India the ultimate test for England as Bazball takes on the tweakers

Ben Stokes is back after knee surgery to lead England in India (Picture: Getty)

To conquer India, at least the cricketing part, England teams used to have to harden the immune system, flatter local umpires, and take 20 wickets on slow, unresponsive pitches.

Draws predominated and you were away for three months with cricket of some stripe played most days. It was exhausting but life affirming and lifelong friendships often resulted between those on tour.

These days it is very different as England prepare for Thursday’s first Test in Hyderabad. They will play five Tests in 47 days but no other cricket. The pitches will turn square and draws will be rare.

Good for those watching, perhaps, but not if games consistently fail to go deep into the fourth day. Test cricket does not need its many detractors crowing that it cannot stay the course.

There are yawning gaps between some of the Tests, of nine and eight days, leading to speculation from those who know Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, that some R&R involving golf in Dubai or Abu Dhabi might be in order. Should it come to pass, it will be hailed as barmy or genius depending on results (of the cricket not the golf).

Winning Test series in India is arguably tougher than doing so in Australia.

Only two England teams have managed it over nine tours in the past 43 years 
and no team have done so since 2012.

Test rookie Tom Hartley could have an important part to play in India

Rookie Tom Hartley could have an important part to play in India (Picture: PA)

It is not just the challenging conditions either. India have become a tough, savvy team with a bowling attack to exploit just about any pitch. Yet by dropping their ace seam bowler, Mohammed Shami, and by picking four spinners, their intentions seem very clear – the ball will turn, turn, turn.

By preparing playing surfaces that grip and spin, India are hoping for a mismatch between their spinners and those possessed by England. They will also be banking on their batters being dominant; encounters with the turning ball having occurred since the womb.

England, on the other hand, will try to counter with Bazball. They will target India’s tweakers and try to put them under pressure by hitting boundaries. Even the best lose their cool under heavy barrage.

They will then unleash their pace bowlers to rough up Rohit Sharma and Co with plenty of short-pitched bowling. With boundaries likely to be kept big it will be a challenge, especially for some of the equally big egos.

You can predict conditions from the type of tweaker India have picked (mainly tall finger spinners rather than wrist) and which England have tried to match in their squad.

Kuldeep Yadav is one of India's array of spinning talent

Kuldeep Yadav is one of India’s array of spinning talent (Picture: AFP/Getty)

When extravagant turn is assured, you don’t really want flighty bowlers who deceive through the air but ones instead who drive the ball into the pitch over after over, just like India’s left-armers, Axar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja.

They simply fire it in, concentrating on side-spin rather than overspin, and they constantly attack the stumps.

Bowling that way is not Jack Leach’s forte, which is why England have also picked Tom Hartley, a 6ft 5in left-armer from Lancashire, and Shoaib Bashir, a tall but virtually unknown off-spinner from Somerset.

They also have a wrist-spinner, Rehan Ahmed, to complete a motley spin crew of abilities and experience. Pitted against India’s batting royalty they look like sacrificial lambs, but such is their dearth in the county game that there are few alternatives other than the feisty Liam Dawson, and he was ignored.

India superstar Virat Kohli will be missing from the first two Tests against England

India superstar Virat Kohli will be missing from the first two Tests against England (Picture: AFP/Getty)

If it looks one-sided it might not be, and England will not have to bowl to Virat Kohli in the first two Tests – India’s beating heart is taking time off to give ‘some personal issues his undivided attention’.

As Joe Root showed the last time England toured India, when he took five for eight in Ahmedabad with his slingy off-breaks, abilities are brought closer together when pitches spin outrageously, Root being no more than a useful part-timer with the ball.

England could have difficulties balancing their side and not just because Harry Brook, arguably the leading Bazballer, has withdrawn from the tour due to personal reasons.

Brook, who has been replaced by Surrey’s Dan Lawrence, is a big loss but it is the inability of Stokes to bowl at present which causes England their biggest selection headache. The other conundrum is whether Ben Foakes or Jonny Bairstow takes the gloves.

It usually pays to have your best keeper (Foakes) when the ball turns but Bairstow allows you to play the extra bowler or batsman depending on priorities.

The spinners likely to start for England are Leach plus one of Hartley, Ahmed or Bashir with Root to support, though Bashir was yesterday still stranded in UAE where England have been preparing, India’s authorities insisting the 20-year-old needs a special visa due to his Pakistani heritage.

So far, Bazball has largely delivered on its intentions despite all the extravagances and wasted opportunities its aggressive, freewheeling style has produced. Will it succeed in India? A refined version might but that requires occasional consolidation and playing the averages, and this team do not do that.


MORE : Brendon McCullum provides Ben Stokes fitness update ahead of England’s first Test against India


MORE : Michael Atherton and Harbhajan Singh make predictions ahead of India v England Test series

Cricket