While the dates of the Afghanistan’s inaugural Test against India were announced back in January, the series against Bangladesh at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Dehradun was only confirmed last month.
The scheduling has left Afghanistan with no choice other than to have joint preparations for the Test and T20s. The teams for contrasting formats have been training in batches with the five-day squad training in the morning and the T20 lot in the evening. Only five players – captain Asghar Stanikzai, Mohammad Shahzad, Rashid Khan, Mujeed Zadran and Mohammad Nabi — figure in both the squads.
Coach Phil Simmons said he would have liked more practice games ahead of the India challenge but with modern-day scheduling, he has to get the best out of what he has. “It has been difficult with the T20 and Test squads training at the same time. But it is getting a bit easier as we are coming up to the game. That is how tours are planned now. You usually have Test matches first and then limited over series or vice versa. We just have to work around that,” said Simmons, who has been working hard with both the squads ever since they arrived at their ‘second’ home ground 10 days ago.
Afghanistan were earlier training in the heat of Greater Noida and therefore the players are much more comfortable in the conditions in Dehradun, including the stadium which will become India’s 51st international venue on Sunday. However, the tight security cover has made it almost impossible for them to explore the Uttarakhand capital. The fact that they are training while fasting in the holy month of Ramzan has made the players’ task all the more challenging.
Though eighth-placed Afghanistan are ahead of Bangladesh in the rankings, there is not much separating the two teams. They have faced each other in the shortest format only once and that was back in the 2014 World T20 where Bangladesh beat Afghanistan by nine wickets.
The team from the war-torn nation has come a long way since that tournament and is now capable of surprising even the top teams in the shorter formats. While star spinner Rashid Khan will hold the key for Afghanistan, Bangladesh will rely heavily on their inspirational skipper Shakib Al Hasan.
Bangladesh, who reached Dehradun four days ago, have been slowly getting into the groove. They are here without their lead pacer Mustafizur Rahman, who had to pull-out last minute due to the injury he suffered in the IPL.
The ground is in the outskirts of the city but the prospect of a first-ever international game in the state has created a buzz. A decent crowd is expected to turn up at the 25,000 capacity stadium for the series opener to be played under lights.