England 'step away from heat of battle' by taking India Test series break in Abu Dhabi

Tourists return to UAE where players will recharge batteries and spend time with their families rather than training

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England will take advantage of a 10-day break in the India Test series by heading over to Abu Dhabi, when training will be firmly off the agenda.

On Monday, India competed a 106-run victory in the second Test in Visakhapatnam to level the five-match series at 1-1, after England won a thrilling opening clash in Hyderabad by 28 runs.

But before the third Test begins in Rajkot on February 15, both sides will take a breather to recharge their batteries after a see-saw start to the series.

England will return to the UAE where they spent a pre-series training camp fine-tuning for the challenges ahead but this will be a very different trip to the capital as the players will be able to recuperate and spend time with their families rather than hitting the nets.

“There will not be a whole lot of training,” coach Brendon McCullum said of the mini-break. “The boys have worked incredibly hard in Abu Dhabi keeping in mind they all came here with a lot of cricket under their belts as well.

“We have had plenty of training days, two varying Test matches, and this is an opportunity to step away from the heat of the battle. I was talking to Rahul Dravid [India head coach] and he mentioned all his boys are shooting home as well.

“Home for us is a little way away, so we chose Abu Dhabi, and we are going to enjoy the families. Then when we get to Rajkot, we drop the shoulder and go hard.

“We sit 1-1, which is a fair reflection that we're in the contest. We've played some really good cricket over the last two Test matches.

“Yes, we have come out on the wrong side of it here, but we got it across the line in the first one. The conviction about how we go about it is as strong as it ever has been. We have done some really good things over the last couple of weeks.”

England are hoping to become the first side to win away on Indian soil since 2012 and crucial to their hopes will be their three novice spinners – Rehan Ahmed, Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir.

The trio have defied their lack of experience to claim 26 wickets between them against players who have grown up against the turning ball.

And McCullum believes it is the inspirational leadership and “total conviction” of captain Ben Stokes that has led to the team's early success.

“There are heaps of positives. Our spin bowling unit, albeit young and raw, have shown they’ve got what it takes,” said the Kiwi.

“I put it down to the skipper. He has total conviction in his methods and is incredibly empathetic towards people.

“He spends time with them to ensure his messaging is really consistent, in his body language and behaviours, and he backs up what he says to them off the field with opportunities on the field. He is desperate to lead this team and he wants to take this team to whatever level he can take it.

“I think 1-1 is probably a fair reflection of where the contest is at the moment and, if the next three Tests are anything like these last two, it’s going to be one hell of a series.”

One of the big tasks facing England for the rest of the series is how to deal with the swing-bowling skills of Jasprit Bumrah, whose 9-91 match figures in the second Test earned him the player of the match award.

Bumrah took 6-45 and then 3-46 in Visakhapatnam, where he also became the fastest Indian bowler to reach 150 Test wickets.

“We have to tip our cap to Jasprit and say that spell [in the first innings of the second Test] was as good as anything we have seen so far on this trip,” admitted McCullum

“When the ball is swinging like that he becomes even more of a threat. He is a fantastic bowler in all forms of the game. He is unique with his release points and with how much swing he can generate in the air.

“No doubt he is very good, but we have come up against very good bowlers all through the last 18 months or so and found ways to counter them and that is what we have got to do in this one.”

Updated: February 06, 2024, 3:03 PM