Ind vs Eng – Wood in line for return as England consider two-seamer strategy for third Test


England have whittled their team for the third Test down to 12, with Mark Wood in line to regain his place in the XI on a green-tinged Rajkot pitch.

The tourists have played just one seamer in each of the first two Tests, with Wood getting the nod in the first match in Hyderabad before being replaced by James Anderson in the second at Visakhapatnam. Should England decide the conditions will be more amenable to seam, they will go in with two quicks for the first time this series, with one of the three spinners from the second Test making way.

Unlike Bashir’s issue, in which his visa was granted late and subsequently missed the first Test, Rehan was held at Rajkot airport after England arrived back in India from their mid-series break in Abu Dhabi because he only possessed a single entry visa. Both Bashir and Rehan were born in the UK and have Pakistani heritage.

A short-term solution was sorted by local authorities, with the ECB hopeful its oversight will be rectified in the next 24 hours, which would allow Rehan to play in Rajkot. He and the rest of the travelling squad trained for the first time at the Niranjan Shah Stadium on Tuesday morning. Speaking afterwards, Ben Stokes firmly suggested the matter would not affect preparations for the third Test, which begins on Thursday.

“It’s not a concern,” Stokes said. “The guys who dealt with it at the airport did a really good job, given where we found ourselves. I’m confident that will be sorted tonight or tomorrow.”

Though no decision has been made over which of the three spinners could miss out, Bashir seems the most likely. Left-arm spinner Tom Hartley is the team’s leading wicket-taker with 14, seven of which came in the second innings of England’s victory in the first Test. He has also provided 114 handy runs down the order.

Rehan’s legspin has also been an important factor against India’s batting line-up, with eight dismissals at 36.37. Like Hartley, he turns the ball away from their plethora of right-handers, and offers something with the bat.

With Joe Root able to provide the offspin, Stokes will have a variety of options at his disposal, along with Wood’s extra pace. Though the he went wicketless in the first Test, Wood had his moments, and Stokes believes he could have more of an impact with Anderson alongside him.

“The reasons why we would look at Jimmy and Woody would be I just like to have a point of difference,” he said. “And India is never a three-seamer option.

“Obviously having Woody’s high pace, and if we were to go with two seamers again, it would give a bit more rest to Woody as he was that sole seamer in the first Test. So managing his workload. If we were to go with two seamers, we might be able to get a bit more versatility and use Woody how we want to use him out here and not worry he’s the only seamer.”

A final call on the XI will be made on Wednesday, with England training in the afternoon after India have had one last look at the surface. England are also giving some consideration to how flat the pitch was when they were last here in 2016.

Stokes was one of six centurions eight years ago, in a first Test that ended in a bore draw as India blocked out the final day six down in the fourth innings. Virat Kohli’s side were set 310 in a minimum of 49 overs – an equation far too conservative for this England side. The hosts went on to win the series convincingly.

“I remember coming off [at the end of the match] thinking we’ve got them,” Stokes recalled. “And then we lost four-nil.

“In those situations you’ve got to risk something if you want to get something because you never know. We’ll never go to the grave not knowing if we could have done something a bit different.”

With the series all square ahead of the series recommencing, Stokes, on the eve of his 100th Test cap, was excited by what his players could achieve not just over the next four weeks, but in 2024 as a whole.

“I think one-one sets up for a good series. I think one thing I said early on is we’ve got a hell of a lot more cricket coming up after this series, so try and take every game as it comes and not solely try and focus on each series. Just keep on trying to drive everything forward.

“If we play cricket to the best of our ability or close to, then we know the results will look after themselves. I think that’s the most important thing for us over the next, certainly this year, because we’ve got a lot of games coming up.”

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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