IND vs ENG, 1st Test: Bazball’s Trial by Spin Begins in Hyderabad

The build-up to the India vs England 5-match series has not been as spicy as one would generally envisage. Partly because the result for many is a forgone conclusion – India with a remarkable run of 16 straight series wins dating back to over a decade ago have been unbeatable at home. More so after the introduction of the World Test Championship Cycle, after which India have not only won matches but have ransacked teams.

Since 2013, India have played 46 Tests, losing only three while eight have been a draw. It is a scary statistic. Forget about the change in personnel over the years, India have got the job done each time.

England, the last victors on Indian soil have bore the brunt of this unstoppable force twice since their memorable 2012 win – in 2016 and 2021. But England can take little heart from the fact that of the three losses India had endured, one of them was inflicted by England – that too in a series opener in Chennai. Four from that XI will feature in the first Test in Hyderabad starting tomorrow. Another thing that England can clutch on to is the very fact they were the last team to beat India in India.

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But things have changed a lot from 2012. The England red-ball cricket has flipped over the tangent, while India have managed to find the deadliest mix for their opponents at home.

Ever since Brendon McCullum took over the reins of the England setup in May 2022 – England have not lost a series. Just before that, they had gone on to lose five out of the six series they had played. The McCullim-Ben Stokes Combo has given Test Cricket ‘Bazball’; while the Ravi Shastri-Kohli combo gave Test cricket ‘Trial by Spin’

It’s like the irresistible force paradox – What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? With ‘Bazball’ England can go berserk and rock India, or they could go burst completely with the Indian spinners administering a slow painful death.

But, as the Border Gavaskar Trophy would tell you, India too are susceptible to spin and despite the team filling up the W column, their batters’ prowess too have dwindled against the travelling spinners. If it was not for Axar Patel’s runs lower down, things would have panned out rather differently for India as well. Indian batters tend to struggle against unknown commodities and in rookie Tom Hartley and legspinner Rehan Ahmed, England have in their ranks two players Indian batters have not seen much off.

And that sets up this series nicely. England skipper Ben Stokes said during the pre-match press conference that even though India is a beast at home, they are not going to back down and think defensively, while Rohit Sharma despite erring the way of caution said this Indian team is not unbeatable, reminded himself that if his team does not show up, they could find themselves in trouble.

What: India vs England, 1st Test

When: 25th January – 29th January

Where: Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, Uppal, Hyderabad

India Team News

Virat Kohli’s absence for the first two Test makes the Indian middle-order slightly brittle and even though India have unofficially added MP’s Rajat Patidar as cover, it will most likely be Shreyas Iyer bumped up to No.4 with KL Rahul at No.5 and Srikar Bharat as the specialist wicketkeeper.

Without Kohli, this series or at least the first two Tests could prove pivotal for Rahul as he will be the fulcrum around which the Indian middle-order will bat around. Shubman Gill, after a stellar start to his Test career has tapered off, in all formats too and batting at No.3 – a position once held by the Wall Rahul Dravid and then the immovable Cheteshwar Pujara, the weight of expectations will be heavy on the young shoulders of the anointed crown prince.

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Ravindra Jadeja (25 short of 300 wickets), Ravichandran Ashwin (10 short of 500 wickets) and Aar Patel seem to be the preferred three tweakers, Kuldeep Yadav is most likely to miss out with Mohammad Siraj – set to play his maiden home Test – alongside vice-captain Jasprit Bumrah completely a deadly bowling attack.

Likely Playing XI

1. Rohit Sharma (C), 2. Yashaswi Jaiswal, 3. Shubman Gill, 4. Shreyas Iyer, 5. KL Rahul, 6. Ravindra Jadeja, 7. Ravichandran Ashwin, 8. Axar Patel, 9. Srikar Bharat (WK), 10. Jasprit Bumrah, 11. Mohammad Siraj

England Team News

England have announced their playing XI and will play with a lone seamer in Mark Wood. Stokes mentioned Wood will be used in short spells and his primary duty will be to bowl at pace with the new ball and then garner reverse swing with the old. England will also be handing out a debut to the tall left-arm spinner with Jack Leach and one-Test old legspinner Reham Ahmed completing the troika of specialist spinners. Joe Root, apart from being the batting lynchpin will be seen bowling his offies a lot in the absence of Stokes the bowler. Stokes himself is coming off major knee surgery and how he holds up to the rigours of Indian conditions will be interesting to watch out for.

Ollie Pope is also back after his shoulder injury and will slot in at No.3. Harry Brook, McCullum’s star proponent of Bazball has flown back home for personal reasons and that means Jonny Bairstow can slot in as the specialist batter with Ben Foakes filling in as the specialist wicketkeeper.

At the top, Ben Duckett and Zak Crawley had been instrumental in dismantling the bowling attack on much friendlier batting tracks, and their approach at the start could very well be the most crucial phase for England if they harbour hopes of countering the Indian spin threat. And then there is the small case of a certain Joe Root. The talisman who may have adopted the new Bazball, but remains the proper old-school Test batter, who went needed can grind it out in the middle and make a difference. Remember Chennai 2021?

Playing XI

1. Ben Duckett, 2. Zak Crawley, 3. Ollie Pope, 4. Joe Root, 5, Ben Stokes (C) 6. Jonny Bairstow, 7, Ben Foakes (WK), 8. Reham Ahmed, 9. Tom Hartley, 10. Mark Wood, 11. Jack Leach

Pitch Info

Hyderabad last hosted a Test match in 2018 in which Umesh Yadav’s fiery spell of bowling had Windies packing in under three days. The back soil make of the Hyderabad track lends to some bounce early on for pacers who hit the deck. Wood comes in ahead of James Anderson for precisely this reason. On the eve of the match the pitch, like any other Indian pitches, bore no grass with dry patches visible on the spinner’s length at both ends.

Captain’s Speak

“We don’t back away from anything, and we’ll always go out there and give ourselves the best chance to win games.”

– Ben Stokes, England Captain

“We want to think that if we don’t step up or if we don’t show up, well, we are going to find ourselves in trouble. So we don’t want to be doing that”

– Rohit Sharma, Indian Captain

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