‘Slightly mad’ if England spin duo did not get county chances – Brendon McCullum

By Sports Desk February 27, 2024

Brendon McCullum admitted it would be “slightly mad” if the progress Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir have made on England’s tour of India was stymied by a lack of opportunities at county level.

The spinning duo were uncapped at the start of the trip and held modest first-class records, albeit from small sample sizes, but Hartley is the series’ leading wicket-taker with 20 dismissals in four Tests and Bashir took a maiden professional five-for in Ranchi.

But Lancashire signing Australia star Nathan Lyon this summer places a question mark over how much game time Hartley will get and Bashir is second choice at Somerset to Jack Leach, who will have surgery on a knee injury which ended his tour early and allowed the rookies to shine on the international stage.

While McCullum acknowledged Lancashire and Somerset have their own interests to consider, England’s head coach hopes Hartley, 24, and Bashir, 20, will not fade away in the months ahead.

“We’ve got to keep trying to get cricket into them,” McCullum said. “Whatever opportunity we can we’ll try and give it to them because there’s two guys there more than good enough for international cricket.

“They’re tough characters. We’ve seen both of them have big hearts. It doesn’t get any harder than it is right now and they’ve both stood up and performed so we’ve just to keep giving both of them chances.

“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, 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.”

England losing by five wickets in Ranchi leaves them 3-1 down with just the final Test in Dharamshala, starting Thursday week, with McCullum suffering the first series defeat of his reign.

There have been just four wins in their last 11 Tests but McCullum is convinced England are a superior team than the one he inherited in May 2022, which had triumphed just once in their previous 17 matches.

“We weren’t quite good enough when it mattered – or India were better, to be honest, than us being not quite good enough,” McCullum said.

“We’ve lost this series and we didn’t win the Ashes (last year) but we’re a better cricket team than we were 18 months ago and we’ve got opportunity in the next 18 months to do some pretty special s***.

“Time on the tools, experience and just keep chiselling away at any of those rough edges which creep up every now and then, which is natural, and we’ll get there eventually.”

McCullum confirmed Jonny Bairstow will play in his 100th Test next week, despite not reaching 40 in the series, but there is scrutiny over seamer Ollie Robinson following a disappointing return to action.

Robinson registered an important fifty in his first competitive appearance since July last year but while pace has never been his biggest asset, he struggled to reach 80mph on the speed gun and sent down six no-balls – taking his career tally to 77, which is one more than his haul of wickets in 20 Tests.

His drop of Dhruv Jurel was a key moment, allowing India to move to within 46 of England’s total after the first innings, while Robinson was not called upon to bowl as the hosts chased 192 to win by five wickets on Monday.

McCullum explained Robinson, who has an impressive Test average of 22.92, felt a twinge in his back, which he has struggled with in the past.

“Everything he did leading into the Test match suggested we’d see not just the Ollie Robinson we’d seen previously but a better version of it,” McCullum added.

“He’s not just as disappointed as everyone else, he’s the most disappointed out of everyone. It’s just sport right? You have great expectations and sometimes you’re not quite able to deliver.”

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