Tour of India: England prefer to camp in the desert than arrive early for Tests

Ahead of the spin battle in India, Ben Stokes & Co prefer the solitude of Abu Dhabi to cut out the noise

England Test captain Ben Stokes during a practice session in Abu Dhabi (England & Wales Cricket Board/X)
England Test captain Ben Stokes during a practice session in Abu Dhabi (England & Wales Cricket Board/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It’s been a ritual of sorts for visiting Test teams from SENA countries (South Africa-England-New Zealand-Australia) to try and reach India early and acclimatise to subcontinent conditions, squeezing in a warm-up game or two for some valuable practice against spinners. This time, Ben Stokes & Co. have possibly decided to cut the noise as they have quietly begun their preparations with a 10-day camp in Abu Dhabi.   

The serene ambience of the Sheikh Zayed Stadium complex in the UAE capital has suddenly acquired a buzz over the last few days as the 20-member squad prepare at the desert venue on turning pitches — prepared by the ground staff of Abu Dhabi Cricket — and simulate match scenarios. They will be flying out to India only three days ahead of their first Test in Hyderabad beginning on 25 January. 

The other venues for the five-Test series are Visakhapatnam, Rajkot, Ranchi and Dharamsala, with the series scheduled to end on 11 March. The last time England visited India for a Test series was in 2020-21, when Ravi Ashwin and Axar Patel spun India to a 3-1 series win, while the last time England won an away series in India was in 2012-13 under Alastair Cook’s captaincy. 

“Back together, preparing, building,” the England team posted on their X account as they began going through a demanding schedule at a venue with which most players enjoy a certain degree of comfort — thanks to some of their annual visits over the years for the curtain raiser to the county season played in Abu Dhabi. Incidentally, the mild winter of the UAE, not to speak of its excellent hotels, have also been a favourite for winter breaks of some of famous Premier League clubs and players.  

A preparatory camp in a city where the media is completely non-intrusive, quite in contrast to India where the hype would have begun in right earnest, must have been a determining factor going by the words of England batter Ben Duckett.

“India can be a really tough place to tour, everyone knows that,’’ Duckett said in a Sky Sports podcast. “The mental side of the game is just as important and I don’t think there’s too many complaints from that squad, who are having 10 days in Abu Dhabi rather than 10 days stuck in a hotel.” 

Asked if it would have been a better idea to take on spinners in India, Duckett said: “There probably are loads of spinners in India, but none of them are (Ravindra) Jadeja, Axar Patel and (Ravichandran) Ashwin. You might face a 15-year-old off-spinner in the nets, but that’s not really going to equip you for the first Test. 

"We’ve got quite a big squad with us and there will be hours of training every day. In India, you are pretty hotel-bound, the luxury of being in Abu Dhabi is you can get out and about for an extra 10 days,’’ Duckett said, giving an insight to their thinking.  

It’s a no brainer that India will once again prepare spin-friendly wickets to steamroll their opponents, having named four spinners in the squad — Ashwin, Jadeja, Patel and Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav as a back-up.  Ashwin needs just 10 more wickets to become the ninth bowler to take 500 career wickets in Tests. The 95-Test off-spinner currently sits in second place in wickets taken for India behind Anil Kumble (619). 

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