England landed on India’s verdant east coast on Tuesday in seemingly buoyant mood with their head coach, Brendon McCullum, revealing that Shoaib Bashir is in contention for a possible Test debut this week and an all-spin attack is not out of the question.
The 20-year-old Bashir had his entry into India delayed by visa complications but the off-spinner arrived on Sunday to watch England claim a 1-0 series lead. The 28-run victory in Hyderabad was not without one casualty, however, with Jack Leach now facing a race to fit for the second Test that starts on Friday after sustaining a badly bruised left knee.
“Bash was with us during our camp in Abu Dhabi and he really impressed with his skillset,” McCullum told SENZ radio in his native New Zealand. “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 [six matches].
“When he arrived, the 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.”
England clearly have no qualms about thrusting Bashir into the fray, the success of the similarly green Tom Hartley – nine wickets on debut, including seven in the fourth innings – representing a feather in the cap for Ben Stokes after the left-armer was taken apart by India’s openers in his first spell.
McCullum said: “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 – but 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.
“No one ever foresees seven for 60-odd on debut, or nine for the match, or 60-odd runs, a run-out and a catch. But sometimes, you’ve got to be a little bit brave with selections. If you like a character and you like their skillset and you think it can be suited to conditions, then it’s kind of an educated punt.”
Restoring Ben Foakes to the starting XI was another success, the wicketkeeper scoring some vital second-innings runs and then making two stumpings to help win the game at the death on Sunday.
“The last time we were here, [the final] three Tests were probably the worst pitches I’ve batted on,” said Foakes. “[We were] going into it thinking: ‘Oh these are horrific wickets. I just need to find a way to stay in.’ I think now the group is more ‘if that’s the situation, you’ve got to be positive’.
“You have got to 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 [spinning] conditions the bowler is a massive favourite to win the contest and 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.”
Foakes was happy to be back behind the stumps after Jonny Bairstow’s return from an ankle injury, plus Harry Brook’s emergence the previous winter, led to him being squeezed out of the Ashes last summer. It continues a longstanding selectorial back-and-forth for the 30-year-old since his Test debut in Sri Lanka in 2018.
“I obviously found it difficult,” said Foakes, regarding last summer. “But it wasn’t as if I was shocked. For me, I find it difficult to crack on with what I’m doing. Obviously you go through a few emotions. One time I was [playing for Surrey] at Lord’s, waiting to bat, and Jonny took one on the finger [in the Test match] and I was panicking looking at the telly thinking ‘shit, I’ve got to bat here’. It’s more that sort of thing.”
Foakes said he used to fear he had played his final Test when dropped in the past but claims to be more at peace, with the England central contract he received recently also “taking the sting” out it. His spot appears secure on this tour, although if Brook returns from the personal issue that caused him to fly home, things could change once more.