Ben Stokes, looking “like a greyhound” according to coach Brendon McCullum, appears primed to lead England into the crucible of a five-match Test series against India starting Thursday.
England’s talisman underwent knee surgery in November but has impressed McCullum with his fitness. “He’s put the hard work in,” McCullum said, stopping short of confirming Stokes’ inclusion but praising his work ethic. “We’ll obviously make that call as late as what we need to.”
Stokes, initially ruled out of bowling, will act as a specialist batsman if selected. England face a monumental task, their first Test in six months and India having lost just three of 46 home matches since their 2012 defeat to England.
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Unfazed, McCullum vowed to be “really brave” with his selection on a pitch expected to favor spin. England’s inexperienced spin unit, featuring rookies Rehan Ahmed, Tom Hartley, and Shoaib Bashir alongside Jack Leach, will face a stern test.“
“India is the land of opportunity and that’s what sits in front of us now,” McCullum declared. “We’ll take the positive option. Other teams might be better, but we want to be the bravest. We’ve got to do that and that’s got to be factored into selection, too.”
With Harry Brook absent, Ben Foakes is likely to reclaim the gloves, although Jonny Bairstow remains an option as either specialist batsman or wicketkeeper.
McCullum defended England’s pre-series training camp in Abu Dhabi, opting against warm-up matches on Indian soil. “The preparation was brilliant,” he asserted. “The facilities out there are as good as anywhere in the world. The guys walked away from Abu Dhabi with a huge amount of confidence that we’ve prepared as well as we possibly can.”
England know the magnitude of the challenge ahead, but McCullum’s “greyhound” Ben Stokes will lead the charge as they roar into the cauldron of Indian cricket. The first Test starts in Hyderabad on Thursday and promises a captivating battle between two cricketing giants.