England will gamble on four changes for the second Test against India after deciding to rest James Anderson and drop Dom Bess from their winning XI.
The tourists were already committed to two alterations to the side which completed a famous 227-run win in the series opener in Chennai, with Jos Buttler sent back home for a break and Jofra Archer ruled out with an elbow injury.
Ben Foakes and Stuart Broad were already inked in to take those places and they will be joined by Moeen Ali, who takes over from fellow off-spinner Bess, as well as one of Chris Woakes or Olly Stone.
It represents fairly radical surgery to a team which turned in one of England’s most complete away performances only a matter of days ago.
With matches coming thick and fast in the current schedule the rotation policy which sees Anderson join Buttler in standing down from a game he might otherwise have played is seen by the captain Joe Root and head coach Chris Silverwood as a pragmatic one, but there is an element of ruthlessness in Bess’ axeing.
The 23-year-old has taken 17 wickets in England’s three Tests this year, including India captain Virat Kohli in the previous match, but has been inconsistent and appeared to dramatically lose his radar in the second innings.
That has ultimately cost him his shirt, with Moeen fully fit after contracting coronavirus in Sri Lanka and set for a first Test since August 2019.
Root admitted taking Bess out of the firing line had not been easy but believes both the player and the team will benefit in the long run.
“It was a very difficult conversation,” he said.
“It always is when you leave a player out and especially so when it’s someone like Dom who has contributed well and gives absolutely everything every time he pulls an England shirt on. It’s been made very clear what he needs to go away and work on and he’s taken that on board.
“I’m sure he’ll come back with questions and I’m sure he will be disappointed but that’s what you expect from guys that really care and want to be out there all the time, performing for their country.
“He’s got a very good attitude. He’s still very much at the start of his career and he’ll use this as an opportunity to get better.”
As for Moeen, whose red-ball career went into an unexpected hiatus after he was dropped one game into the last Ashes series, Root was enthusiastic about the recall.
“He’s a fine competitor and he’ll get himself into the heat of the battle. We know he can produce special things in an England shirt, in a Test shirt,” he said.
“I’m very excited for him to get this opportunity. He’s worked really hard and obviously had a rough tour having to deal with Covid and quarantine. Since then he’s applied himself really well, worked very well with the other spinners and been a very good senior pro in that respect. I’m sure he’ll be delighted to get this opportunity to play.”
1st Test, Chennai: England won by 227 runs
2nd Test, Chennai: Feb 13-17
3rd Test, Ahmedabad: Feb 24-28
4th Test: Ahmedabad: Mar 4-8
England’s final decision is now between Warwickshire team-mates Woakes and Stone. While the former would bring experience, nous and the smaller matter of 112 Test wickets at 29.20 to the side, Stone offers genuine pace.
In each of their three triumphant performances in the subcontinent since the turn of the year, England have made sure to have one 90mph option to offer balance the attack, with Mark Wood playing in Sri Lanka and Archer taking over last week. Whether they trust that policy again and overlook Woakes’ reliability and superior batting remains to be seen.
“There’s two different ways we can go,” admitted Root.
“We could go for someone who can come in and bowl at high pace give us a real point of difference in our seam department, or we could go down the route of Woakes which would give us great control and lengthens our batting brings reverse swing in as well. Whichever we go, we feel we give ourselves a really good chance of taking 20 wickets in these conditions.”
While Woakes would surely represent a safer option, Root was clear that Stone’s relative lack of exposure at this level – he has played just one Test, against Ireland 18 months ago – would not hold him back.
“Whenever someone’s at the front of their career there’s always going to be that lack of experience, but what he does have is a big heart, huge skill and pace as well,” said Root.
“He will give variety to that attack too. He’s a very exciting young player with a great attitude and a great head on his shoulders, and he will be desperate to take his chance if given it.”