, rain forced the players off the field for a 59-minute delay.
Vijay got to within one run of his century, but had to wait for another 41-minute interruption to end before he got back on the field to reach the milestone. It came with a lifted shot over point that raced to four, having taken 143 balls.
The 122-run stand was broken by Wafadar, with Vijay offering no shot to one pitched well outside off and angling in sharply; the umpire agreed with the bowler that it would clip the top of off.
When Rahul chopped on to his stumps just two balls later to give Ahmadzai his second wicket, the skip was back in Afghanistan’s steps.
Afghanistan picked up five wickets in the final session to end the day on a high Afghanistan picked up five wickets in the final session to end the day on a high
Ajinkya Rahane had one decision for caught behind overturned, but had to walk back when Afghanistan challenged successfully for an lbw appeal. Khan finally had his first Test wicket, with a ball pitched on middle keeping straight.
Nabi denied Khan a second when he dropped Pujara on 30, but made up for it with a leap to his left to send back the batsman for 35 off Rahman. Afghanistan, who had been throwing themselves around all day, were rewarded with a run out of Dinesh Karthik as well.
Khan’s final spell of 9-2-15-1 perfectly captured the shift in momentum, but the debutants will know their work is far from done.