Head coach Brendon McCullum has hinted England could go “quids in” and field an entire attack of spinners in the second Test against India.
After claiming an unforgettable victory in the curtain-raiser at Hyderabad, where sole seamer Mark Wood bowled 25 overs without opening his account on a slow turner, nothing is being ruled out.
Going into a five-day game with just one pace option looked a remarkably bold move a week ago but, with 18 of India’s 20 wickets falling to spin and the other two to run-outs, the Kiwi is mischievously flirting with an even more maverick selection.
After watching Lancashire’s Tom Hartley take nine on debut, including a decisive 7-62 on the final day, he is entertaining the idea of throwing another newcomer into the mix if India serve up a spinner’s paradise in Visakhapatnam on Friday.
Twenty-year-old Shoaib Bashir only touched down in the country at the weekend, with his arrival delayed by visa issues related to his Pakistani heritage, but is already under consideration to make an unprecedented five-pronged spin unit alongside Hartley, Jack Leach, Rehan Ahmed and Joe Root.
“He comes into the calculations,” McCullum told New Zealand’s SENZ Radio. “If the wickets continue to spin as much as we saw in the first Test, as the series goes on we won’t be afraid to play all spinners, or a balance of what we’ve got.
“We’ll have a look at conditions and make a call. You’re not going to get every call right, especially over here – it’s hard to read some of the wickets. But we’ll make a decision and go quids in on trying to commit to that. Then we’ll see where we land.”
What are England’s other options?
Playing at least one fast bowler is still the likelier outcome, with the ability to change the pace of the game still a valuable string to captain Ben Stokes’ bow and the country’s record wicket-taker James Anderson eager to get into the series, although Somerset off-spinner Bashir earned rave reviews in the recent training camp in the UAE.
“Bash was obviously with us during our camp in Abu Dhabi and he really impressed with his skillset,” McCullum said. “He’s a great kid, he’s got an infectious personality and it was good to have him around us.
“He’s fitted in seamlessly within the group and he’s a guy who’s got an immense amount of enthusiasm, albeit at a young age and pretty limited in his first-class experience.
“Like Tom Hartley, he was a guy who we looked at and thought, ‘He’s got some skills which could assist us in these conditions’.
“When you see guys you think are good enough, and who you think are going to suit the conditions, it’s sort of horses for courses. Sometimes, you’ve got to be a little bit brave with selections.”
How will India respond?
England are ready for anything India’s groundstaff throw at them in the coming weeks, with wicketkeeper Ben Foakes recalling the “horrific wickets” that greeted them on their previous Test tour.
The tourists found themselves in a similar position three years ago, 1-0 up after winning the series opener, and proceeded to lose the next three by crushing margins as the pitches in Chennai and Ahmedabad offered extravagant turn from the off.
With India’s spinners running riot, England had a top score of 205 in six innings, and it would be no great surprise if the hosts attempted to serve up similar surfaces after their shock defeat last time out.
“The last time we were here all three were probably the worst pitches I’ve batted on,” Foakes said. “From memory that first Test was played on a flat wicket and then they went to raging bunsens [turners].
“Going into that, I was thinking ‘oh, these are horrific wickets, I just need to find a way to stay in’. I don’t know [if it will be the same again] but it will be interesting to see.”
England Test series in India 2024
- First Test – England win by 28 runs in Hyderabad
- Second Test – February 2-6 (Vizag)
- Third Test – February 15-19 (Rajkot)
- Fourth Test – February 23-27 (Ranchi)
- Fifth Test – March 7-11 (Dharamshala)
Foakes feels confident England are now able to win a trial by spin, with the tourists batting best against the turning ball in Hyderabad in their remarkable comeback victory.
“I think the way some of the lads have played it with their sweep shots can definitely counter the extreme spin,” Foakes added. “Obviously Popey put on a bit of a masterclass in how to do that, so I think quite a few of the lads have a game plan that will do well on those pitches.
“If that’s the situation you’ve got to be positive, put it back on the bowler and put them under pressure. It’s more of a mindset shift of how to go about it because in those conditions the bowler is massive favourite to win the contest so it’s how many blows you can put in.
“Before there was more of a fear of getting out and that put us in our shells. Now there’s not that worrying about getting out.”
Follow over-by-over text commentary from the second Test between India and England, in Vizag, live on skysports.com and the Sky Sports App from 3.30am on Friday (first ball at 4am).
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