England have gone all in on spin for their first Test in India, handing Tom Hartley a debut alongside Jack Leach and Rehan Ahmed in a major selection gamble.

Clearly expecting more of the lavish turn that saw them blown away on their previous visit in 2021, the tourists have picked all three of their specialist slow bowlers in Hyderabad and will also utilise Joe Root’s off-breaks as an additional option.

With captain Ben Stokes unable to bowl after knee surgery, they have settled on Mark Wood as the solitary pace bowler, meaning record wicket-taker James Anderson sits out.

England are placing a lot of trust in Wood’s fitness, with their fastest bowler bullish about his fitness despite a history of injury problems.

England last named a trio of frontline spinners in their 3-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka in 2018, when Leach was the junior man to the more established pair of Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, but Stokes was on hand then as an all-rounder.

They have not restricted themselves to just one seamer in recent memory, but their commitment to doing things differently in the ‘Bazball’ era remains unchecked.

Within the camp they do not see this as a rogue move, instead viewing it as a willingness to react to conditions.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s bold or brave, it’s just me and Baz (head coach Brendon McCullum) looking at the wicket and picking the XI that we think will give us the best chance,” Stokes said.

“You have always got to think that the ball is going to turn in India, but you don’t want to go in with any pre-conceived ideas. We have to adapt to whatever we have presented in front of us, with bat and ball.

“It’s just being true to yourself, making selections and decisions. It comes easier as I’ve done more of this… If I think the decision is best for the team, then it’s probably the right one.

“India are an absolute beast in their home conditions, there’s no doubt about that. But that presents us with an opportunity. This team loves opportunities. We take opportunity head on and we run towards it – we don’t back away from from anything.”

Hartley comes into the reckoning despite a slim red-ball record with Lancashire. He has played 82 T20s compared to just 20 first-class games but was identified several months ago for his height, lively speed through the air and skiddy trajectory.

All of those are factors England feel are better suited to a Test match in India than a regulation county championship pitch, but the 24-year-old remains an unknown quantity.

“It’s very exciting for Tom to make his Test debut,” said Stokes.

“I’m looking forward to seeing him out there and captaining him. He’s been very impressive in the build-up in Abu Dhabi. He bowls at a very difficult pace to be able to handle out here and he’s someone who gets a lot of natural variation. In India, that is sometimes the hardest thing to face.”

Ahmed wins his second cap 13 months after becoming England’s youngest ever men’s Test cricketer in Karachi – an occasion that saw him claim a five-wicket haul in the second innings.

Despite going it alone, Wood has been told not to expect to carry a huge workload. Instead, he has been asked to use his express speed to make big contributions in brief cameos.

“What Woody brings with his high pace makes him a real impact bowler,” said Stokes.

“He’s a weapon we can use in short, sharp spells. We’ve already said that to him – bowl as fast as you can in short periods. There’s no worries about thinking about long spells. That’s how I envision using Woody before we’ve bowled a ball.”

England captain Ben Stokes floated the idea of not flying to India until Shoaib Bashir’s visa problems were resolved but admitted there was “never a chance” of putting the first Test at risk.

Bashir, a British Muslim with Pakistani heritage, was ruled out of contention for a Test debut in Hyderabad on Thursday due to delays with his application.

The 20-year-old was ultimately forced to fly home from Abu Dhabi, where England held a pre-series training camp, after his team-mates travelled on to India.

Stokes’ instant reaction when he found out the Somerset spinner had become the latest player of Pakistani descent to experience hold-ups entering India was for the squad to remain with him in a show of solidarity.

The notion did not last long, with the tight turn around effectively meaning the game would have to be postponed, but reflected Stokes’ clear disgruntlement at the treatment of a young colleague.

“When I first found the news out in Abu Dhabi, I did say we shouldn’t fly until Bash gets his visa but that was a little bit tongue in cheek,” he said at his pre-match press conference.

“I know it’s a way bigger thing, doing that. That was probably just (my) emotions around the whole thing. There was never a chance that we were not going to travel around this but Bash knows he’s had our full support.

“I’m pretty devastated that Bash has had to go through this. As a leader, as a captain, when one of your team-mates is affected by something like that you do get a bit emotional.

“I know he’s back in London and a lot of people are jumping through hoops to try and get this through quicker. Hopefully we’re going to see him here over the weekend.”

India captain Rohit Sharma expressed sympathy for Bashir, who has been thrust into the spotlight and compelled to fly almost 10,000 additional miles to secure the paperwork other players received as a matter of course.

“I feel for him honestly,” said Sharma.

“Unfortunately I don’t sit in the visa office to give you more details on that but hopefully he can make it quickly, enjoy our country and plays some cricket as well.

“It’s not easy for anyone, it could be one of our guys wanting to come to England and being denied.”

Lancashire’s Saqib Mahmood, whose parents hail from Pakistan, had to be withdrawn from an England Lions tour of India in 2019 after similar delays, while Australia opener Usman Khawaja was a late arrival on his country’s Test trip in 2023.

Moreover, the Pakistan Cricket Board wrote to the International Cricket Council late last year due to express concerns over waiting times for World Cup visas.

England had called for assistance from counterparts at the Board of Control for Cricket in India, with new operations manager Stuart Hooper leading negotiations in the United Arab Emirates, but were informed that Bashir needed to present his passport in person at the Indian high commission in London.

Tom Hartley will make his Test debut as one of three spinners as England took a major selection gamble for their series opener against India in Hyderabad.

Hartley, the Lancashire left-armer, joins the established Jack Leach and teenage leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed in an attack that suggests the tourists expect lavish turn.

Mark Wood has been picked as the only seam bowler in the side, meaning England’s record wicket-taker James Anderson sits out.

With Wood operating best in short, rapid bursts, England are ready to embrace an entirely different rhythm of cricket. Joe Root’s off-breaks are also likely to feature heavily and Stokes has even suggested he could open the bowling with the part-timer.

Ben Foakes returns as wicketkeeper, with Jonny Bairstow reverting to a specialist batting role at number five.

India captain Rohit Sharma has expressed sympathy for England’s Shoaib Bashir after visa complications delayed his arrival in the country.

Bashir, a British Muslim with Pakistani heritage, has experienced difficulty having his application approved and was forced to fly back to London from Abu Dhabi to resolve the issue, ruling him out of Thursday’s first Test.

It is not the first time players with links to Pakistan have experienced hold-ups in India, with Lancashire’s Saqib Mahmood and Australia opener Usman Khawaja among that number. The Pakistan Cricket Board wrote to the International Cricket Council late last year due to delays over visas for their World Cup squad.

England skipper Ben Stokes said on Tuesday he was “devastated” for the uncapped 20-year-old and his opposite number offered solidarity.

“I feel for him honestly,” said Sharma.

“Unfortunately I don’t sit in the visa office to give you more details on that but hopefully he can make it quickly, enjoy our country and plays some cricket as well.

“It’s not easy for anyone, it could be one of our guys wanting to come to England and being denied.”

Finn Russell believes Owen Farrell will be the ideal fit for Racing 92 as England’s fly-half follows in the footsteps of his 2021 Lions team-mate.

Farrell will become ineligible for England selection until 2026 after agreeing a two-year deal that will bring an end his trophy-laden time at Saracens, his only professional club.

The move to Paris next season will reunite the 32-year-old with Stuart Lancaster, Racing’s head coach who gave Farrell his England debut in 2012.

Russell spent five years with the Top 14 leaders before joining Bath after the World Cup and the Scotland playmaker, speaking before Racing confirmed the move on Monday, is backing Farrell to make it a success.

“I loved my time in Paris,” Russell told the PA news agency at the premiere of Netflix’s Six Nations: Full Contact documentary series.

“It’s really close to London so it will be easy for him to go backwards and forwards to his family.

“I don’t know what it’s like under Stuart Lancaster and it will potentially be better for Owen with Stuart being there. The two of them will know each other from the past because of Lancaster’s time at England.

“It’s a great club and a great city to live in. I loved my time there. Owen will be great, he will fit the way they are playing just now really well.

 

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“Everyone views him as a kicking 10 but he’s got a great attacking game as well. He will be great for them.”

Russell’s own change of scenery has revitalised the 31-year-old as well as Bath, who are riding high in the Gallagher Premiership and have reached the knockout phase of Europe.

Scotland fans will be hoping some of that magic rubs off on their team heading into the Guinness Six Nations in the wake of a disappointing group exit from the World Cup, albeit having competed in one of the toughest pools in the tournament’s history.

What is being seen as a ‘golden generation’ of Scottish talent has yet to produce tangible success in the Six Nations and Russell, one of two co-captains for the Championship, wants to end a period of underachievement.

“For us the Six Nations has been frustrating over the last few years,” Russell said. “Last year we got off to a good start but never managed to continue it.

“This year it’s ideally about doing a bit better and winning the first two, three or four games if we can.

“It would definitely be frustrating if we didn’t manage to finish up with a title given the players and strength in depth that we have in the squad. However, all the other teams are getting stronger as well.

“We’ve got great strength in depth in the squad now and we potentially have the chance to win something, but we’ve had that for the last few years and we haven’t managed it.”

Owen Farrell’s departure for Racing 92 next season has been confirmed with the Saracens captain agreeing a two-year deal with the Parisians.

The ramifications for England and the Gallagher Premiership are significant and place the Rugby Football Union’s eligibility rules under the spotlight.

Here the PA news agency looks at the key questions surrounding the England and Lions fly-half’s move to France.

Why has Farrell joined Racing 92?

Farrell has not spoken publicly since news of his potential move to the Top 14 broke earlier in the month, but there are myriad reasons explaining its appeal. The 32-year-old has spent his entire career at Saracens where he has won every honour in the game and could be revitalised by a fresh challenge in a thriving league. There is the obvious financial appeal of playing in France when the generous salary cap means he could command close to £1milion a season. But the big question is just how much his departure from Saracens is a result of the intense and at times vicious scrutiny on England’s captain, especially during the build-up to the World Cup in France and during the tournament itself. Perhaps his decision to rule himself out of this year’s Six Nations to prioritise his and his family’s mental wellbeing provides the answer.

What does it mean for England?

 

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Eligibility rules dictate that Farrell will be unavailable for selection when he leaves the Premiership, denying England the services of their talisman, leading Test points scorer and third most capped player. Farrell could realistically have expected to remain in contention for the number 10 jersey for the next two years – the duration of his Racing contract – so head coach Steve Borthwick is losing an influential player with much still to offer, raising the possibility that the World Cup bronze final victory over Argentina in October was his final international.

Could the eligibility rules change?

No. Instigated by the Rugby Football Union with the full backing of Premiership Rugby, they will remain in place for the foreseeable future despite the number of England players heading across the Channel. The rules are seen as critical to keeping the best talent on these shores, strengthening the English top flight and giving Borthwick greater control over his stars during international periods. Each nation has its own approach to the selection of overseas-based players – for example New Zealand have the same policy whereas South Africa have no restrictions whatsoever – but there is no will in England to loosen current rules.

Should England fans be worried?

Of England’s World Cup squad Farrell, Jack Willis, Joe Marchant, David Ribbans and Henry Arundell will be playing in the Top 14 next season with Lewis Ludlam and Kyle Sinckler set to join them. Other Red Rose internationals are already there. The size of the contingent is growing but two names really jump out – Farrell and Marchant. England did not want to lose their captain and fly-half at this point and Marchant was their first-choice outside centre at the World Cup, but his decision to join Stade Francais comes with the caveat that it was made before he had nailed down a place in Borthwick’s starting XV.

Is it Borthwick’s biggest concern?

While the departures of Farrell and Marchant are clearly a blow to England and the Premiership, Borthwick has more pressing concerns than the unavailability of a group of players on the fringes of the starting XV. A priority is to find two scrummaging props to take over from remarkable veterans Dan Cole and Joe Marler, whose set-piece expertise was proven to be so crucial at the World Cup. And the perennial problem position of inside centre still has only a stop-gap solution at best as the injury-prone Manu Tuilagi nears the end of his Test career.

Mark Wood admits England’s World Cup blowout “really hurt” and is desperate to put things right on his return to Indian soil with the Test team.

Wood was part of the side that slumped to a seventh-place finish at the tournament a matter of weeks ago, with the defending champions ruthlessly exposed during a handful of stinging defeats.

Fresh from playing a crucial role in England’s Ashes comeback over the summer, Wood was unable to lift the 50-over side in the same way, chipping in with just six wickets in seven matches and going at 6.46 runs an over.

Speaking ahead of Thursday’s first Test in Hyderabad, where he is expected to provide the pace in spin-friendly conditions, Wood is eager to put those 50-over struggles firmly behind him.

“I didn’t perform well in the World Cup and that was my last involvement so I feel like I’ve got a point to prove a little bit here,” he said.

“I was very disappointed with that whole campaign, personally and as a team. Conditions might not be favourable for me but I’ll be trying to put a better show than I did at the World Cup. We came here with big expectations and we didn’t live up to it, nowhere near up to it.

“I was really upset with it. For about a week once I got home I was thinking, ‘Why did I do that?’ or ‘Why was this happening?’, ‘What did we do that for?’.

“It really hurt for a while but that’s why there is a hunger to come back into this environment. I’m ready to try to prove that was just a one-off.”

 

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While England’s status as defending champions meant they had been well fancied heading into the World Cup, the odds place them as distant second favourites ahead of the five-match series.

India have not been turned over at home since 2012, when Sir Alastair Cook’s England scored a famous win, losing only three of their 46 subsequent Tests.

The widespread belief that India will prevail again on the kind of turning surfaces that undermined England’s efforts in 2021 is liberating to Wood, who is focusing on the chance to do something special.

“We’ve created history in the past, (winning last year) in Pakistan. It’s a free hit, to be honest,” he said.

“Not many teams come here and win. If we give it a good go, we could go down in flames, but if we give it a go, it’s no different to any other time.”

The majority of England’s XI seems to be locked in, with Harry Brook’s return home for personal reasons opening the way for Ben Foakes to return to the team and reclaim the wicketkeeping gloves from Jonny Bairstow.

Wood and James Anderson are favoured to take seam bowling duties, with Jack Leach likely to be joined by one of Tom Hartley or Rehan Ahmed in the spin ranks.

The squad’s fourth spinner, 20-year-old Shoaib Bashir, missed a second training session on Tuesday after visa complications kept him grounded in Abu Dhabi.

Owen Farrell could have played his last game for England after French club Racing 92 confirmed that he will join them next season.

The Saracens fly-half and captain will link up with the Parisians from July 1 on a two-year deal.

It will bring to an end his long and successful Saracens career that began in 2008 and has been littered with European and Premiership titles.

Farrell, 32, had already announced that he would miss this season’s Guinness Six Nations in order to prioritise his and his family’s mental well-being.

And he will become ineligible for international selection when he moves to France due to Rugby Football Union rules that do not permit players who ply their trade abroad to be selected for the national team.

His last England appearance was the World Cup bronze medal match against Argentina in Paris on October 27, which England won narrowly.

Racing are coached by Stuart Lancaster, who gave Farrell his Test debut in 2012 when he was England boss.

Farrell has gone on to win 112 caps, lead his country in the last two World Cup campaigns and is England’s record international points-scorer.

He would be 34 if he leaves Racing after two years and returns to England, suggesting any international return would be unlikely.

Farrell, though, would be on the British and Irish Lions’ radar for their 2025 Australia tour, which will see his father Andy fill the role of head coach.

A statement from Racing read: “Racing 92 formalises the signing of Owen Farrell within its professional men’s team.

“The English international player is committed to two sporting seasons and will join the Ciel et Blanc squad from July 1, 2024.”

Farrell will link up with the likes of South Africa’s double World Cup-winning captain Siya Kolisi at Racing, along with exciting England back Henry Arundell.

Speaking after he announced his Six Nations squad last Wednesday, England head coach Steve Borthwick said: “I think what’s important is that Owen makes a decision that is right for Owen and his family.

“Will a player of Owen’s calibre be missed if he chooses to play outside of England? Yes, of course.

“Do I want him in some point in the future to come back? Yes. But I also want him to do what’s right for him and his family and have the experiences and the memories that he wants to make.”

Farrell’s decision will be a major blow for Saracens, although Racing’s announcement will not have caught them on the hop as Saracens rugby director Mark McCall recently revealed that he knew what decision Farrell had made.

Farrell apart, a number of players who were key to Saracens’ sustained European and Premiership successes over the past 10 years are unlikely to be involved after this summer.

Some will be out of contract and departing, and others retiring, and McCall said last week: “Everybody realises the adventure we’ve been on is coming to an end, and there is a new adventure about to start with a group of younger players we are incredibly excited about who have signed up for the longer term.

“Players are going to retire or they are in the twilight of their careers – it is just the cycle of a team.

“I suppose all good things come to an end, and there is a re-energising effect and impact of a new group.

“We have met with the players who we believe will grab hold of it over the next three or four years. We have met with them regularly over the past couple of months.

“There is a new dawn coming, and it is exciting for everybody.”

Saracens have lost five of their last eight games and slipped outside the Premiership top four.

But they recovered from a record 55-15 European defeat against Bordeaux-Begles to book an Investec Champions Cup round-of-16 place by beating Lyon on Saturday.

Brendon McCullum insists England are ready to be “really brave” with their team selection for the first Test against India, leaning into one of the biggest challenges in cricket.

England’s red-ball team are back in action for the first time in almost six months on Thursday, beginning a five-match tour in Hyderabad.

India have been dominant on home soil over the past decade and have lost only three matches out of 46 since they last lost a series, to Sir Alastair Cook’s England in 2012.

But McCullum refuses to be pessimistic and is instead piecing together an XI that can spring a surprise. On a pitch that is expected to offer plenty of turn, England must decide how bold to be with a callow spin unit featuring the established Jack Leach and rookies Rehan Ahmed, Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir.

“What balance we go for in terms of the side we’ll work out in the coming days, but the thing we need to be is really brave with whatever we decide,” he said.

“India is the land of opportunity and that’s what sits in front of us now, we’ll take the positive option. Other teams might be better, but we want to be the bravest. We’ve got to do that and that’s got to be factored into selection, too.”

Ben Stokes is set to the lead the side, with England content over his rehabilitation from knee surgery. The captain left a private clinic on crutches at the end of November, setting up a race against time to be fit, and has been chronicling his recovery on social media.

He is not ready to resume bowling but McCullum is confident he is ready for action as skipper and specialist batter.

“He looks like a greyhound. He’s stripping fit,” he said.

“He’s put the hard work in and everyone knows his work ethic is phenomenal. I’ve seen him running around and I think he’s good to go. We’ll obviously make that call as late as what we need to. But he’s put all the work in and we’ll just have to wait and see.”

With Harry Brook absent for personal reasons, England seem set to restore Ben Foakes as wicketkeeper. He and Jonny Bairstow, who took the gloves during the Ashes last summer, are both due to play but it was Foakes who took a long keeping drill during Monday’s practice.

England know they will face criticism for being under-prepared if things go badly in the opening game, but McCullum made no apologies for his decision to host a training camp in Abu Dhabi rather than warm-up games on Indian soil.

“The preparation was brilliant. The facilities out there are as good as anywhere in the world,” he said.

“The guys walked away from Abu Dhabi with a huge amount of confidence that we’ve prepared as well as we possibly can.

“In the end all you’re trying to do is get guys in the frame of mind where they feel 10 foot tall and bulletproof when they walk out to play.

“We’ve got to take 20 wickets with the ball in each Test and we’ve got to get one more run than them with the bat. It’s not rocket science but it will be the nuances of the game and when to stick and when to twist which will be the fascinating part.”

Batter Harry Brook is heading home from England’s Test tour of India for personal reasons and will not returning.

The 24-year-old will leave the squad, currently in Dubai preparing for the start of the first Test on Thursday, with immediate effect, the England and Wales Cricket Board have confirmed.

“The Brook family respectfully requests privacy during this time. In light of this, the ECB and the family kindly request the media and the public to respect their wish for privacy and refrain from intruding on their private space,” said an ECB statement.

England’s selectors will confirm a replacement player for the tour in due course and they are likely to look to the Lions squad, who are currently in Ahmedabad.

Captain Josh Bohannon scored a century against India A last week, while other middle order options include James Rew and Dan Mousley.

In the short term for the first Test they may now play wicketkeepers Jonny Bairstow and Ben Foakes rather than having to choose between the two.

Topsy Ojo believes now is the right time for Steve Borthwick to freshen up his England squad with one eye looking ahead to the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia.

On Wednesday, Borthwick named seven uncapped players in the 35-man training camp ahead of next month’s Guinness Six Nations.

Broadcaster Ojo, who won two England caps in 2008, admitted the likes of Billy Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler will be disappointed at missing out on selection, but the introduction of young talent will strengthen their World Cup bid in three years’ time.

He said: “Now is the time to have something new and do something fresh and if you look at the guys he’s (Steve Borthwick) picked, they’re all there on merit and have played incredibly well.

“It’s an exciting squad. There’s a continuity of leadership and emerging young talent.

“Sinckler and Vunipola will be disappointed and you know they’ll go away and fight tooth and nail to get their shirts back.

“It’s the start of a new cycle. Who will benefit from being exposed now? Out of the uncapped players, we need to think who will be playing in Australia in 2027 with 30 caps under their belts and are battle-ready and experienced in international rugby. There’s that long-term vision ahead and it starts now.”

Borthwick, who replaced Eddie Jones in December 2022, had a rocky start to his tenure as England head coach but finished 2023 with a third-placed finish at the World Cup.

Ojo believes the 44-year-old is still the right man to take the side forward.

“Yes, 100 per cent,” Ojo said. “It was a difficult time for him to come in because a lot of the other teams were settled in their processes.

“He’s been through some painful experiences, but ultimately he’s taken this team to a World Cup semi and a bronze-place finish.

“If you look at the squad he’s picked now, he has the talent at his disposal to make England a success.

“Will there be some teething problems early on? Yes. That’s the nature of sport, but it’s a challenge he’ll look forward to and embrace. So is he the man to do it. Absolutely.”

Exeter wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, who was born in Cardiff and eligible to play for Wales, is among the new additions and Ojo talked up the 21-year-old.

He said: “I’m happy to see Feyi-Waboso in there. He’s electric and I’m happy to see him exposed at the next level. He’s not played that many senior games but he’s shown enough.”

England’s much-anticipated Test tour of India will be televised in the UK by TNT Sports, which has signed a deal to screen the series just a week out from when the first ball is due to be bowled.

A spokesperson for TNT confirmed to the PA news agency that the broadcaster has agreed a five-year contract to exclusively show India’s home series in all formats, which includes England’s next white-ball trip in early 2025 and another Test tour at a date to be determined.

The possibility of a UK blackout for the upcoming five-match series between teams ranked second and third in the world, starting on January 25 in Hyderabad, has therefore been averted.

India remains by far the sport’s most lucrative market but deals with the country’s governing body have often gone to the wire, with rights distributors eager to recoup sizeable initial outlays.

When England last toured the country for a Test series, in 2021, a similar situation unfolded and ended in an 11th-hour bid from Channel 4 as it made an unexpected re-entry into the market.

But with the terrestrial channel pumping resources into this year’s Paralympics, there was understood to be no interest in a similar move this time around, leaving Sky Sports and TNT as the other outlets.

Sky was the de facto home of all England tours between 1990 and 2017 but TNT has shown the last two Ashes series in Australia and stepped in to screen Jos Buttler’s white-ball team in the Caribbean last month.

Having secured this marquee series, TNT seems likely to take the world commentary feed and assemble a studio team in the UK given the short turnaround. TalkSPORT holds the radio rights.

Jamie George has been told to put his own stamp on the captaincy after being entrusted to lead a revamped England squad into the Guinness Six Nations.

George takes charge of team for the first time after filling the vacancy created by Owen Farrell’s decision to miss the Championship in order to prioritise his and his family’s mental wellbeing.

The promotion capped a special day for the 33-year-old having also signed a new two-year deal with Saracens that is to be accompanied by a central contract with the Rugby Football Union.

As undisputed first choice hooker, as well as an influential player in the English game, George was chosen ahead of nearest rivals Ellis Genge and Maro Itoje.

An element of the appointment process was instigated by Belgium manager and former Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany and now that he has risen to the top, Steve Borthwick insists George must lead in his own image.

“I was asked by somebody ‘have you given Jamie, any advice?’” said head coach Borthwick, who captained England 21 times as a second-row.

“The one thing I said is: ‘I want you to lead as you.’ And that one year, many many years from now, you will reflect and want to say you led as you.

“I’d say during my time as England captain, I don’t think I led as me. I want him to bring all his personality to it.

“Prior to the World Cup we did this study. We will do something similar again in the near future. It was a network analysis, for want of a better term. It was actually an idea given to me by Vincent Kompany.

“You basically give the players a series of questions. And then put the top three players you turn to in this situation.

“What it effectively produces is this network of how everybody connects and who connects with who the most.

“You could tell in different elements – in tactical elements, high pressure circumstances, off the field – you connect with different people.

“So I had this incredible amount of information and it said ‘I know where people turn to’. You’d be able to see and tell me who they turn to, who Ellis and Maro would turn to. And the number of people who connected with Jamie George is immense.

“He has this ability, across the whole squad, to make people understand him. That stood out to me as being exceptional.

“He’s a great people person. He’s got a positive nature. There’s always a smile very close in the way he is. And I want him to bring all of that into this role as the captain.”

Even allowing for retirement and injury, Borthwick has completed a significant overhaul in naming a 36-man squad for the Six Nations to begin the next World Cup cycle.

Kyle Sinckler and Billy Vunipola have been dropped, Henry Slade and Alex Dombrandt are back in favour and there are first time appearances in an England squad for some exciting rookies such as Immanuel Feyi-Waboso and Ethan Roots.

Only 17 of the 34 who helped England finish third in last autumn’s World Cup are present.

“I look at this as the next step that we need to take. It’s the next competition and in terms of the development of the team, it’s important that we build on our game,” Borthwick said.

Steven Finn has tipped “superhuman” James Anderson to bounce back from his struggles last summer to make an impact for England in India.

Anderson claimed five wickets at an average of 85.40 in four Ashes Tests to spark more conjecture over his future after he turned 41 in July.

While Stuart Broad retired at the conclusion of the drawn series, Anderson had no such plans to walk away and Finn, who played with the veteran seamer during England’s successful tour of India in 2012-13, is confident his old team-mate will impress over the next two months.

“Jimmy is superhuman,” Finn said of the Lancashire seamer, who has 34 wickets and boasts an average of 29.32 from 13 Tests in India.

 

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“People have been anticipating he will retire for about seven years now and he keeps surprising people and performing.

“He didn’t have a fantastic summer last year, but I know from knowing him as a character that he wouldn’t be doing this unless he felt he could make a difference.

“I think a determined Jimmy Anderson, well managed, is someone who will be important to England, especially making the most of the reverse swing because he is an absolute master at that.

“He would have worked on his fitness, he would have trained hard, he has got the skills and has got the experience so I anticipate when he plays, he’ll be an important cog.”

India have not lost a home Test series since England’s 2-1 win nine years ago and Finn predicted this would pose the “toughest challenge” of the Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum era.

England’s aggressive ‘Bazball’ style of play has taken the cricket world by storm over the past 18 months, but eyebrows have been raised at their preparation for this series, which begins in Hyderabad next Thursday.

Stokes’ squad have spent this week in state-of-the-art facilities in Abu Dhabi on a training camp and will only arrive in India three days before the first Test. It led to former seamer Steve Harmison predicting a 5-0 defeat.

Finn added: “I think if someone had offered (former head coach) Andy Flower three days’ preparation before a Test series his head would have exploded.

“I think there are a couple of caveats: times have changed, clearly. We don’t even go to an Ashes and have three warm-up games now, like we did on my first tour in 2010/11.

“I do think we encounter problems with the warm-up games because on that 2012 (India) tour, we turned up for a game and they played six 70mph medium pacers and no spinners and it didn’t replicate what you were going to find in the Test matches.

“I think the changing landscape of cricket has just meant they thought their preparation was best served elsewhere and it’s very hard to question this management team because every time we have over the last 18 months or so, they’ve dumbfounded everything we’ve thought of their decisions.

“I wouldn’t be as vociferous against it as Steve Harmison was a few weeks ago. It’s less than ideal but I don’t think it’s absolutely critical.”

IG, a leading trading and investments provider, has renewed its partnership with the ECB for a further three years. Through the Net Gains Fund, IG and the ECB will commit £1 million towards initiatives in under-served communities by 2027, including building new net facilities in five English cities in 2024.

Jamie George will lead England into the Guinness Six Nations but Kyle Sinckler and Billy Vunipola face uncertain international futures after being omitted from Steve Borthwick’s squad for the tournament.

George, the 85-cap veteran hooker, replaces Owen Farrell as captain after the Saracens fly-half decided to miss the Championship in order to prioritise his and his family’s mental wellbeing.

The 33-year-old is undisputed first choice in his position, an influential player in the English game and highly experienced, all factors behind his promotion ahead of Ellis Genge and Maro Itoje.

He has just committed his future to Saracens and is poised to sign one of the Rugby Football Union’s 25 ‘enhanced contracts’ at a time when a growing number of England players – including Farrell – have either joined French clubs or are considering doing so.

Explaining George’s choice as captain, head coach Borthwick said: “Firstly, Jamie is an outstanding player, one of the best hookers in the world with incredible work-rate. He’s a great example in that sense.

“Secondly, he’s got a fantastic understanding of the game, tactically very astute. And thirdly, he’s brilliant with people and builds great relationships.

“(His new contract) is a real positive step. It’s a really good sign that English rugby, while there’s still some way to go, has potentially turned a corner.

“To have the captain of England commit his future to English rugby is an important step.”

The outlook for Vunipola and Sinckler is less positive with two stalwarts of the 2019 and 2023 World Cup cycles facing battles to reclaim their places in the pack.

“I’ve spoken to both players regularly about what I’d like to see develop in their games to be in the squad,” Borthwick said.

“Do I think Kyle Sinckler will be back in the squad at some point in the future? I’m pretty sure he will be and I sense a determination from him to go after the aspects we discussed.”

England and Saracens appear increasingly resigned to Farrell’s departure to Racing 92 next season, a move that would make him ineligible for international selection.

“I spoke with Owen yesterday (Tuesday) and what’s important is that Owen makes a decision that’s right for Owen and his family,” Borthwick said.

“Will a player of Owen’s calibre be missed if he chooses to play outside of England?  Yes, of course. Do I want him in some point in the future to come back? Yes.

“But I also want him to do what’s right for him and his family and have the experiences and the memories that he wants to make.”

There are seven uncapped players in a 36-man squad that has been significantly revamped following the World Cup, containing only 17 of the 34 involved in France.

Retirements and injuries have forced Borthwick’s hand to an extent, while there are returns for the likes of Henry Slade and Alex Dombrandt, but the inclusion of Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, Oscar Beard, Tom Roebuck, Chandler Cunningham-South, Ethan Roots, Fraser Dingwall and Fin Smith indicates a period of evolution.

Exciting 21-year-old Exeter wing Feyi-Waboso was born and raised in Cardiff and played for Wales at age-group level, only to now commit to England.

“Manny’s really impressed us, not just on the pitch. We can all see the power he brings, the speed he brings. He finds a way through contact when there doesn’t appear to be a way through there,” Borthwick said.

“When I rang him yesterday (Tuesday), I said ‘I’m announcing my Six Nations squad tomorrow and naming you in it’. I could sense that excitement and buzz down the phone, he was thrilled. And that gave me a real energy and a real buzz as well.”

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