Unease over the treatment of young England spinner Shoaib Bashir has escalated on the eve of the Test series in India after he was forced to fly home to resolve visa complications.
Bashir, a 20-year-old British Muslim of Pakistani heritage, was the only member of the touring party to experience a significant delay over his application and remained grounded after a training camp in Abu Dhabi while his team-mates transferred to Hyderabad.
The England and Wales Cricket Board had hoped the matter could be resolved in the United Arab Emirates – where its managing director of operations Stuart Hooper remained with Bashir – but a solution was not found.
The ECB called in assistance from its counterparts at the Board of Control for Cricket in India and it is understood Bashir was told he needed to return to London with his passport to receive the correct approval at the Indian embassy.
Although Bashir had been unlikely to feature in Thursday’s first Test, he has formally been taken out of contention for a debut due to the setback. It is hoped he will be reunited with the squad at some point over the weekend.
The England camp has been left disappointed by events, with captain Ben Stokes expressing his own regret at Bashir’s maiden voyage in international cricket turning sour.
“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. Especially for a young lad, I’m devastated for him,” he said.
Congratulations to Shoaib Bashir who has been selected in the England Men's Test squad to tour India!
— County Championship (@CountyChamp) December 11, 2023
“As captain I find it particularly frustrating. We announced the squad in mid-December and now Bash finds himself without a visa to get here.
“He’s not the first cricketer to go through this. I have played with a lot of people who have had the same issues. I find it frustrating that we have picked a player and he’s not with us because of visa issues. It’s a frustrating situation to be in but a lot of people have been trying to get it through.
“It’s unfortunate and I’m very frustrated for him. With Bash unfortunately not able to be here, it rules him out of this game.”
The Somerset prospect is the latest cricketer of Pakistani descent to face difficulty getting into India, with Usman Khawaja belatedly joining Australia’s tour of the country last year and Lancashire’s Saqib Mahmood withdrawn from an England Lions trip after similar problems back in 2019.
The Pakistan Cricket Board, meanwhile, wrote to the International Cricket Council ahead of the recent World Cup to complain about hold-ups in its squad’s visas for the tournament in India, while some of the country’s media representatives also had trouble.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “I can’t speak to the process and what’s happened in this individual case. I’m not aware we’ve had the details of this case raised with us by individuals involved and individual cases would be a matter for the Indian government themselves. But we have raised the issue more broadly and our position is that British citizens should be treated fairly when going through this process.”
England head coach Brendon McCullum appeared relaxed about the situation at the start of the week, when a quick fix was still thought to be on the cards.
“We’re confident on the back of the help from the BCCI and the Indian government that it will sort itself out pretty quickly,” he said.
“Things take time, don’t they? Everyone is doing what they can. It’s a process we need to go through and we’re pretty confident that we’re close.”
That confidence ultimately proved to be misplaced, leaving England with a diplomatic headache they did not need and a young player in the glare of a news story he had no part in creating.