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England name Tom Hartley in spin-dominated team to face India in first Test

England skipper Ben Stokes names four spinners in his side to take on India in first Test in Tom Hartley, Jack Leach, Rehan Ahmed, Joe Root; Stokes said selection would be "complete and utter 'gut' thing" and suggested Root may even open the bowling

England spinners Joe Root, Jack Leach, Tom Hartley and Rehan Ahmed
Image: Joe Root, Jack Leach, Tom Hartley and Rehan Ahmed will all play against India in the first Test

Lancashire's Tom Hartley is set to make his England debut in the first Test against India in a team dominated by spinners.

Left-armer Hartley joins the established Jack Leach and teenage leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed in an attack that suggests the tourists expect lavish turn, with Joe Root a fourth spin option.

Mark Wood has been picked as the only seam bowler in the side, meaning England's record wicket-taker James Anderson will sit the match out in Hyderabad.

Ollie Pope, Foakes, Ahmed and Leach all come into the side having not been involved in England's last Test against Australia at The Oval last summer.

England Men's XI to face India:

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

England Test series in India 2024

  • First Test - January 25-29 (Hyderabad)
  • Second Test - February 2-6 (Vizag)
  • Third Test - February 15-19 (Rajkot)
  • Fourth Test - February 23-27 (Ranchi)
  • Fifth Test - March 7-11 (Dharamshala)

Stokes: Three spinners gives us best chance | 'Root could open bowling'

Stokes stood by England's team selection, saying: "I don't necessarily think it's bold or brave. It's just me and Baz (head coach Brendon McCullum) looking at the wicket and picking the XI that we think will give us the best chance.

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"You have always got to think that the ball is going to turn in India, but you don't want to go in with any pre-conceived ideas. We have to adapt to whatever we have presented in front of us, with bat and ball.

"It's just being true to yourself, making selections and decisions. It comes easier as I've done more of this... If I think the decision is best for the team, then it's probably the right one."

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Nasser Hussain and Michael Atherton look ahead to England's Test series in India and compare the difference in experience in the spin attacks

The England captain added on handing a debut to 24-year-old Hartley for the first Test: "It's very exciting for Tom. I'm looking forward to seeing him out there and captaining him.

"He's been very impressive in the build-up in Abu Dhabi. He bowls at a very difficult pace to be able to handle out here and he's someone who gets a lot of natural variation. In India, that is sometimes the hardest thing to face."

With Wood operating best in short, rapid bursts, England are ready to embrace an entirely different rhythm of cricket. Root's off-breaks are also likely to feature heavily and Stokes has even suggested he could open the bowling with the part-timer.

"It would be a complete and utter 'gut' thing, as most of my decisions like that are," said Stokes. "You might even see Rooty taking the new ball, depending on what I feel.

"If (left-hander) Yashasvi Jaiswal opens the batting, you might see Rooty opening the bowling because it's spinning away from the bat."

Athers: England not afraid to take a risk with 'amazing' selection

Sky Sports' Michael Atherton:

"It's an amazing team. A very 'Bazball' team.

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Speaking on the Sky Sports Cricket Podcast, Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain react to England's bold team selection for the first Test against India.

"There's going to be a lot on those spinners: Hartley, a debut cap. They think he's tall and fast, a sort of Axar Patel equivalent. We shall see. He is very inexperienced in first-class cricket, let alone international cricket.

"There's Rehan Ahmed, who had that startling Test debut in Karachi a year ago, and Leach, who hasn't really bowled much [since June]. I saw him yesterday; he's looking very trim, he's very fit, but, as you know, there's a big difference between physical fitness and bowling fitness.

"Is it the right team? The proof will be what comes out of the Test. All you'd say is, what this lot [McCullum and Stokes] are very good at is looking at the conditions and ignoring history and the history of England teams, saying 'this is what we need to do here'.

"Whether that is scoring at six an over in Pakistan, to give us enough time to win the game there, or picking a very spin-dominant team. This is what they feel can win in the conditions here. They're not afraid of taking a risk."

Tom Hartley plays cricket for Lancashire and has 40 first-class wickets
Image: Lancashire left-arm spinner Hartley has been brought in at the age of 24

Hussain: I'd have liked a more balanced bowling attack

Sky Sports' Nasser Hussain:

"One seamer. What if you lose the toss and it's not doing that much with you starting with spin?

"You're also leaving out our greatest-ever bowler in my eyes, Jimmy Anderson, who also has a pretty good record in the sub-continent.

"And you look at other countries who have tried to hit India with spin, historically; Shane Warne didn't get that many wickets and have that much success - albeit against a different looking batting line-up.

"I would like a more balanced bowling attack but, I guess, with Rehan Ahmed playing in only his second Test, Tom Hartley making his debut and Jack Leach having not been bowling for a long time, they just feel like they need three [spinners] because, obviously, looking at that surface, it's going to turn.

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Former England seam bowler Steven Finn says the upcoming tour of India will be the toughest test the side have faced

Foakes returns to side | Stokes 'devastated' by Bashir visa struggles

Also notable from England's selection is Ben Foakes returning as wicketkeeper, with Jonny Bairstow reverting to a specialist batting role at No 5.

Surrey wicketkeeper Foakes starred against New Zealand and South Africa at the beginning of head coach Brendon McCullum's time in charge, before being dropped for Bairstow in the Ashes series last summer.

"We all know the impact Jonny made in my first summer as captain," Stokes said this week.

"And there's no doubt about the skill Ben Foakes possesses with the gloves. He can not only do things other 'keepers can't, but also make them look incredibly easy.

"He's a very special talent behind there and having someone like that who can maybe take a two per cent, three per cent chance, that could be massive in the series."

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Stokes remained visibly disgruntled by Shoaib Bashir's treatment as he gave his pre-match press conference and revealed he initially suggested the squad should not fly to India without their team-mate, who is now due to join them at the weekend after his visa was granted.

That idea did not last long and he said there was "never a chance" of boycotting the first Test.

"When I first found the news out in Abu Dhabi, I did say we shouldn't fly until Bash gets his visa but that was a little bit tongue in cheek," he said.

"I know it's a way bigger thing, doing that. That was probably just [my] emotions around the whole thing. There was never a chance that we were not going to travel around this but Bash knows he's had our full support.

"I'm pretty devastated that Bash has had to go through this. As a leader, as a captain, when one of your team-mates is affected by something like that you do get a bit emotional."

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