Zafar Ansari: England spinner gets debut ahead of India tour
Can 24-year-old Cambridge graduate shackle Bangladesh and give England a chance against India this winter?
After winning the first Test against Bangladesh by the skin of their teeth, England have been faced with a selection quandary ahead of the second match in Dhaka, which is also the final game they play before the tougher assignment of a Test series against India, the world's number one team.
With that in mind, England have handed a debut to Surrey's left-arm spinner Zafar Ansari, who comes into the side in place of off-spinner Gareth Batty.
"With a double first in politics and sociology from Cambridge, Ansari's academic credentials are not in doubt. Uncertainty as to whether his spin bowling is up to speed is the main reason why England have made this... change for the second Test that begins tomorrow on a pitch that, while greyer and firmer than Chittagong, is dry and cracked and likely to provide assistance to the spinners again," says Michael Atherton in The Times.
"Better to find out now, rather than later in the winter," he adds. "There is little desire to land in India with bowlers who have yet to play meaningful long-form cricket."
England will hope that Ansari takes to Test cricket, given the exacting task ahead of them this winter.
"England got away with playing two off-spinners – Batty and Moeen Ali – in the first Test against Bangladesh, who had four left-handed batsmen in their top order," says Scyld Berry in the Daily Telegraph. "But this tactic will not work against India, whose current top seven consists entirely of right-handers."
"Ansari's immediate responsibility over this weekend will be to bowl more accurately and economically than England's three spinners did in Chittagong," he adds. Although the pitch was "as close to paradise as a spinner could want" all three went for more than three an over.
How Ansari fares in comparison to Adil Rashid will also be intriguing, says Atherton of the Times, and will give England a "clear idea of the relative merits of both men in similar conditions".
It is also a debut that is long overdue. The 24-year-old was called up for the Test series against Pakistan in the UAE last year, but on the day his selection was announced he fractured his thumb and did not return to action until midway through the summer.
Whether he prospers remains to be seen, but England sorely need an expert spinner. For while they excel in most areas, Berry of the Telegraph notes that "the standard of English spin bowling is now lower – appreciably lower – than it was a hundred years ago".