Shoaib Bashir, a hand spinner from England, unexpectedly received a call-up for the India series in Test cricket.
The combination of qualities, personal traits, and exceptional potential has earned 20-year-old Shoaib Bashir a spot in England’s Test team for the India series. According to men’s team director Rob Key, past performance in county matches can be overlooked when selecting spinners for the most challenging task in international cricket.
Bashir made his first-class debut at Somerset just six months ago but is the surprise pick among England’s spin quartet for the series that starts in Hyderabad on 25 January. Jack Leach returns from the back stress fracture that scuppered his Ashes summer, the precocious 19-year-old wrist-spinner Rehan Ahmed is recalled, while Lancashire’s Tom Hartley makes it a second uncapped spinner.
This confident and optimistic choice reflects the current state of spin in domestic cricket, highlighting the abundance of talent. However, even experienced players like Liam Dawson, who has taken 49 wickets at an average of 20 for Hampshire in 2023, were not considered. Despite having a lucrative contract with South Africa’s SA20 team, which offers more money than playing all five Tests (plus a tour fee), England did not seem to have approached the 33-year-old with an offer.
Instead, Key, who is still in charge of selecting the team, believes that the tall stature and fast bowling speeds of Bashir and Hartley, who are both 6ft 4in, are more important than their average records. This is because they are expecting the pitches in India to favor spin. It could be argued that this is overanalyzing, but with Moeen Ali retiring from Test cricket after the Ashes and Jack Leach, who was the first choice spinner before his injury, England must consider the future.
On Monday, Key announced the 16-man squad and stated, “It’s important to not put too much weight on performances in county cricket because it involves a different type of bowling. Our focus is on identifying the best players for the challenges we will face, and this is the final outcome.”
When asked about Bashir, who was part of England’s recent training camp in Abu Dhabi, Key mentioned, “We have an app that shows footage and sometimes you can see a few balls and notice something unique and special. You can see the potential, so then you investigate the person’s character.”
“Someone like Bashir – his ceiling is really high. Life is always about how good someone’s good is, not how bad their bad is. He’s very raw, he’s going for experience, albeit we won’t be afraid to play him if required. This is the start of his journey, where we will hopefully see a world-class spinner in the future.”
The beginning of Bashir’s journey began in Surrey’s youth program, but after being let go, he played for Berkshire in 2022. He impressed with five wickets in a 2nd XI match against Somerset, which ultimately led to his current contract with his county team. While he briefly confused Alastair Cook during a match against Essex this year, his record of only 10 first-class wickets at an average of 67 highlights the challenge of stepping into the unknown.
Both Bashir and Hartley, who is already a capped left-arm player in one-day international cricket, may start the tour as reserves. This was not something that Key believed would appeal to Dawson. Leach provides coverage for the left-arm aspect, while Ahmed continues to impress in limited-overs matches since taking seven wickets in his Test debut against Pakistan last winter. Root’s off-breaks are expected to make him an all-rounder in the team, even though India’s batting lineup is mostly right-handed.
It was believed that Jacks’ bowling pace was too slow for India, so he is now able to focus on his deal in the SA20. Durham’s new player, left-arm bowler Callum Parkinson, will be part of the Lions team that follows the main squad. The limited options for replacements were apparent, although Key thinks that there are benefits to having inexperienced players. He also thinks that captain Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum have the ability to inspire young players, as seen with Ahmed in Pakistan.
Key stated that occasionally, one’s past experiences can become a burden. He also mentioned that younger individuals with less experience may not be as cautious or aware of potential risks, which can sometimes have positive outcomes.
The importance of spin in India is evident, as the last team to win a Test series there was England in 2012, thanks to the skills of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann. However, creating a balanced lineup will prove to be a difficult task. Key has confirmed that due to knee surgery, Stokes is unlikely to bowl, at least not at the beginning. With Ollie Pope’s return from injury and Ben Foakes as a wicketkeeping option, the top seven positions seem to be crowded.
Stokes will have four fast bowlers available to him. Jimmy Anderson, who has been playing Test cricket for 22 years, will be joined by Ollie Robinson, known for his skill with reverse swing in Pakistan. Mark Wood will also bring his pace to the team, with uncapped Surrey player Gus Atkinson as backup. Unfortunately, Josh Tongue is injured and Chris Woakes, who was named player of the series in the Ashes, has been left out of the team due to his specialization in home conditions.
McCullum recently stated that whether they are successful or not, England will go down in the manner they desire. He confirmed that their aggressive approach will remain the same, despite their inexperienced spin options and India’s strength at home.