England Considering Three-spinner Strategy for Series Opener in India

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England are considering playing Mark Wood as a lone fast bowler alongside three spinners in the first Test against India, which begins on Thursday in Hyderabad. Both teams believe the pitch at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium will take spin throughout. England came into the tour expecting that any four-man attack, supplemented by Joe Root’s slow bowling, would be split evenly between seam and spin. They could, however, veer more to the latter given what they have seen of the surface. This would mean a Test debut for left-arm spinner Tom Hartley, who has 40 wickets at 36.57 from just 20 first-class appearances for Lancashire. Alongside him would be legspinner Rehan Ahmed, who has yet to travel to India following a delay in granting his visa. Shoaib Bashir, the other spinner in the squad, may join them by the weekend. The sole seam position is expected to go to Wood, whose extra pace and knack of reverse-swing give him a point of difference, ahead of James Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Gus Atkinson.

In a briefing on Tuesday, captain Ben Stokes indicated he would be happy to back any of England’s four seamers to lead the attack, but acknowledged that Wood’s extreme pace was a tempting option. England’s previous dalliance with just one “full-time” quick came on the previous tour of India in the fourth Test at Ahmedabad. Anderson, however, was assisted on that occasion by Stokes, who claimed 4 for 89 in India’s only innings.

Wood, for his part, acknowledged his struggles for penetration during a tough ODI World Cup campaign at the start of the winter but was enthused by the prospect of fulfilling his role with Test regulations and fields to back up his methods.

The expected XI would feature Tom Hartley as one of three spinners at Hyderabad, sharing the bowling alongside legspinner Rehan Ahmed and possibly Shoaib Bashir once he joins the team. Wood is expected to be the sole fast bowler.

Ben Foakes is set to return as England’s Test wicketkeeper with Jonny Bairstow coming in at No.5. Vice-captain Ollie Pope returns to the No.3 spot after dislocating his right shoulder while fielding during the second Ashes Test at Lord’s last July. Stokes used his Tuesday briefing to champion his spinners, suggesting that Tom Hartley’s height and pace of bowling could replicate India’s spinners’ success in their home conditions.

Stokes also confirmed that England’s approach to selection over the coming weeks will need to consider the dexterity, particularly in terms of thinking and use of resources.

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