Rookie spinner Shoaib Bashir 'very surprised' by England call-up for India tour

Captain Ben Stokes expected to be fit to bat but not bowl for Test series in new year

Shoaib Bashir has made just six senior red-ball appearances for Somerset. Getty Images
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Uncapped spinner Shoaib Bashir has been called-up by England for the Test series in India, only six months after making his first-class debut.

The Somerset off-spinner has made just six senior red-ball appearances, taking 10 wickets at an average of 67, but has made the squad for the series that starts in Hyderabad on January 25.

Bashir, 21, earned a spot on a recent England Lions training camp in the UAE and impressed enough to be fast-tracked into the main squad.

“Life is always about how good someone’s good is, not how bad their bad is,” said Director of men’s cricket Rob Key. “He’s very raw – he’s going for experience as much as anyone else, albeit we won’t be afraid to play him if required. This is the start of his journey, where we will hopefully see a world-class spinner in the future."

“He’s got one of the higher release points in the game, he just looks like everything that you see in a classical off-spinner: a bit of real craft, a bit of real guile and a decent character as well.

“It can be different if you’re bowling at Virat Kohli out in India in front of 50,000 people but we feel like his character is very solid and he looks like his ceiling is very high.

Speaking to the Somerset website a few weeks ago, he suggested he had not even expected to be involved with the Lions this winter.

“When I got the call, I was very surprised,” he said. “I’m very grateful to get this opportunity and I’m excited to get started. I’m just going to keep working hard, learning and making the most of opportunities like this.”

Bashir is one of four spinners selected for the tour including Somerset team-mate Jack Leach, with the left-armer and England vice-captain Ollie Pope returning to the squad after injuries.

Fast bowler Gus Atkinson and left-arm spinner Tom Hartley have represented England in white-ball cricket but are yet to play at Test level.

Captain Ben Stokes is expected to be fit for the start of the five-Test tour but will not bowl after undergoing surgery on his troublesome knee problem less than two weeks ago.

Key insisted that the plan that Stokes will only bat on the tour in the wake of his operation on November 29. “The surgery has been a success and we expect him to be fit but we are not expecting him to be able to bowl at that point,” he said.

“We never had him down to be bowling in India. We won’t try to rush through it. It does make it trickier but, as long as you know that, you can come up with a plan.”

The all-rounder recently announced he will not be available for next year's Indian Premier League in order to manage his workload and fitness.

Stokes, 32, was purchased by Chennai Super Kings for $1.96 million last December, but struggled with his fitness and played only twice for his new franchise in the 2023 tournament.

It will be England's first Test series since the retirement of veteran pacer Stuart Broad while Chris Woakes – player of the series in the Ashes – has been left out as four seamers were named in leading Test wicket-taker Jimmy Anderson, Ollie Robinson, Mark Wood and Atkinson.

With Moeen Ali having again retired from Test cricket after returning for the Ashes, the spin options will consist of Leach, Hartley and Bashir.

Rehan Ahmed, 19, returns to the squad after his five-wicket haul against Pakistan in December 2022, when he became England's youngest Test debutant.

The experienced left-armer Liam Dawson, who had been tipped for a potential recall after an impressive season for Hampshire, was not included. Both he and talented Surrey all-rounder Will Jacks missed out on the recent batch of central contracts and have pursued franchise contracts over the winter.

Wicketkeeper Ben Foakes travels despite losing the gloves to Jonny Bairstow against Australia and could be a strong candidate to break back into the first choice XI given the importance of the role in the sub-continent.

Series schedule:

First Test: India v England, January 25-29, Hyderabad

Second Test: India v England, February 2-6, Vizag

Third Test: India v England, February 15-19, Rajkot

Fourth Test: India v England, February, Ranchi

Fifth Test: India v England, March 7-11, Dharamsala

Updated: December 11, 2023, 2:49 PM