By Michael Stafford-Jones
- Zafar Ansari makes debut, replacing Gareth Batty
- Steven Finn plays instead of rested Stuart Broad
- England keep faith with Gary Ballance despite poor form
DHAKA, BANGLADESH – England turn to Surrey’s Zafar Ansari in a bid to improve their spin department for the Second Test in Bangladesh.
England’s hierarchy clearly want to explore as many of their bowling options as possible ahead of their pivotal Test series in India starting next month. Coach Trevor Bayliss and Captain Alastair Cook have decided to try debutant Zafar Ansari in the Second Test after giving Gareth Batty his audition in the First Test, and they are also giving Steven Finn a go so they can rest Stuart Broad.
The selection of Ansari makes sense as he needs to get acclimatised to Test cricket before possibly playing in India, but it may have been better to give Batty a second game and rest someone they already know plenty about: Adil Rashid. The leg-spinner was also England’s worst-performing spinner in the First Test, so could have been dropped on those grounds.
Speaking to the Evening Standard, Cook outlined Ansari’s strengths: “He has the ability to take the ball away from the right-handers. He can bowl at good pace with good control.”
Cook also compared the Surrey left-arm spinner’s bowling to India’s Ravindra Jadeja. Ansari told The Guardian he was pleased to be mentioned in such terms: “My style is direct; I try to bowl wicket to wicket and I would love to be able to emulate him.”
Whilst Ansari is a good choice, it seems unnecessary to rest Broad considering he did not play in the ODI series and has only played one Test and two tour matches since the Pakistan series ended in mid-August. Furthermore, he took crucial wickets in Bangladesh’s second innings in the First Test.
Chris Woakes, who England will persevere with, did not take any wickets and has played nine matches since mid-August, so he would probably benefit from a rest.
Batting Order Stays the Same
England’s selection policy in the batting department – the personnel will be the same as in the First Test – seems questionable too, particularly in the case of Gary Ballance. The Yorkshire player has only scored 329 in his last 15 Test innings at a measly average of 21.93. It is not hard to work out why the fact that he remains part of the team baffles many observers.
Bob Willis is one of his most vocal critics. He told Sky Sports: “Trevor Bayliss gave Ballance a ringing endorsement, saying he was one of the best players against spin this summer against Pakistan. I can’t really go along with that, I don’t think he averaged 30.”
Dropping Ballance would have enabled England to move Ben Duckett down to four in the order, which seems a more natural position for him, and pick Haseeb Hameed to open with Alastair Cook. Having not trialled the opener, 19, on this tour, they will now have to throw him into the one of the most difficult series in world cricket, away to India, with no Test match experience to draw on if they feel the need to make a change at that point. It seems an unwise approach.
What will happen in the match?
A lot will depend on the pitch. If it spins as much as the Chittagong wicket, it could be a similarly tense, low-scoring affair decided by one or two outstanding performers on either team. However, if the pitch is flatter and offers the bowlers less assistance, the match could be more reminiscent of previous Tests played by England in Bangladesh – high-scoring and liable to end in a draw or a heavy win for one side.
England, as ever, are likely to rely on their key performers: Cook, Joe Root, Johnny Bairstow and star-of-the-First-Test Ben Stokes. They could also have depended on Broad had they not decided to rest him.
However, it would be a pleasant surprise for every England fan if someone different put in a match-winning display. Woakes showed the way during the summer with his excellent form so perhaps Duckett can wow us all with his skills or Ansari can shine on debut. The nation hopes so.
England’s Second Test against Bangladesh begins in Dhaka at 5am UK time.
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