This one is for the record books. When England will strut out to bowl here, James Anderson, their lone—and most experienced—seam bowler will be playing his 22nd international season. That’s three more than Rehan Ahmed’s age, and two more than Shoaib Bashir who will be making his debut after Jack Leach was ruled out due to a bad hamstring. To add to the incredulity, this will be Anderson’s 184th Test cap, with the rest of England’s specialist spinners sharing a total of three Test caps.
That bit of lopsidedness apart, this bowling attack makes a lot of sense from England’s perspective. Tom Hartley, who got his debut in Hyderabad, comes into this Test with the confidence of a rare seven-wicket haul for an overseas left-arm spinner. And Rehan Ahmed continues to fly under the radar as a leg-spinner even though his most important contribution in Hyderabad is thought to be the second-innings 28 that helped England turn the tide.
To this, add Bashir, a tall off-break bowler from Somerset, Leach’s county team. Bashir had to go back to the UK after his visa wasn’t approved in time, but finds himself in the first eleven just days after his arrival. With a side-on action and a high release point, Bashir is armed to impart natural bounce to the ball—something that could prove to be crucial on a pitch known for variable bounce. Overall, England couldn’t have hoped for a more varied spin attack than this.
Now factor in Anderson, on his sixth tour of India, turning out with all the experience of upending batters on abrasive pitches, reversing the ball after hiding the shine till the last second. It was a call waiting to happen. “Bringing Jimmy in, we just feel like there’s a bit more I can turn to him for,” said Ben Stokes in a press conference on Thursday. “Jimmy’s experience, the class that he has, is great and I think it also goes under the radar how good his record in India is. He has different skill sets that I will be able to exploit in Indian conditions. Not only his new-ball skills—reverse skills, his offcutter skills and stuff like that.”
That Anderson would be sparingly used on this tour was always on the cards. But to resort to him as the sole seamer speaks volumes about the England management’s faith in his fitness. He was spotted bowling left-arm spin at Hyderabad but Leach’s injury meant Anderson had to take up a more active role of patrolling the boundaries. Now that he has been picked, Anderson has the opportunity to be a much more incisive bowler than Wood was at Hyderabad. And it suits him too if the pitch starts helping spinners quickly.