Ben Duckett insisted there was never any question of Tom Hartley “hiding away” after his first ball in Test cricket was hit for six, with England rallying behind the debutant.

After being bowled out for 246, the tourists opted to open the bowling with their Lancastrian newcomer.

The left-arm spinner is used to fronting up with the new ball in limited-overs cricket but had never done so in his first-class career before he went head-to-head with Yashavi Jaiswal in front of 30,000 fans in Hyderabad.

It was not a bad loosener but disappeared all the way over the ropes as Jaiswal threw everything into a slog sweep that set the tone for India’s aggressive response of 119 for one.

The blow meant the 24-year-old joined a short list of players who have endured such a start, with Zimbabwe’s Sohag Gazi and South Africa’s Faf Du Plessis thought to be the only others, and another six followed just four balls later.

More conservative captains might have ended the experiment early but, although the runs continued to flow, Ben Stokes gave his new team-mate an uninterrupted nine-over spell costing 63 runs.

He came close to repaying some of that faith with a close lbw shout against Shubman Gill and Duckett says Hartley was guaranteed resounding support.

“We all back Tommy,” said the opener. “You know what Stokesy is like, he will throw him the ball and back him all day.

“He gives him however many overs to bowl, where other captains might take you off after two overs and then you’re then hiding away for the rest of the game.

“That’s Stokesy: he keeps bowling him and Tom nearly gets Shubman at the end. I’m not quite sure how that is going over the stumps, but he came back really well. I wouldn’t say I appreciated it but he (Jaiswal) played well too.”

Duckett earlier shared a bright opening stand of 55 with Zak Crawley, a partnership which proved something of a false dawn as regular wickets followed them for the rest of their innings.

Stokes was the pick of the batters with a battling 70 from number six, including three sixes and six fours.

It was his first action of note since surgery on his left knee at the end of November and the skipper looked fighting fit as he worked hard to build a competitive total.

There was plenty of turn on offer throughout the day and if, as expected, there is more where that came from, Duckett feels England may be in a better position than they seem.

“I think we were over par to be honest. It was a tricky day one pitch with consistent spin from early on,” he said.

“Stokesy, to get us to where we are, was fantastic. Come day three, day four that could be a match-winning knock if the pitch keeps getting harder to bat on.

“Pay credit to India, they played well tonight and were really attacking. They don’t always go about it like that, so it shows they think the pitch is going to get quite a bit worse. That’s good signs for us.”

England were given a sharp reality check on the opening day of their Test series in India, spun out for 246 in Hyderabad before a bruising introduction for debutant Tom Hartley.

India have lost just three times in their last 46 games on home soil and were quick to offer a reminder of the task that faces England’s Bazball brigade over the next seven weeks.

England captain Ben Stokes, who was on crutches after knee surgery in November, struck a vital 70 to give his side a fighting chance in their first innings but on a predictably helpful surface eight of his team-mates fell to spinners Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel.

England, who were dismissed for less than 200 six times in eight attempts on their last visit in 2021, had loaded their own attack with three slow bowlers of their own but they were unable to replicate the same threat as India made 119 for one in reply.

Left-armer Hartley, a selectorial hunch fancied to flourish in the sub-continent, had never opened the bowling in his first-class career but accepted Stokes’ challenge to do so. It proved a gamble too far.

The 24-year-old’s first delivery in the Test arena was brutally smashed for six by Yashasvi Jaiswal, reaching to drag it high into the leg-side in what looked a pre-meditated assault. Four balls later, Jaiswal cleared the ropes again.

Stokes backed his man, keeping him on for an extended spell and keeping the field up, and the runs continued to flow. He struggled to hold both line and length, dragging a couple of long hops into the middle of the pitch and drifting down the leg side as Jaiswal continued to feast.

In amongst the carnage he showed glimmers of promise, and one promising appeal, but his nine-over spell cost a damaging 63 – including 44 in boundaries. It was impossible not to ponder the fate of Hartley’s Lancashire predecessor, Simon Kerrigan, who shipped 53 runs in eight overs on debut in the 2013 Ashes and never played for his country again.

The current regime are less likely to cut players adrift but it was a painful welcome. England’s only wicket came from the more established finger spin of Jack Leach, who had Rohit Sharma caught by Stokes trying and failing an elaborate strike down the ground.

Jaiswal, seen as an up and coming star, finished 76 not out from 70 balls having cashed in on his takedown of Hartley.

England’s day started positively, Stokes batting first after winning a handy toss and watching as Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett shared an opening stand of 55.

Despite some evident swing, the pair backed themselves and picked up an early flurry of fours before Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj made way for spin after eight unsuccessful overs.

The change was profound, with England losing three wickets for five runs in the space of 21 deliveries. Ashwin removed both set batters, Duckett lbw propping forward for 35 and Crawley driving low to mid-off for 20.

In between, the returning Ollie Pope lasted 11 skittish balls and edged Jadeja to slip for just one. Pope has not played since dislocating his shoulder in the second Test of last summer’s Ashes and the cobwebs accrued over six months were there for all to see.

Jonny Bairstow led a restorative partnership of 61 with his fellow Yorkshireman Joe Root, securing a promising lunch score of 108 for three, but further trouble arrived in the middle session. Bairstow (37) had his off stump taken by a cracker from Patel, moments before Root (29) top-edged a sweep to fine leg.

However, Stokes shepherded things impressively at the back end of the innings, which seemed to be disappearing swiftly when Ben Foakes’ nick behind made it 155 for seven. Having played his way in smartly with a secure defence, Stokes began to make his presence felt as he ran out of partners.

The reverse sweeps came out of his bat sweetly, he got value when he opted to drive and after tea he reached his half-century with back-to-back sixes off Jadeja.

Before he was finished he dealt Ashwin a similar blow, but he was last man out in the 65th over when Bumrah got one to jag away off the pitch and part his stumps.

As he walked off England’s score felt close to competitive but Indian aggression and the failed experiment with Hartley made it look slimmer and slimmer. Worse still, England used all three reviews unsuccessfully in just 14 overs – two in an attempt to win Hartley a first scalp.

Spinner Shoaib Bashir has been granted an Indian visa and can now rejoin the England squad, the England and Wales Cricket Board has confirmed.

The uncapped 20-year-old, a British Muslim with Pakistani heritage, was unable to travel to India for the start of England’s upcoming five-Test series due to delays with his visa application.

He initially remained in Abu Dhabi after the team’s recent training camp but was later forced to return to the UK to complete the process.

It was confirmed on Wednesday that the Somerset youngster had belatedly received the necessary stamp of approval in London and would now be able to fly out to India.

The news comes too late for him to be involved in the first Test in Hyderabad, which begins on Thursday, but he should be back with the team in the coming days.

An ECB spokesperson said: “Shoaib Bashir has now received his visa and is due to travel to join up with the team in India this weekend. We’re glad the situation has now been resolved.”

England captain Ben Stokes expressed his frustration over the episode, but said initial thoughts the team should not travel until the issue was resolved were quickly dispelled.

Stokes said: “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.

“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.”

Bashir, who was called up for the tour after making just six first-class appearances, is not the first player to encounter difficulties receiving a visa for India.

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.

Last year the Pakistan Cricket Board also wrote to the International Cricket Council 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 for Bashir, with new operations manager Stuart Hooper leading negotiations in the United Arab Emirates, but were informed the player needed to present his passport in person at the Indian high commission in London.

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.

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