England handspinner Shoaib Bashir shocks Test call-up for India series | England cricket team

Traits, character and ‘world-class’ potential have catapulted 20-year-old Shoaib Bashir into England’s Test squad for India. Rob Key, the men’s team manager, said the county’s form could be “almost disregarded” when selecting spinners for the toughest task in international cricket.

Bashir made his first-class debut for Somerset just six months ago but is the surprise selection among England’s spin quartet for the series, which begins in Hyderabad on January 25. Jack Leach is back from the back stress fracture that blighted his Ashes summer, precocious 19-year-old wrist-spinner Rehan Ahmed is recalled, while Lancashire’s Tom Hartley makes him the second uncapped spinner.

This bold, extremely optimistic selection once again says a lot about the depth of spin in domestic cricket at the moment, even if an experienced professional like Liam Dawson – 49 first-class wickets in 20 for Hampshire in 2023 – was overlooked. Dawson has a deal in South Africa’s SA20 that far exceeds the money he gets for playing in all five Tests (plus a tour fee) – not that England have apparently asked the 33-year-old that question.

Instead, Key, who is still chairman of selectors, believes the high release points of Bashir and Hartley, both 6ft 4in, and their faster bowling speeds are more relevant than their modest records given the twists and turns expected in India. That may well be an exaggeration, but with Moeen Ali returning to Test retirement after the Ashes – Leach was first choice before his injury – England must look to the future.

“You almost have to ignore what has happened in county cricket,” Key said on Monday, announcing the 16-man squad. “Because it’s a completely different style of bowling. They’re trying to figure out who the best players are for what’s coming. This is the result.”

Asked about Bashir, who recently took part in England’s training camp in Abu Dhabi, Key said: “We have this (footage) app and every now and then you catch a glimpse of a few balls and you see there’s something different, that looks special.” . You see the potential and then try to find out something about the character.

“Someone like Bashir – his ceiling is really high. Life is always about how good a person’s good is, not how bad his bad is. He is very raw, he strives for experience, although we are not afraid to use him when necessary. This is the beginning of his journey where we will hopefully see a world-class spinner in the future.”

Rehan Ahmed has continued to impress for England and has therefore been included in the squad for the game against India. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA

In fact, that journey for Chertsey-born Bashir began in the Surrey youth team before his release and a stint with Berkshire in 2022, as well as five wickets in a Second XI game against Somerset, led to his current county contract. A brief failure by Alastair Cook against Essex this year was notable, although 10 first-class wickets at an average of 67 underlines what is a step into the unknown.

It may be that both Bashir and Hartley, a left-back who already plays in one-day international cricket, begin the tour as understudy, something Key believes would not interest Dawson. Leach covers the left-arm angle while Ahmed continues to impress in the shorter formats since taking seven wickets against Pakistan on his Test debut last winter. Joe Root’s off-breaks are likely to make him an all-rounder in the eleven, even if India’s likely batting line-up is predominantly right-handed.

It was felt that Will Jacks was bowling too slowly for India and is now free to continue his deal in the SA20, while Durham’s new signing, left-back Callum Parkinson, will be in the Lions squad shadowing the main squad. Furthermore, the lack of alternatives was evident, although Key believes inexperience has an advantage. He also believes Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, captain and head coach respectively, know how to encourage the youth, as Ahmed proved in Pakistan.

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“Sometimes experience is more baggage,” Key said. “Sometimes there are younger people who have less baggage and are less aware of the dangers, a little less aware of the threat, and that can be a good thing.”

quick start Guide

England squad


Test squad: Ben Stokes (Durham – Captain), Rehan Ahmed (Leicestershire), James Anderson (Lancashire), Gus Atkinson (Surrey), Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire), Shoaib Bashir (Somerset), Harry Brook (Yorkshire), Zak Crawley (Kent), Ben Duckett (Nottinghamshire), Ben Foakes (Surrey), Tom Hartley (Lancashire), Jack Leach (Somerset), Ollie Pope (Surrey), Ollie Robinson (Sussex), Joe Root (Yorkshire)
Mark Wood (Durham)

India vs England schedule
1st test: 25th-29th January, Hyderabad
2nd test: 2nd-6th February, Vizag
3rd test: 15th-19th February, Rajkot
4th test: 23rd-27th February, Ranchi
5th test: 7th – 11th March, Dharamsala

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Spin is clearly crucial in India as England were the last team to win a Test series in the country in 2012 thanks to the talents of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann. But balancing the eleven will probably be the most difficult task. Key says Stokes is unlikely to bowl after knee surgery – especially not initially – and with Ollie Pope back from injury and Ben Foakes back as a wicketkeeping option, the top seven appears crowded.

Stokes will have four sailors at his disposal. Jimmy Anderson begins his 22nd year of Test cricket alongside Ollie Robinson – their exploits with the reverse swing in Pakistan are relevant – while Mark Wood’s pace is supported by Surrey’s unnational Gus Atkinson. Josh Tongue is injured while Ashes player of the series Chris Woakes is on his way to the home side after being released.

“If we succeed then that’s great, if not then I know we’ll go down the way we want to,” McCullum said recently, confirming that overall, regardless of how gross their spin Options may be, or No matter how strong India is at home, England’s aggressive approach will not change.

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