Hyderabad witnessed an unlikely win for England in the first Test. A result that’s helped revive interest in the series like no other. They will be further bolstered by the arrival of Shoaib Bashir. Add to that, their opposition will be without the services of two key players - KL Rahul and Ravindra Jadeja. England themselves are still awaiting an update on Jack Leach’s injury.
With the next Test scheduled to begin on the second of February in Visakhapatnam, England will look to tweak their combination just that little bit to carry on the merry ways of their team’s new approach. Let’s look at some of the permutations the visitors could look at.
Combination 1: Jack Leach, James Anderson, Joe Root, Tom Hartley, Rehan Ahmed
England went ahead with the X factor of Mark Wood in the first Test. Apart from the lack of bounce, they also weren’t particularly helped by Wood’s inability to bowl longer spells. At no point did he bowl more than four overs at a stretch. And this coupled with Jack Leach’s injury forced England to depend on the troika of Joe Root, Rehan Ahmed, and Tom Hartley.
This is where someone like James Anderson could come in handy. The veteran bowler brings with him a lot more than just experience. The ability to bowl workhorse-like spells, and do so with great control. A combination that would go a long way in helping England create pressure from one end and take wickets from the other.
His numbers against the only batters present from the previous tour - Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill - are also encouraging. He has conceded only 20 runs to the former in the 84 balls he has bowled to him, while the latter has an average of 9 against him.
This combination is subject to Jack Leach’s injury. Should he not be available for the second Test, expect them to slot another bowling option in his place.
Combination 2: Jack Leach/Shoaib Bashir, James Anderson, Joe Root, Tom Hartley, Shoaib Bashir/Rehan Ahmed
We’ve already spoken about the value Anderson would add to this England setup. But there’s another potential debutant lurking around the corner, hoping to get an opportunity to bowl at the Dr. Y.S.Rajashekar Reddy Stadium in Visakhapatnam.
We’re of course talking about Shoaib Bashir. The tall, lanky off-spinner from Surrey is also Jack Leach’s teammate at Somerset. At 6’ 4”, the spinner has a uniquely high release point. Something, “which can create more indecision in batters,” according to Matt Drakeley, the person responsible for scouting Bashir.
He also went on to say, “he’s got incredibly long fingers which can be used to get more purchase on the ball.”
Agreed, Rehan Ahmed might not have given a good account of himself with the ball. There’s no other way of describing figures of 2/138 in 30 overs in a Test where spinners went at about 3.5 RPO.
But what cannot be ignored is the batting value the wrist spinner brings with him. His crucial cameos of 13 and 28 in both innings, respectively, helped England post respectable scores. In fact, the knock in the second innings went a long way in helping England post a formidable total of 420.
Between the added batting value of Rehan Ahmed and Shoaib Bashir’s unique bowling style, only time will tell which way England will lean. Again, should Leach not be available, expect both Rehan Ahmed and Shoaib Bashir to play.
Combination 3: James Anderson, Joe Root, Ollie Robinson, Rehan Ahmed/Jack Leach, Tom Hartley
Based on what the conditions dictate, another direction England could look at is to go in with an extra pacer, similar to India’s XI.
Anderson will most likely start in place of Wood for the reasons discussed above. Should England want to replace only one of Leach or Rehan, Ollie Robinson will be another option they can look at.
Along with Robinson’s enviable Test record (Avg. of 22.7 and SR of 48.9), what also goes in his favor is his experience playing against top oppositions. India will do their homework and come back stronger in the second Test. In such a situation, putting an inexperienced spin attack of Rehan Ahmed, Tom Hartley, and Shoaib Bashir up to the task might not be the wisest of moves.
Further, in the recent past, Indian batters’ strike rate against pace has been lower than that against spin. England can use this to their advantage by using Anderson and Robinson from one end for extended periods, while their spinners look to chip away with wickets from the other.
Add to that, Anderson and Robinson’s consistent lines will allow Stokes to deploy his spinners a lot more freely.
Combination 4: Dan Lawrence, James Anderson, Joe Root, Rehan Ahmed/Jack Leach, Tom Hartley
An extremely left-field choice, so something that’s right up the alley of a McCullum-powered England.
England will be expecting the home side to come hard at them and, knowing that, it wouldn’t be the worst for them to shore up their batting reserves.
They can exercise this by bringing Dan Lawrence into the XI. By doing so, they would have 10 potential batting options with Tom Hartley slated in at #10 and James Anderson at #11.
A batter who can float anywhere in the middle order will help them play their aggressive brand of cricket with greater cushion. It also helps that Lawrence can roll his arm over, adding another spin option to their armory.
However, this will leave them fairly light on bowling. They would be going in with five bowling options including Dan Lawrence and Joe Root. And should the surface in Vizag not be as spin friendly as expected, it could end up being a long Test for the side. Even more so if they end up bowling first.