There have been very few things as exciting as ‘Bazball’ in Test cricket over the last few decades. The jury is still out on what it actually means and its effectiveness, but there’s no doubt that ‘Bazball’ is entertainment. Entertainment automatically entails competitive, intense, and purposeful cricket in its longest format. And when isn’t that fun?
A five-Test series is a rarity nowadays except for the Ashes, but if you would have to select two teams to joust in such a contest, England in India would have to be your pick. The sheer drama and hype before the series, all that pitch talk and the rising temperatures in and out give it a very gruelling atmosphere. And both the teams seemed to have prepared accordingly.
England had already decided their XI a day before, and they surprised everyone by going with just one specialist pacer (Mark Wood) and three specialist spinners. Amongst the three spinners are the two slow left-arm orthodox - the experienced Jack Leach and the debutant Tom Hartley. The third spinner is the young leggie, Rehan Ahmed.
With Indian batting being dominated by right-handers, this strategy makes a lot of sense. However, playing just one specialist pacer in Wood means that if the pitch doesn’t turn prodigiously from Day 1, England bowlers might be desperately looking for shade under the winter sun in Hyderabad.
Meanwhile, Rohit has remained largely mum on his strategy for the places in contention - the wicketkeeper slot and the third spinner. India has slotted in Rajat Patidar for Virat Kohli, but it seems unlikely that he’ll make the eleven tomorrow.
Things to look out for
Can Axar be Bazball’s kryptonite?
Axar Patel began his Test career on a roller coaster that only went up, crushing the English team into the bottomless pit of misery. He’s back again with his devious arm balls and the illusive non-turners.
Even if England forgets that threat, when that bowling average of 17.16 pops up against Axar’s name, they’ll definitely be reminded not to take him lightly. The right-handers in the English lineup - Zak Crawley, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Ben Foakes, and Ollie Pope would remember him quite clearly.
Meanwhile, his batting has been the main reason behind him starting over Kuldeep Yadav as the third spinner in the Indian side. In fact, his performance was so impactful that his batting saved India in a couple of Test matches in the last Border-Gavaskar series. In the last seven Test innings, Axar has been averaging 60.4 with the bat and is taking 110.8 balls to get dismissed on average. These numbers are enough to tell you his value on the Indian side.
Can Shreyas Iyer overcome the short ball challenge?
England are playing only one pacer - Mark Wood. But one feature of Bazball has been that Ben Stokes has been able to extract the last ounce from his bowlers. In such a situation, totally expect Shreyas Iyer to be pipped with bodyline deliveries in the Test.
The 29-year-old averages only 17 at a strike rate of 59 while playing pace bowlers off the backfoot, and Wood might try to do exactly that against him as soon as he arrives at the crease.
Meanwhile, Iyer can also be tied up by spin in India. The orthodox left-arm spinners have got him out five times in India. He does average 42.2 against them, though. England's two left-arm spinners will surely get to play a role against him as well.
Hence, a good challenge awaits Iyer in the Hyderabad Test and the rest of the series.
A big show awaits Hartley and Ahmed
England will have two spinners who’ll be bowling in a Test in India for the first time.
Tom Hartley plays for Manchester Originals in the Hundred and Lancashire in county cricket. His average of 36.57 doesn’t indicate a prodigious talent, but Hartley’s consistency has been his USP, along with his variations.
He’s tall and has a slow, loopy, spinning delivery in his armoury and a quicker, straighter delivery. His height allows him to target the back of the length bowling channel quite easily, and if the ball is turning square, then his height and bounce would make him unplayable.
The other spinner, Rehan Ahmed, impressed everyone with his leg-spin bowling right from his debut at Lahore. He’s only 19, but he already can bowl the slider and top spinner with decent control, along with his leg-breaks and googly.
With India almost set to play six right-handers in their top nine, his bowling would be immensely crucial for Stokes’s plans to be successful.
Venue and Conditions
The available pictures of the pitch from the venue in Hyderabad show clear dry patches in fuller areas. This indicates that the ball will turn from Day 1, and also proves that India aren't rerouting from their plan of dishing out turners for World Test Championship points.
With India desperate for an ICC Trophy, that was bound to happen.
> Rohit Sharma averages 74.5 facing pace in India. However, that average falls down to half - 37.9 while facing spin, especially left-arm spin. The Indian skipper only averages 23.6 against left-arm spinners and has lost his wickets to them seven times.
Jack Leach got him out four times in 2021. England will hope that Tom Hartley can join that list of troublemakers for Rohit.
> Shubman Gill has a big issue with incoming deliveries. Even after 20 Tests, Gill only averages 30.6, and these deliveries have played a big part in that as 11 out of 22 dismissals against pace for him have come against in-coming deliveries. It doesn’t matter if they have just angled in, seamed in, swung in, reverse swung in — the ‘Prince’ has found it difficult to negotiate such deliveries.
With Wood in their arsenal, England are bound to try this against Gill at a high pace.
England have already announced their eleven, and have gone in with Ben Foakes as specialist keeper and three spinners.
England XI: Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ollie Pope, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Ben Foakes (wk), Rehan Ahmed, Mark Wood, Tom Hartley, Jack Leach
Rohit Sharma was mum about India’s combination. But it’s almost certain that Indian team would go with Shubman Gill at three, Shreyas Iyer at four and KL Rahul at five. Moreover, KS Bharat’s century against the England Lions pushes his case to be the specialist keeper in the side ahead of Dhruv Jurel.
India Probable XI: Rohit Sharma (c), Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul, KS Bharat (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Axar Patel, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj