Test cricket is many wonderful things, but it is also a harsh reality check. If you are not ready for it, it exposes you in the most brutal manner. There could have been arranged a softer landing than playing the best Test team in their own backyard, one of the toughest challenges in all sport today; there could have been better preparation with a warm-up match against a first-class side; but the message is clear: there is a long way to go for Afghanistan.
Test wickets are like felling trees. You have to keep striking at the same point before the final fatal blow. Afghanistan kept striking in different places when they bowled, and were nowhere near as resilient as a tree when India began striking. They know all this surely, but unfortunately Test cricket doesn't come with an elaborate manual.
Afghanistan were not ready. There should be no shame in admitting it. Yet it is what happens from here that is important because not many of the 12 Test teams were ready for this beast when they first encountered it. Conceding a a century in the first session of a Test, getting bowled out twice in one day, losing a match in two days - it is all embarrassing, but it has happened to established Test teams too in the past, let alone one making a debut with limited first-class experience in their ranks.
Afghanistan have come here because their current generation and the one before it wanted to get here so badly that they overcame obstacles no other cricket team has had to tackle. "Here" is not necessarily Test cricket but just cricket, whichever format the sport has thrown at them. They are Test cricketers now. One of only 12 countries to have played it. While nothing that happens now can take it away from them, it can also become a cross to bear. Ask Bangladesh, who have had their Test status questioned every step of the way.
It is important that Afghanistan still want to be Test cricketers. It can be easy to fall into the trap of caring only for limited-overs formats because that is what they have done till now and done so with phenomenal results. It can be easy to give up on Test cricket because it is so difficult, because a tenth of the T20 crowd turns up and still chants for a T20 franchise, because a bad day in T20 ends in that finite period the reasons are endless.
Afghanistan are nowhere near experiencing the reward of going through it. They need to keep wanting to do that. As badly as they wanted to play the World Cup. As badly as they wanted to learn when they watched the Pakistan stars on their TVs.
That applies to players, leaders in the team, leaders outside the team and leaders in world cricket. This is going to be the steepest learning curve for a team that has taught themselves so much about cricket in such little time. Ten years ago, they were in World Cricket League Division Five, playing Bahamas and Japan. Now they are here. Cricket shouldn't lose them. Coach Phil Simmons has been telling them for weeks how tough it is, now they know it for themselves. Now it is up to them to start doing what they need to do to belong here.
Good signs are there. As Afghanistan players stood crestfallen after the match, waiting for the presentations to begin, on Eid , a day of celebration after almost a month of fasting, India captain Ajinkya Rahane walked up to talk to them. Rahane later reported that even during that chat he could see they wanted to learn already. That they wanted to talk about how they could get better.
Ireland were more ready than Afghanistan. They had more first-class experience, but they also had a generation of players who have been desperate to play Test cricket, who have grown up wanting to play Test cricket. Afghanistan, much like West Indies, have gone for what is most popular at that time. The learning curve is going to be steeper for them, but even for Ireland it is going to be difficult because this generation is coming towards its end, and Simmons, who has coached Ireland, acknowledged they haven't been producing the talent to fill the breach.
Had Ireland been given this status eight years ago, they might possibly have inspired the next generation to take up cricket much more than they reportedly have now. We now have a side arguably brought to Tests too late and another possibly too early. As much as it will call for their desperation to stay here, they could do with less selfish member boards. Twelve is a good number to start two divisions if boards like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka can give up on the fear of missing out on India tours. It will reduce mismatches and will promote to the top group teams that are better prepared to face the best sides.
At the end of it all, as India posed with the huge winners placard for a customary photograph, they invited Afghanistan to pose with them too. Cricket world needs to be as welcoming as Rahane's team.