@Yas_Wisden 5 minute read
England’s squad announcement for their upcoming tour of India sprung a major surprise with 20-year-old Somerset off-spinner Shoaib Bashir sensationally fast-tracked to the senior set-up.
The 16-man squad included three uncapped players with Bashir joined by Lancashire left-arm spinner Tom Hartley and Surrey speedster Gus Atkinson, both of whom have played limited overs cricket for England in the last few months.
But it was the selection of Bashir that was by some distance the most eye-catching. Bashir has only played six first-class matches and at the time of his first England call-up has just 10 first-class wickets at 67 runs apiece to his name.
Here are five talking points from England’s squad announcement, including why England have turned to Bashir despite his modest first-class record.
County Championship form disregarded as England highlight valued attributes
The headline story from the squad announcement was undoubtedly the pair of call-ups handed to Bashir and Hartley who took just 29 Championship wickets between them at 52.48 in 2023. England’s managing director of men’s cricket Rob Key didn’t shy away from the implication that county form had to be overlooked somewhat while identifying which spinners were most likely to be successful in India. “You almost have to a little bit disregard what’s happened in county cricket,” said Key. “It’s a very different style of bowling, and you have to try to work out who’s going to be the best players for what we’re coming up against, and that’s where we’ve ended up.”
Key highlighted Bashir’s high release point as an attribute the England management valued and it is a trait that the Somerset youngster shares with the squad’s other uncapped spinner, Hartley. Bashir’s ‘craft’ and ability to vary his pace without a discernible difference in his action were also pinpointed as reasons for his rapid elevation to the senior set-up. It is likely that Bashir’s excellent outing for the England Lions against Afghanistan A – for which Key and Brendon McCullum were out in the UAE to witness – nudged him above the likes of Jack Carson and Callum Parkinson in the pecking order.
In demand spin-bowling all-rounders not picked
The most controversial omission was that of Liam Dawson who was arguably the player of the 2023 County Championship taking 49 wickets at 20 in Division One. Dawson is the recipient of a lucrative SA20 deal that clashes with the first half of the India series but Key confirmed that there had been no contact between England and Dawson over the Hampshire all-rounder’s availability for the series. As far as England were concerned, Dawson was available for selection. However, Key did admit that the 33-year-old is probably not at the stage of his career where he’d be particularly keen to be, as he put it, the squad’s “15th or 16th man” – an indication of where Dawson sat in England’s hierarchy of spin options. Key specifically said that Hartley’s style of bowling – which is flatter and quicker than Dawson from a higher release point – put him ahead of his left-arm spinning rival.
Will Jacks, who took a six-for on Test debut last year in Pakistan, was also left out of the squad with his slower and flightier brand of finger-spin not valued on this occasion.
Ben Foakes returns
Ben Foakes did little wrong in the Test side under Ben Stokes’ captaincy before he made way for the returning Jonny Bairstow earlier this year. Foakes now finds himself back in the fold nearly a year before his last Test appearance in Wellington earlier this year. Foakes is undoubtedly a superior gloveman to Bairstow, especially in subcontinental conditions, but it will require a degree of selectorial gymnastics to accommodate both in the XI with Bairstow deployed as a specialist batter. The composition of the top seven is all the more trickier with the return, too, of Ollie Pope who missed most of the Ashes with a shoulder injury, and Ben Stokes’ continued inability to bowl making it harder for England to balance their XI. Realistically, if Foakes is included in the XI, one of Pope, Bairstow or Harry Brook will have to make way.
Ben Stokes likely to be fit, but highly unlikely to bowl
Key also more or less confirmed that Ben Stokes will once more play as a specialist batter having only undergone surgery on his troublesome knee since his return from the World Cup. With Joe Root the only viable bowling option in the top six – Brook’s awkward medium-pacers not withstanding – balancing the side with enough batting and bowling depth will not be straightforward.
England picked just four seamers – James Anderson, Mark Wood, Ollie Robinson and Gus Atkinson – for the five-Test series which even for a tour of India feels short. Despite spin dominating England’s previous tour of India in 2021, seam bowlers have played an increasingly prominent role in India in recent years. Josh Tongue almost certainly would have been selected had he been fit but misses out with a pectoral injury. There will be also be a Lions tour running concurrently in Asia so expect England dip into those reserves at some point on the trip.
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