India catch England by surprise with curious Test venue choices

Dharamsala – India catch England by surprise with curious Test venue choices

England will play test cricket at Dharamsala for the first time in next year’s tour of India – Getty Images/Hamish Blair

Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum’s Bazballers have been handed their greatest challenge yet: five Tests in Indian cricketing backwaters.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India caught the England and Wales Cricket Board by surprise when suddenly announcing the venues for next year’s tour, which will not see games in legendary cricketing cities such as Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore or Kolkata or even the newly-built Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, the biggest cricket ground in the world.

Instead, England will play in Hyderabad (a city which has hosted eight Tests ever), Visakhapatnam (two Tests), Rajkot (two), Ranchi (two) and Dharamshala (one). For context, England alone have played 13 Tests in the city of Mumbai.

It is thought that some of these venues have been chosen as compensation because they are not hosting matches in this year’s World Cup.

The ECB expect one of the five Tests to be a day-night match – as the Ahmedabad Test of 2021, when Joe Root’s off-spin took figures of five for eight and England lost in two days – but are not sure which one it will be yet.

The tour shapes as the biggest challenge for Stokes and McCullum’s project yet, but also among the most difficult tours of India England have ever been on.

It is expected that the England touring party will use the two longer breaks between matches – between the second and third, and fourth and fifth Tests – to leave India and go to Dubai or Abu Dhabi for a camp. They are also likely to prepare for the tour outside India, as England did by preparing for the tour of Pakistan last year in the UAE.

England’s all-format players are set to spend a lot of time in India this winter, with their World Cup defence, the five-Test tour, while some of them have lucrative Indian Premier League deals, too. Stokes is not expected to reverse his ODI retirement to play in the World Cup, but Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Harry Brook and Mark Wood could spend as long as six months in India.

Games in smaller Indian cities will make it more difficult for England fans to travel in the huge numbers that might have been expected; with the last tour of India taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Barmy Army have not travelled to India for a Test tour since 2016.

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