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England throw India into further disarray with threat to play all-spin attack

England have put it on India again – the questions are all theirs to answer

January 30, 2024 6:31 pm(Updated 6:32 pm)

VISAKHAPATNAM — News breaks that England could launch Shoaib Bashir straight off the plane in an all-out spin attack in the second Test against India. Or is coach Brendon McCullum spinning India further into disarray with an outrageous selection googly?

The teams will get a first look at the Visakhapatnam wicket on Wednesday morning. With India reeling from the defeat in the first Test after blowing a 190-run first innings lead in Hyderabad, plus the loss of key spinner Ravi Jadeja and top order batsman KL Rahul, coach Rahul Dravid would not have known what to make of McCullum’s bold claims made to SENZ Radio in New Zealand.

Dravid will recall the last time England played in Visakhapatnam in 2016 the pitch was helpful to seam. His data analytics squad will also have advised him how well James Anderson bowled on his last three visits to the subcontinent across Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan; a total of 22 wickets at an average of 14.29 and an economy rate of 1.92 in six matches.

Observers noted how well Anderson was bowling in the nets in Hyderabad and how the tea leaves were pointing to his inclusion in a possible two-pronged seam attack with Gus Atkinson here at the expense of Mark Wood and Rehan Ahmed. If Dravid shared that view, he might have to think again following McCullum’s curveball.

“Bash was with us during our camp in Abu Dhabi and he really impressed with his skillset. He 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,” McCullum said.

“When he arrived, boys gave him a huge cheer and he got to witness something pretty special. He comes into calculations for the next Test match. If the wickets continue to spin as much as what we saw in the first Test as the series goes on, look, we won’t be afraid to play all spinners, or a balance of what we’ve got.”

Though the new ball did not turn as much as expected in Hyderabad, it bit hard when the shine came off. There was little in the surface for Wood with the new ball or when it got old. India’s Jasprit Bumrah did get some action on it but not so much with the new cherry.

The calculation is that India would want the pitch to do more to suit their strengths, not less to becalm England’s gathering spin threat, if they are to strike back quickly. And if that transpires, the transformative performance of Tom Hartley in the first Test, backed by the captaincy of Ben Stokes, offers England every encouragement to gamble again, if that is the right term.

As McCullum noted any risk is mitigated by the captaincy of Stokes, who demonstrated once more a marvellous ability to evince from players displays that surprise even them: “I thought that was a real sign of leadership.

“It was a clear message to not just Tom, but those that are around the squad, that when we talk about freedom, taking the game on and trying to come in and make a difference, you’re not going to be cast aside or taken off the crease from the first sign of danger.

“Let’s not forget, and I think this is quite a pertinent point, Nathan Lyon, he’d only played a handful of first-class games [four] and averaged 40-odd when he first got picked for Australia. And he’s gone on to have a fabulous career. 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. You’ve got to back your judgment.”

Anderson, Atkinson and Ollie Robinson have not come along just to stay sharp in the nets and play keepie-uppies in the outfield, but there will be no complaints from them should England go all-in on spin and win. McCullum has put it on India again here. The questions are all theirs to answer as they judge which way to jump to level the series.

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