Ben Stokes is weighing up an England debut for spinner Tom Hartley in Thursday’s first Test against India and is even considering throwing the new ball to Joe Root as he tries to find a winning formula in Hyderabad.
England have promised to do things differently as they look to unseat a team who have lost just three of their past 46 Tests on home soil and captain Stokes remains fully committed to pushing the boundaries of ‘Bazball’.
Stokes is not yet fit to bowl after recovering from knee surgery and his confirmation that Ben Foakes would return as wicketkeeper and bat at seven means there are only four bowling slots to play with.
While James Anderson and Mark Wood are still likely to share pace duties, the possibility of going all in on spin by picking Hartley as well as the established Jack Leach and teenager Rehan Ahmed is being openly discussed.
So too, improbably, is the idea of using Root’s part-time off-breaks as a wildcard at the start of the innings.
“It would be a complete and utter ‘gut’ thing, as most of my decisions like that are,” said Stokes.
“You might even see Rooty taking the new ball, depending on what I feel. If (left-hander) Yashasvi Jaiswal opens the batting, you might see Rooty opening the bowling because it’s spinning away from the bat.
“When picking the team it’s about what you think is going to give you the best chance of winning and who is going to offer you more in certain conditions.
“India is one of those places where you’ve got to think about selection a lot more than anywhere else in the world because of what you can get from the wicket.”
Hartley was identified as a player who could cause problems with his height and skiddy trajectory and Stokes appears increasingly tempted to put the selectors’ hunch to the test.
“I’ve done plenty of tours here and think I would have some idea around what a bowler can look like here who will be successful,” he said.
“Tom is someone who’s obviously very tall, he bowls at a very difficult pace to be able to handle out here and he’s someone who gets a lot of natural variation. In India that is sometimes the hardest thing to face.”
On a personal level, Stokes is feeling in good order after undergoing surgery in November to remedy a long-standing left knee problem. While precise details have been vague in the past, Stokes confirmed he had stitches in his meniscus and a “big bone spur” removed.
He has since lost around 10 kilograms in a bid to ease the pressure on the joint and, although he is not planning to bowl competitively again until the summer, hopes to be conquering the fitness struggles which have dogged him for at least two years.
“Obviously the less weight you’re carrying, the less weight you’ve got going through your knee and the quicker your recovery is,” he explained.
“I’ve worked very hard to get myself into this condition. Hopefully it is something that will give me a little bit longer. We’re getting to that point you know, I’m 32 now, sport and everything like that isn’t here forever. I want to play for England as long as I possibly can. The older you get, the harder you work.
“I think it’s allowed me to progress a lot quicker than we actually thought. It’s been a long one, but something that I’m proud of myself for, with how hard I’ve worked to get into this position.
“Surgery is always the last option. Some can go very well, but they can also sometimes not go too well, set people back even further and potentially even end careers.”