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Bazball bolters: Shock 62-year first as England unveil spin-heavy XI to face India

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24th January, 2024
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Red-ball cricket and the quality of pitches will be the major talking points when India take on England in an absorbing five-Test series.

This is India’s only long-format international engagement at home in the 2023-24 season, after the country had previously hosted the World Cup last year in October and November.

Over the past few seasons, Test cricket in India has come under scrutiny due to the nature of the spin-friendly pitches. 

A year ago, world Test champions Australia played in Nagpur, Delhi and Indore. All three matches finished within three days — India won with relative ease in both Nagpur and Delhi before Australia won in Indore.

Spinners accounted for 95 out of 113 wickets to fall in that four-match series, with no Australian pace bowler taking more than three wickets.

It will likely be more of the same in this series.

“You get different conditions in India, and the home team are really good (in these conditions). I don’t think we will be defensive. We will still look to take the game on and take the positive option,” England pace bowler Mark Wood said.

England have attempted to redefine Test cricket in the past couple of seasons against Pakistan, New Zealand and at home against Australia.

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Ben Duckett of England leaves the field after losing his wicket Josh Hazlewood of Australia during Day Two of the LV= Insurance Ashes 2nd Test match between England and Australia at Lord's Cricket Ground on June 29, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

With “Bazball,” they’ve played a more attacking brand, often pushing some matches into a shorter time frame. The cricket-loving masses in India are also excited to watch a style that has brought Test cricket more in sync with the modern-day white-ball formats.

Even so, England have only found relative success under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, winning 13 out of 18 Tests, losing four matches and drawing only one game. 

England were the last team to win a Test series in India — back in 2012 under Alastair Cook. Since then, India have been unbeaten at home — losing only three of 44 matches on home soil in the last 11 years.

“I don’t think we are unbeatable,” India skipper Rohit Sharma said. “Whatever past records we have over the past decade or so, they do not guarantee that we will come out on top in this series. We will have to play well to win this series.”

England’s bowling, especially in the spin area, appears lightweight. Along with Shoaib Bashir, who couldn’t get into India until getting his visa sorted, they’ve brought 19-year-old wrist spinner Rehan Ahmed — who has played one Test — and left-arm spinner Tom Hartley, who is yet to make his debut.

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Both Ahmed and Hartley were selected on Wednesday in a starting XI containing three spinners, with Jack Leach the most experienced of the trio. Joe Root is another spin option for Stokes.

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Wood is the only pace bowler in the line-up as Stokes is not bowling this series after recently undergoing knee surgery.

India also have their share of problems. Star batter Virat Kohli pulled out of the first two Tests due to personal issues. 

Veterans Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have been left out, with less experienced players — Yashaswi Jaiswal (four Tests), Shubman Gill (20) and Shreyas Iyer (12) — added to the squad.

While India haven’t named their starting XI, Sharma confirmed that they will field three spinners.

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