Irrespective of whether he gets to play here or not, the tour to India is going to be a big learning curve for Ansari Getty Images

We are now just a day away from the start of a highly-anticipated Test series between India and England. There is a lot of hype around the five-Test series, and rightly so. India, who are literally on a roll at home a place where they have invariably been comfortable will be facing England, a side they have failed to beat in their last three meetings in the format. Once again, India being the host nation, the talk will revolve around spin bowling. Spinners will take the centrestage, with Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra hogging all the limelight from the Indian camp while Moeen Ali, Gareth Batty and Adil Rashid getting attention from the English media. Full Cricket Scorecard: India vs England 1st Test at Rajkot.

However, one person may get discounted due to his relative inexperience. Zafar Ansari, the young Surrey all-rounder, may not be a definite starter in the English playing XI for the Rajkot Test starting November 9. But he will definitely get to play a role sometime later in the series. The 24-year-old cricketer, who made his debut in the second Test in the recently concluded Bangladesh tour, may turn out to be the understudy for his Surrey captain Batty, Moeen and Rashid in the testing series. The experience he gets here, however, should help him in the longer run.


While avid followers of County Cricket know that Ansari is a left-arm spinner and a handy batsman, very few are aware that he has a double first from Cambridge University in politics and sociology. Besides, as of last year, he was writing a 40,000-word dissertation on the Deacons of Defence, a little known group involved in the Civil Rights struggle in America. His fingers are as good on the piano as they are on a cricket ball. Based on this information about the youngster, it can safely be said he indeed is a well-read, intelligent and a smart individual.

What can also be interpreted about his personality is that Ansari is a keen learner; an aspect which will hold him in good stead. Above mentioned things, along with his all-round abilities, make him a jack-of-all-trades; a commodity which is a rarity in international cricket these days. He can be a floater in the batting order as he has even opened for Surrey in First-Class cricket. His three First-Class centuries, 15 half-centuries, close-to 3,000 runs and an average hovering just under 31 vouches for the same.

A useful left-arm spinner, Ansari can bowl virtually at any stage in a match. He has 124 wickets to show in his short career thus far, where he has taken six five-fors; a fact which underlines his ability to contribute decently with the ball.

The present set-up of English cricket provides Ansari a fantastic opportunity to carve a place for himself in the line-up. While Moeen and Batty provide off-spin options, Rashid is the classical leg-spinner in the squad. There is no left-arm spinner in the team and that is where the opportunity lies for Ansari. He brings variety to the English attack and sort of completes it. He is perhaps the last piece in England s bowling jigsaw puzzle. The chances he gets and how he fares in them will determine whether he can be banked upon as one for the future or not.

Baptism by fire

That the India tour is going to be a challenging one for Ansari is in itself an understatement. It is true that the conditions in Indian subcontinent favour spin bowling and the spinners thrive and revel in these conditions. However, at times, the same conducive environment even backfires, as quite a few spinners have found the going tough against Indian batsmen who have mastered the art of playing spin over the years. And that is precisely why touring India is not so easy for even a quality spinner, let alone a newbie.

In that regards, for Ansari, it is going to be baptism by fire. Yes, he did play a Test in Bangladesh and got a hang of the conditions that he might get in India. But the ground reality here is going to be a complete contrast. He will be up against the mighty Indian batting line-up, which loves to dominate the bowlers in their own backyard. He is going to learn swimming by jumping straight into the deep end. He is going to learn things the hard way. This tour thus, in all means, will either make him or break him as a cricketer.

Learning curve

Whether or not Ansari gets to play in Rajkot is uncertain. Moreover, how early he gets to play a game in the series depends a lot on how England performs. Skipper Alastair Cook and the team management might just be tempted to play him since he is a left-handed bowler and India s likely XI for the first Test is set to have as many as nine right-handed batsmen (barring Gautam Gambhir and Jadeja). Ansari, who spins the ball away from the right-handed batsmen, can be an asset when the ball is turning big.

The presence of Moeen and Rashid, who are likely to start in the playing XI, and Batty, whom he replaced on his debut in Bangladesh, is likely to keep him away from the XI in the beginning. Irrespective of whether he gets to play here or not, the tour to India is going to be a big learning curve for him. The experience he takes from the subcontinent will be invaluable and help him big time once he returns to the unassisting and unresponsive pitches back home. The things that he gets to pick not just from his teammates, but also from the opposition spinners, especially the left-armer Jadeja, will help him become a better bowler.

He himself is trying to keep things simple. I ll just try to spin the ball and be consistent and then chances should be created, said Ansari before leaving for his maiden tour with the England squad in an interview with The Guardian. Just like the patient and keen learner of the game he has been, Ansari will have to bide his time and keep picking things on the 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)