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    Brendon McCullum suggests county opportunities for Bashir and Hartley following their impact in the India Test
Brendon McCullum suggests county opportunities for Bashir and Hartley following their impact in the India Test
Rehan Ahmed umpires for Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir during England training, by AP

Brendon McCullum suggests county opportunities for Bashir and Hartley following their impact in the India Test

The head coach stated that it would be unwise to leave the duo on the sidelines during the Championship season.

England head coach Brendon McCullum believes that it would be 'slightly mad' if Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir are unable to build on their breakthrough tour of India in county cricket. He has suggested that clubs should produce pitches to assist in the development of spinners across the country.

Hartley and Bashir were two positives in a series in which England competed well but still lost after India took an unassailable 3-1 lead with victory in the fourth Test in Ranchi on Monday. The left-arm spinner and off-spinner have performed brilliantly against batsmen who know how to play the turning ball, despite their limited first-class experience.

Hartley has played all four Tests and is currently the leading wicket-taker in the series with 20 wickets. This is a significant improvement from his performance in Lancashire's Division One campaign last summer, where he only managed to take 19 wickets. Bashir has more than doubled his red-ball tally with 12 Test wickets, having made his first-class debut in 2023 and arrived with 10 dismissals at an average of 67 for Somerset. Both players picked up five-wicket hauls on this trip.

Their selections have been made with England's specific requirements for success in India in mind, with the selection of tall spinners who can drive the ball up the pitch, emulating the likes of R Ashwin and Axar Patel who have had great success in home conditions. Hartley and Bashir were fast-tracked into the England set-up after impressing with the Lions under men's performance director Mo Bobat, who left the ECB last week to take up a post at Royal Challengers Bangalore. Since then, they have thrived.

But there are concerns that the pair could be hampered by a lack of game time when they return to their counties. England are keen to avoid that as they prepare for a tour of Pakistan in October.

For example, Lancashire has signed Nathan Lyon, the Australian veteran spinner who claimed his 500th Test wicket at Perth in December, for the season. After bowling England to victory in the first Test with 7 for 62, Hartley expressed that it would be 'fantastic' if they could play together, but acknowledged that Lyon would be the main man in the XI.

Meanwhile, Bashir has to compete with his England teammate Jack Leach at Somerset. Leach, who will undergo surgery on Thursday to reduce the swelling in his injured left knee that ruled him out of the India series after just one Test, will need Championship matches to regain full fitness for the home series against the West Indies and Sri Lanka. Although the Taunton pitches occasionally favour a multi-spinner approach, Bashir was the only spinner in the XI in his three home appearances last summer. For the second Test in Visakhapatnam, Leach presented Bashir with his first cap.

McCullum said:

"It will be a slight frustration of ours if they weren't given opportunities at county level. There's a very real possibility that might be the case, but without wanting to dictate to counties because they have their own agendas as well when you see performances like we have out of those two bowlers throughout the series, I think you'd be slightly mad if you didn't give them more opportunities in county cricket.”

Captain Ben Stokes echoed the sentiment that it is difficult to force counties to adhere to specific needs after England's five-wicket defeat in the fourth Test. McCullum suggested that teams could produce surfaces that encourage more turns, which he believes would improve the craft and provide more entertainment.

Hartley and Bashir are the most recent examples of England's national team not being solely reliant on domestic form and statistics. Zak Crawley, for instance, was initially selected in 2019 despite only scoring three first-class centuries in 36 matches for Kent. However, McCullum and Stokes supported him during a difficult start under their leadership. After finishing as the top scorer in the Ashes, he is now leading England's run charts in India with 328 runs at an average of 41.

Although McCullum acknowledged the importance of looking beyond the numbers, he maintained that England's selection policies do not disregard county form. The vast scale and diversity of English cricket have enabled them to make more accurate selections.

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