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Gareth Batty recently made his Test comeback against Bangladesh AFP

When Gareth Batty, 39, started playing First-Class cricket in 1997, the next oldest member in England s touring party to India Alastair Cook had just entered his teenage while the youngest member Haseeb Hameed was born the same year. His opposite number Ravichandran Ashwin was in standard six while another off-spinner from Indian camp Jayant Yadav was just learning numbers in school. Not a single member of the Bangladesh side he made his Test debut against in 2003 was a part of the team he played against recently last month. Yet when he plays a Test on Indian soil in the upcoming series, which ideally he should, the pressure will be on him much more than the others.

Between Batty s first Test appearance in 2003 and the eighth one recently in 2016, a gap of 11 years and four months, the cricket world has changed drastically. He debuted when the golden generation of batsmen that comprised of Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting was around. In fact, it was Batty in operation when Lara scored his historic 400th run in a Test innings; thus becoming the first man to do so. He has made a return when the likes of Virat Kohli, Steven Smith, Kane Williamson and his compatriot Joe Root rule the roost. A lot has changed. Players like Ashwin, the No. 1 Test bowler at the moment, and Cook, who is touted to break Tendulkar s multiple records, and many others from either sides have achieved a lot in all these years.

He has made a return like a small building amidst the towering presence of the edifices some of his teammates and players from opposition camps have gone on to become during all these years he was away from the hustle and bustle of international cricket. Thus, the spotlight shall be on Batty when he starts in the playing XI against the mighty Indians in their own backyard. He might have been dropped from the second Test against Bangladesh, but he should play a major role on the India tour.

Subcontinental shores

In his comeback Test, Batty bowled with a lot of heart. In the first innings, he got just a solitary wicket of Tamim Iqbal, but it turned out to be the most important one, as Tamim top-scored with 78. The childlike happiness on Batty s face after getting the wicket actually spoke volumes about how motivated he still was even at 39 and how much that wicket meant to him. In the second innings, he was the leading wicket-taker for England as he chipped the three important wickets of top-order batsmen Mominul Haque, Mahmudullah and skipper Mushfiqur Rahim, thus playing a key role in the English win. Yet he was not considered for the second game and was replaced by young left-arm spinner Zafar Ansari; predominantly because the latter was a better batsman.

But England did not pick Batty to bat on these tours. They knew he does not have many variations up his sleeves and cannot even bowl a doosra. They were well aware of the veteran s strengths when they picked him and should play him in India precisely for the same reasons.

If we take a closer look at his recall, it was not the case that he had set the County Championship on fire this season. In fact, he finished behind spinners Jack Leach (Somerset) and Ollie Rayner (Middlesex) on the wicket list topped by another off-spinner Jeetan Patel (Warwickshire), albeit as a professional player. But what actually brought the off-spinner into surprise contention for Bangladesh and India trip was a) presence of four left-handed batsmen in Bangladeshi top-order and b) success of off-spinners in Asia in recent times.

Sample this. Since January 2012, off-spinners have enjoyed reasonable success against Indians on their own soil. Out of the 104 wickets taken by right-handed spinners during this period, 86 have been claimed by off-spinners. The likes of Graeme Swann (20), Nathan Lyon (15) and more recently Jeetan Patel (13) have enjoyed their outing on the Indian shores. Looking at the numbers, Batty too would be licking his fingers.

There are no prizes for guessing the pitches for the upcoming series are expected to be spin friendly, or rather, Ashwin-friendly. In such a scenario, Batty s role would be all the more crucial, given his traditional off-spin can come in handy on Indian tracks. Even though Moeen Ali is expected to play all the games due to his far superior batting skills, Batty should get a look in as well for the simple reason: If they have got him here, they got to play him here.

Full circle

Batty made his Test debut in Bangladesh. He made return to international cricket after 11 years again in the same country. His life indeed has come a full circle. He was a nervous, jittery guy with butterflies in his stomach when the first call came at 26. And even at 39, he relived the same experience all over again. The only difference is he feels he is in a much better state to deal with it.

“Until you get out there you don’t know but, certainly in the last few years, I feel I have learnt more about my game and I understand my body and bowled better more consistently,” he said in an interview with ESPNCricinfo shortly after being recalled for the Bangladesh trip, further adding, “I feel in a good place that, maybe in the younger part of my career, I didn’t feel as confident about things, or know exactly what it was going to do, so fingers crossed that stands me in good stead if I get an opportunity..

He did get an opportunity and he performed reasonably well to command a place in the XI on India tour. It is now over to the English captain and the team management. Batty s inclusion or exclusion from the playing XI is completely their discretion. But the best bet at the moment for Cook is to punt on Batty rather than bits and pieces players. Side s rare failure in the second Test against Bangladesh was a wake-up call, and if he has to turn things around on India tour, he must start with the veteran cricketer in the playing XI for Rajkot Test starting November 9.

Batty may not promise Cook all-round abilities, but he is no mug with the bat either. He might have batted at No. 11 for England in Bangladesh, but the Surrey captain has scored over 500 runs at an average just above 24 in the ongoing County season. He also has a hundred to his name in those 17 games. So he could bat a bit as well. He may also not offer any mystery variations, but he can bowl his heart out on Indian pitches tailor-made for his kind of bowling. All-in-all, he could well turn out to be Cook s trump card on this tour.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)