India v England Tests: Shoaib Bashir visa issue and Virat Kohli's absence in spotlight

Five-match series begins in Hyderabad on Thursday with spinners expected to rule roost

England spinner Shoaib Bashir during a training session at the Abu Dhabi Sports Hub ahead of the Test tour of India. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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A five-match Test series in 2024 is as rare as they come. England's red-ball tour of India, which begins on Thursday, is therefore significant not only because it offers fans a "traditional" full-length series, but also because it will be the biggest test of their eye-catching "Bazball" approach to Test cricket.

The opening match between the teams starts in Hyderabad and, while the focus was almost exclusively on spin and the nature of the surfaces in the build-up, events away from the pitch added another layer of drama to the proceedings.

Shoaib Bashir's visa issues

England arrived in India with one of the most inexperienced spin attacks in decades. Tom Hartley, Rehan Ahmed and Shoaib Bashir were picked for one of the most daunting tasks in cricket for spinners, but only two of them will take the field on Thursday after young off-spinner Bashir could not travel to India in time due to delays in his visa.

Bashir, who is of Pakistani heritage, could not get his application approved and was forced to fly back to London from Abu Dhabi – where the team held their pre-series training – to resolve the issue, ruling him out of the first Test.

England captain Ben Stokes expressed his frustration at the turn of events, hoping the Somerset off-spinner joins the squad soon.

“I didn’t want this type of situation to be his first experience of what it’s like to be in the England Test team," Stokes said. "Especially for a young lad, I’m devastated for him."

India captain Rohit Sharma also expressed his sympathy. "I feel for him honestly," said Sharma.

"Unfortunately, I don't sit in the visa office to give you more details on that but hopefully he can make it quickly, enjoy our country and play some cricket as well. It's not easy for anyone, it could be one of our guys wanting to come to England and being denied."

Later on Wednesday, it emerged that Bashir had been granted visa and should join the England team in India by the weekend.

It is not the first time players with Pakistani heritage have experienced visa issues in India. Batsman Usman Khawaja joined Australia's squad late last year and Lancashire's Saqib Mahmood faced visa issues during an England Lions visit in 2019.

England batsman Harry Brook earlier opted out of the entire tour due to personal reasons, leaving the visitors without one of their premier batsmen. With Bashir also unavailable, the England camp will have a few tense faces.

Spin is king

England have placed all their eggs in one basket for the first Test, picking three frontline spinners and just one seamer for the match in Uppal. Hartley will make his Test debut as one of three slow bowlers, with Joe Root the fourth spin option.

Lancashire left-armer Hartley will bowl alongside the established Jack Leach and teenage leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed. Mark Wood has been picked as the only pacer with England's record wicket-taker James Anderson sitting out and captain Stokes not bowling as yet.

India, on the other hand, have a problem of plenty. Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin is one the verge of 500 Test wickets, while left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja enjoys sensational figures with ball and bat in India. Fellow left-armers Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav complete the spin quartet, leaving captain Sharma with the unenviable task of selecting three out of the four, in case seamers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Siraj get selected.

No Virat Kohli

Equally significant will be the absence of star batsman Virat Kohli, who will miss the opening two Tests due to personal reasons. His unavailability has opened up opportunities for other younger members of the team.

Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul should expect an extended run, with newcomer Rajat Patidar said to be next in line to make it to the batting line-up.

Kohli and Sharma have been making themselves unavailable for international assignments every now and then over the recent season across formats, paving the way for the next generation of players to put their case forward and set the stage for a smooth transition, which seems closer than ever.

All-rounders Ashwin and Jadeja are more than capable batsmen in home conditions, providing India incredible depth, which will only deepen if Patel also gets selected.


The Pataudi Trophy will be contested over mostly non-traditional centres in India this year. After the opening match in Hyderabad, the series moves to Visakhapatnam for the second match, which begins on February 2. Rajkot (February 15), Ranchi (February 23) and Dharamsala (March 7) are the other venues for the series.

There is a chance that most of the venues will offer more spin than the "regular" Test venues in India, which could make for a very short series.

How to watch India v England Test series in UAE

The five-match series will be shown on CricLife 2 via STARZPLAY app in the UAE.

Updated: January 24, 2024, 12:59 PM