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Selection queries surround England

Plenty to ponder for coach Trevor Bayliss ahead of India after tough Test tour of Bangladesh

Trevor Bayliss, England’s straight-talking Australian coach, got it just about spot on when he said of his selection dilemmas for the coming Test series in India: “It’s probably a little bit of a headache. There will have to be some soul-searching in the next few days.”

It really wasn’t meant to be this way. England were expecting to know their best XI for India following this tour of Bangladesh.

However, their performances in the two-Test series against the ninth-ranked team in the world, which they drew 1-1 after losing the final match inside three days in Dhaka, has left more questions than answers.

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England’s chief problems are simple – they do not know how to play spin and have little idea of how to bowl it either.

That’s not necessarily a problem in England, Australia or South Africa. On the sub-continent, though, it means you face humiliation.

England did win the first Test against Bangladesh in Chittagong – by a narrow 22-run margin.

That, though, owed more to their seam bowlers’ ability to find reverse swing than anything else.

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In India, who are now the No1-ranked side in the world, England’s problems are likely to be even more brutally exposed than they were during their abject 108-run defeat in Dhaka.

Alastair Cook, England’s captain, has admitted the collapse that saw his side lose 10 second-innings wickets inside a session to slump to defeat in the second Test against Bangladesh could leave them psychological scarred for the India series.

He has a point. To put things in perspective, Bangladesh had never previously beaten anyone other than Zimbabwe at home in 16 years of playing Test cricket.

India have won 12 of their past 13 home Tests since England won there in 2012, with series whitewashes of Australia, West Indies and New Zealand joined by a 3-0 success against South Africa when the only drawn Test was because of rain.

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England look set for a 5-0 whitewash of their own unless something radical happens between now and November 9, when they start the first Test in Rajkot.

India would have seen how Cook’s side struggled against Bangladesh’s spinners, especially teenager Mehedi Hasan, who took 19 wickets in his debut series.

So expect equally dry and turning tracks in Rajkot, Visakhapatnam, Mohali, Mumbai and Chennai to assist both Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja against England.

The composition of England’s top six will be one of their major concerns and it seems certain Gary Ballance, who made 24 runs at an average of six in Bangladesh, will be jettisoned for India.

Bayliss likes aggressive players of spin and in Ben Duckett, who scored his maiden half-century in Dhaka with a brilliant 56 from 64 balls to set up England’s chase of 273, they have a man who can do just that.

Duckett, 22, needed that knock and you’d expect him to stay at the top of the order now.

That brings the tantalising prospect of a recall for Jos Buttler, England’s most explosive limited-overs batsman, a year after he was dropped from the Test side during his side’s series against Pakistan in the UAE.

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Buttler could come in for Balance at No.4, offering aggression in a position where Kevin Pietersen thrived during England’s 2-1 series win in India in 2012.

The rest of the top six could be left as they are.

However, Bayliss also has a decision to make on his best three spinners for India.

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Moeen, who bats at five and took 11 Bangladesh wickets at 22, is certainly one. Gareth Batty, the 39-year-old who was rested for Dhaka, is surely another.

That leaves a fight between Zafar Ansari, the left-arm spinner whose debut in the second Test here was encouraging after a poor start, and leg-spinner Adil Rashid, whose lack of control makes his favourite to miss out.

Whatever England decide, their spin options against India look akin to someone bringing a knife to a gunfight.

The seamers then will have to do their work as well, with the reverse swing England managed to find in Bangladesh, particularly from Ben Stokes, critical to their chances of success.

Getting record wicket-taker James Anderson back from a shoulder injury would prove beneficial, especially as he bowled brilliantly in the UAE last year against Pakistan.

England will find out when Anderson, who is bowling in the nets again after three months out, will be available again by the end of the week.

They could do with him as soon as possible, even if the early signs are he will miss at least the first two Tests in India.

 

Meg Lanning Steve Smith