Can Bazball triumph in its most challenging task yet? A brief summary of the build-up to England’s Test Series in India.


After a harrowing World Cup campaign, England are back in India – but this time playing red-ball cricket, and with a recently operated on Ben Stokes back at the helm for this 5 match series, where England’s new approach of positive cricket, Bazball, will be put through its sternest test to date.

After an incredible run of 13 wins in 18 matches, the England men’s 5 day team are looking at becoming the first side to win a test series in India since Alastair Cook’s England team in 2012/ 2013, where Joe Root, who is the key to England’s success this time, made his debut. Although England have faced a few setbacks pre-tour, only having one frontline spinner who has played more than two Tests, no real bowling options among their top seven batters, and one member of the squad unable to enter India due to VISA delays, there is no cause for despair before first ball has been bowled, unlike usual.  

England on away tours to India has become monotonous. The 4 a.m. starts to watch Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli punish England’s inexperienced spinners, or the England top seven collapsing in a heap to Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, are not enjoyable even to the most loyal of fans. The fact that England played so well in their first test in 2021 adds to the hurt of the torture by spin in Ahmedabad later in the series. The last two occasions England visited this cricket-mad country (2016/17 & 2020/21), their plan of long grinding batting ended with one win, one draw and seven losses. This time it is different. This time England are hoping Bazball can change their fortunes. 

Now Harry Brook has suddenly returned home due to personal reasons, the top seven and the spare batter (Dan Lawrence), were all on the previous tour of India, barring Duckett who made his debut there in 2016. This could fall two ways. Do the ghosts of the last tour come back? Or has Bazball really made a difference? Only time and plenty of spin will tell. Joe Root and Ben Duckett are England’s best players of spin and expect Duckett to play to his strengths and sweep every ball he can. Ben Foakes is also set to keep wicket, allowing Jonny Bairstow to play as a specialist batter, which on these Indian pitches (which are expected to turn), is vital that the best gloveman is behind the stumps. Ollie Pope (Vice Captain) is also returning from an injury and is set to return to batting at three. Zak Crawley, due to open the batting alongside Duckett, is also hoping to continue his magnificent form from the Ashes this summer, and the “King of Bazball” is another linchpin of a batting line up, full of confidence from the last year.

Where England should be more concerned is the bowling stocks: two uncapped spinners at Test level (Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir), a 19-year-old with one previous appearance  (Rehan Ahmed), and Joe Root are required to compliment Jack Leach, the leader of the attack. Not including Will Jacks, Liam Dawson, or Liam Livingston in the squad has meant Root will have to play as an all-rounder with four specialist bowlers, where usual logic would say you needed five. The pace department is split into the out-and-out quicks (bowling at 90 mph +)  in Mark Wood and Gus Atkinson, and the line and length bowlers, Jimmy Anderson and Ollie Robinson, with it looking like either one from each category will play, or an express pace bowler and three specialist spinners. The key factor in this decision is the pitch, which is expected to turn from day one for the first test. But whatever call is made, you can guarantee when the dust has settled, the England camp won’t back down from it. 

On the Indian side, a team that have lost just three tests in 48 at home is a formidable force, and the bowling attack picks itself, with their three spinning all-rounders in Ashwin, Jadeja and Axar Patel being at one point last year the top three in the ICC all-rounders rankings. Although Kohli will miss the first two tests due to personal reasons (a great loss to the series), India’s batting will still be formidable, with a mix of experience in Rohit and KL Rahul adding to the excitement of youth of Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shubman Gill. The pundits are expecting India to play the ‘spin to win’ card, but by making the pitch a lottery, this could be the best way in for England.  

The first match of this epic tussle starts on Thursday 25th January at  4 a.m. GMT, with Radio Coverage on talkSPORT and video on TNT Sports. The next few weeks are guaranteed to be exciting. If England can play an entertaining brand of cricket and confuse the Indian bowlers’ well practised plans, then they have a chance at ending India’s home dominance. Whatever happens in Hyderabad this weekend, one thing is for certain: the messaging will stay the same, “3-2 has a nice ring to it” (Brendon McCullum following the Lords Test match defeat in 2023 against Australia). 

Mirroring Glen McGrath’s optimistic predictions whenever England play Australia, my prediction is 5-0 to England.