England’s tour of India lurched from bad to worse with the news Haseeb Hameed could be ruled out of the final two Tests with a suspected broken finger.
The young opener has made a positive start to his international career and he looked to have solved the problem of finding a credible opening partner for captain Alastair Cook.
Yet the 19-year-old’s failure to take the field during the third day of this Third Test has raised the prospect of an 11th partner for Cook at the top of the order when the fourth Test in Mumbai starts on Thursday week.
England are likely to be 2-0 down in the series by then, the latest collapse that saw them slip to 4-78 on the third evening – still 56 runs behind – all but condemning them to defeat in Mohali.
Hameed will have a scan on the injury sustained to his left hand when he was hit by an Umesh Yadav delivery on day one here once England arrive in Mumbai on Thursday.
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And even though he may yet bat on day four of this fourth Test, his tour will hinge on the results of his X-ray later this week.
Any sign of a fracture – and that seems likely after England admitted Hameed was unable to grip a bat without feeing extreme pain – and he will be on the first plane back to England.
That would leave England with a selection dilemma. One option they would have is to recall Ben Duckett, who opened with Cook in Bangladesh recently but, after being moved to No.4 to accommodate Hameed’s call-up, was dropped after two Tests in India after his inability to effectively counter spin.
Gary Balance is also in the squad as a spare batsman and could, at a push, open. Yet he was dropped after the series in Bangladesh and would be a long shot for a recall now.
More likely is England will be forced to call on one of the batsmen currently in the United Arab Emirates with their Lions squad.
England’s second-string contains several top-order batsmen with pedigree, with four contenders in Daniel Bell-Drummond, Nick Gubbins, Keaton Jennings and Tom Westley.
Jennings, who scored seven centuries in Division One of the County Championship for Durham in the last Northern summer, would appear the leading contender for a call-up at this stage.
Gubbins, who averaged 61.26 during Middlesex’s Championship-winning season, also has strong claims.
Bell-Drummond and Westley are hampered by the fact they spent the season playing in Division Two of the Championship. Yet both batsmen averaged more than 50 in first-class cricket this year.
Westley bats at three for Essex in four-day cricket and scored 1217 runs during his side’s title-winning campaign last season.
The 27-year-old scored a century against the touring Australians last year at the top of the order and followed that up with 108 in a tour match against Sri Lanka at Chelmsford in May, underlining his ability to score runs against international-class opposition.
Yet calling up another batsman at this stage of the tour is hardly ideal preparation for an England squad who have suffered enough upheaval already on their sub-continental slog over the past two months.
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