Bashir linked up with the squad in Hyderabad on Sunday after a lengthy delay in the processing of his visa forced him to fly back to London from England’s training camp in Abu Dhabi, rather than straight to India. He has a sparse first-class record, with 10 wickets in six matches, but England’s management believe his attributes could suit Indian conditions.
The touring party arrived in Visakhapatnam on Tuesday with doubts remaining over Jack Leach’s fitness ahead of the second Test, after a heavily bruised knee limited him to short spell in Hyderabad. But if Leach is passed fit and the pitch at the ACA-VDCA ground looks dry, it is not impossible that England could play all four of their spinners together.
England used Mark Wood as their lone seamer in their turnaround 28-run victory in Hyderabad and he had limited impact across both innings, sending down 25 wicketless overs. And while James Anderson, Gus Atkinson and Ollie Robinson will come into the picture at some stage, McCullum raised the prospect of England going into a Test without a seam option.
“Bash, he was obviously with us during our camp in Abu Dhabi and he really impressed with his skillset,” McCullum told SENZ radio. “He fitted in seamlessly within the group and he’s a guy who’s got an immense amount of enthusiasm, albeit at a young age and pretty limited in his first-class experience.
“Like Tom Hartley, he was a guy who we looked at and we thought he’s got some skills which could assist us in these conditions. The visa situation, that’s just life, right? Sometimes that happens and everyone was doing everything that they could to try and resolve the situation. There’s just some red tape you’ve got to cut through at times.
“When he arrived, boys gave him a huge cheer and he got to witness something pretty special with the fellas bowling us to a Test win. He comes into calculations for the next Test match. If the wickets continue to spin as much as what we saw in the first Test as the series goes on, look, we won’t be afraid to play all spinners, or a balance of what we’ve got.”
McCullum also praised Ben Stokes’ handling of Hartley, who recovered from a Yashasvi Jaiswal mauling on the first evening, to take 7 for 62 on the fourth day. “He’s only played a handful of first-class games and was probably a bit of a punt, selection-wise,” McCullum said. “But we saw something in him that we thought would work over there and he’s a tough character.
“The way that the skipper handled him was quite remarkable and he obviously brought us to a Test win… I thought that was a real sign of leadership. It was a clear message to not just Tom, but those that are around the squad, that when we talk about freedom, taking the game on and trying to come in and make a difference, you’re not going to be cast aside or taken off the crease from the first sign of danger.
“I thought it was a magnificent decision by the skipper to do that. And I think it allowed Tom to feel like he belonged and he knew what his role was. It came up trumps in the end, but you’ve got to have a bit of a punt sometimes. And this one came off.”
McCullum said that England had been “brave” in selecting Hartley, who had only taken 40 first-class wickets before making his Test debut in Hyderabad. “But let’s not forget – and I think this is quite a pertinent point – but Nathan Lyon, he’d only played a handful of first-class games and averaged 40-odd when he first got picked for Australia,” he said. And he’s gone on to have a fabulous career.
“When you see guys you think are good enough, and who you think are going to suit the conditions, it’s sort of horses for courses. You’ve got to back your judgement… no-one ever foresees 7 for 60-odd on debut, or nine for the match, or 60-odd runs, a run-out and a catch. But sometimes, you’ve got to be a little bit brave with selections. If you like a character and you like their skillset and you think it can be suited to conditions, then it’s kind of an educated punt.”