The first Test between England and India sees England taking a risk by choosing three spinners, despite the ongoing controversy over India’s visa policies.
Tom Hartley will be making his Test debut on Thursday for England, who have chosen a team with a strong focus on spin bowling. The team will only have one main seam bowler, Mark Wood, and will still be without Shoaib Bashir due to a visa delay.
One day before the first match against India in Hyderabad, Ben Stokes expressed his annoyance with Bashir’s inability to travel. He also shared that his initial reaction, although meant as a joke, was for the team to stay at their training base in Abu Dhabi until the matter was resolved.
The composition of the team strongly suggests that Bashir, a 20-year-old from Somerset, would have been considered for this match. Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum visited the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium and were convinced that the surface will have a turning effect from the beginning.
Currently, Lancashire’s Hartley adds another left-arm spinner to their frontline, joining the recently returned Jack Leach. The other options for slow bowling are wrist-spinner Rehan Ahmed and Joe Root. Bashir, who has Pakistani roots, will not join the team until Sunday due to his fourth appointment at the Indian High Commission in London.
When questioned about the response to Bashir’s predicament in his home country, including the suggestion that England should have postponed their trip to India and the beginning of the series as a show of support, Stokes jokingly stated that he initially proposed delaying the flight until Bashir received his visa.
“I am aware that [the series] holds much more significance than just that. My previous reaction was likely fueled by emotions surrounding the situation. I am deeply saddened that Bash had to experience this. As a leader and a captain, it is natural to feel emotional when one of your teammates is affected by something like this. We were always going to travel and Bash knows he had our complete support.”
India’s leader, Rohit Sharma, shared his thoughts on Bashir’s visa problem. The Board of Control for Cricket in India, which has close ties to the governing party Bharatiya Janata Party, has been unable to speed up the process. Sharma expressed sympathy for Bashir and hopes he can quickly obtain a visa to visit and play cricket in India. He acknowledges the difficulties of obtaining visas and recognizes that it could happen to anyone, even his own teammates wanting to travel to England.
Stokes and McCullum have chosen Wood over Jimmy Anderson, knowing that using the faster but more injury-prone player for extended periods could result in harm. Instead, they plan to use Wood in shorter, intense bursts. The majority of bowling overs for England will be taken on by spin bowlers while the 34-year-old Wood focuses on brief spells. Stokes, who had knee surgery in December, has announced that he will not be able to bowl.
“I have a clear understanding of how we can effectively utilize our bowling attack and take advantage of various situations,” stated Stokes. “Having a variety of options is beneficial in this aspect. It’s not about being bold or courageous, but rather Baz [McCullum] and I assessing the pitch and selecting the best XI to give us the greatest opportunity for success. It’s exciting to have Tom Hartley make his Test debut and I am eager to see him perform on the field under my leadership. He has shown great skill during the preparations.”
Though just 20 matches into his first-class career, and with 40 wickets at 36 runs apiece, Hartley’s 6ft 4in frame and extra pace through the air is viewed as the way forward in India. Comparisons with the wiry Axar Patel, one of the spinners to dominate England during their 3-1 defeat in India in 2021, are very much behind the call.
In other news, Ben Foakes has returned to his position as wicketkeeper, known for his smooth performance in subcontinental climates. Harry Brook’s absence for personal reasons has resulted in Jonny Bairstow moving to the fifth spot, while Ollie Pope, who was unable to play in the last three Ashes Tests due to a shoulder injury, is now back at the third spot.