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India v England

Five takeaways from England’s squad for the first two India Tests

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read

England have named a 16-strong squad for the first two Tests of their upcoming series against India.

Jonny Bairstow, having only just made his Test return, is rested alongside Sam Curran and Mark Wood, while Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes and Rory Burns have all been recalled.

The first Test begins on February 5. Here are five things England’s selections might teach us about their plans.

England’s rotation policy survives first test of will

England’s novel, and in their eyes radical and forward-thinking, rotation policy is certainly well-meaning, with the unique challenge of being an all-format cricketer during a global pandemic taking a significant physical and mental toll. The question many had, however, is whether they would really be able to commit to resting stars coming off a strong performance or with a series to be decided.

The first challenge came via the player most likely to make it known if he was disappointed by being excluded, with Jonny Bairstow impressing on his Test return, notching 47 and 37 not out in his first Test since 2019, and Ed Smith and co. have held their nerve, resting him for the first two Tests with a view to recalling him for the second half.

Ben Foakes fans, sheathe your swords

Has such a mild-mannered cricketer ever sparked such fiercely divided opinion as Surrey’s Ben Foakes does? For his proponents, he’s the world’s best wicketkeeper and a batsman capable of averaging 40 to boot. For others, the thought of including him at the expense of Jos Buttler or Jonny Bairstow’s otherworldly talents beggars belief.

The former group have had to stew as he’s carried drinks in Sri Lanka, despite his Player of the Series award on debut there last time out. Buttler’s impressive performance with the gloves only made a recall seem all the more distant. But with the Tauntonian-turned-Lancastrian set to be rested after the first India Test, rather than the second as originally mooted, Foakes’ fanatics might well be treated to three full Test matches with the Surrey stumper behind the sticks. That is, unless Bairstow has something to say about.

England bet on finger-spin to win

A heavy series defeat often leads to any potential positives being quickly erased from memory, with most preferring to forget a smashing ever happened rather than dwell on the few good bits. Adil Rashid’s cautiously impressive outing in India last time out is one such example, with the leggie taking 23 wickets – more than twice as many as the next best, with four four-wicket hauls in there. That those scalps came at 37 runs per wicket is the classic leg-spinner’s trade-off, but on flat pitches and against good batsmen, there’s logic to the theory that you can afford a bowler to go for a few if he can prise something out of nothing.

Rashid’s shoulder put paid to any hopes of a Test comeback, but England will be taking two wrist-spinners to India. But Mason Crane and Matt Parkinson have only been named in the reserves, and are thus unlikely to feature. Instead, Moeen Ali, Dom Bess and Jack Leach make up the spin contingent.

Lawrence’s stay in the side likely to be extended

Dan Lawrence’s cocksure 73 was one of the highlights of England’s first Test win in Sri Lanka, but with the Essex batsman only debuting in the absence of three regular members of Joe Root’s top six, it was predicted that his would only be a two-Test stay before slipping back to the fringes. Instead, with Bairstow rested, Ollie Pope still recovering from injury, and Ben Stokes’ return allowing England to leave out a quick, Lawrence is likely to keep his place. Another sizeable score could give the team management quite the headache when Pope does return to fitness.

England go quick-heavy again

Just as they did in Sri Lanka, England will go into an Asian tour with twice as many seamers in the squad as spinners, and another two in reserve. While Mark Wood’s retention for the second Sri Lanka Test has raised eyebrows, this is more an indication of England’s desire to rotate than anything else. Don’t be surprised if all half-dozen feature at some point, but do be if more than two feature in the same XI.

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