Ansari, Broad doubtful as England ponder selection

Play 02:01

Time for England to lose a spinner?

Zafar Ansari has joined Stuart Broad as an injury doubt ahead of the third Test after both players missed training in Mohali on Thursday.

While the England management have yet to confirm anything, it seems Broad has almost no chance of playing. He sustained a foot injury on the opening day of the Visakhapatnam Test and has been hobbling around in a moon boot in recent days.

Ansari’s situation is less clear. He has recovered from the illness that troubled him in Vizag, but is still struggling with a sore back. He will have to prove his fitness in training on Friday if he is to have any chance of playing in the Test that starts on Saturday. Fellow spinner Gareth Batty is therefore likely to come back into the side if Ansari is ruled out.

Any thoughts that England may have had of playing an extra seamer were surely scotched by a first look at the Test pitch in Mohali. Dry, cracked and shaved, there is nothing in it to suggest a fourth seamer would be a lot of use.

That is not ideal, though. Batty, like Moeen Ali, is an offspinner and, against an India line-up packed with right-handers, the left-arm option that Ansari provided could be missed.

There is another option. England could pick an extra batsman, allowing them to retain Ben Duckett – they are keen not to dent his confidence – and find a place for Jos Buttler. Moeen Ali would probably be moved back down to No. 8, with Chris Woakes at nine and Adil Rashid at ten, but it is England’s batting that has let them down and, in the cooler climate of Mohali – think of a pleasant day in England in May – there is less need for a sixth bowler to share the workload.

It is unlikely they will adopt such an approach. Alastair Cook likes the balance of an attack that contains three seamers and three spinners and, with a couple of those spinners a little more inconsistent than he would like, the insurance policy of the extra bowler is understandable. It is more likely that Moeen – ultimate utility player that he is – will be asked to fill yet another hole and bat at No. 4.

You wonder if Moeen’s low maintenance demeanour and innate modesty sometimes count against him; it is hard to think of a player who has been shunted up and down the order as often. If he bats at No. 4 in Mohali, No. 3 will be the only position in the top nine he has not filled.

One man who looks certain to play in Mohali is Woakes. England missed him in Vizag, most notably with the bat, but also with the ball. As well as developing great accuracy – he hardly bowled a poor delivery in Rajkot – he has also developed into England’s quickest bowler with a bouncer than can trouble the best of them; just ask Cheteshwar Pujara. In his absence, it was mainly left to Ben Stokes to test the India batsmen with the short ball.

Chris Woakes bowled impressively at Rajkot before being rested for the second Test © AFP

Woakes is about as far from the archetypal image of a raging, snorting fast bowler as you could meet. He modestly admits that his late development of pace has rendered him the fastest bowler in the team for “the first time since I was 12” and said the first thing he thinks when he hits a batsman is wanting to make sure he’s okay. While he claims he was disappointed to be rotated out of the team for the second Test, it is hard to imagine him unleashing much more than a quiet “tut” of disapproval at the decision. Besides, he says he feels fresher for the break.

He was asked – inevitably – about England’s method of shining the ball. And, equally inevitably, he steered a diplomatic course between expressing some sympathy for Faf du Plessis and some understanding of the margins that exist between sucking on a sweet to generate saliva and directly applying the sweet to the ball. A future in diplomacy awaits.

“If you’re placing a sweet on the ball that is obviously against the rules,” Woakes said. “But everything else seems to be a little bit of a grey area. We won’t be changing anything we do when we go out there this week. There’s always cameras on you, there always have been, so there’s nothing we need to change.

“Hashim Amla said he had chewing gum in his mouth pretty much all day. Is that deemed as wrong and as cheating? I think it needs to be clarified exactly what the problem is.

“At drinks breaks, guys have sweets or mints just to freshen up and keep the energy going, but nothing from a sweet is allowed to go on a ball so therefore we don’t do that. It’s just a sugar boost really. Gatorade has sugar in it as well. We take those drinks on board and then lick our [finger] and put that on the ball. Is that classed as a sugary substance going on the ball? I don’t know.”

Of more concern to England is how to bowl to Virat Kohli. While Pujara has scored heavily in the first two Tests as well, it is Kohli who is keeping England awake at night. He looks magnificent and, in the second innings at Rajkot and Vizag, a class above anyone else from either side. In the past, England have been able to deal with him with lateral movement and good control. But there is little movement here and Kohli looks an improved player. These are still three Tests to play, but he could well prove to be the difference between the sides in this series.

“His first 30 balls will be crucial,” Woakes said. “Because once he gets in, it’s hard to get him out. But I feel like the teams are fairly evenly matched. I know they are in their own conditions and they are good in their own conditions but I don’t think they’re out of reach.”

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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