England’s bid to get their World Cup defence back on track could be hampered by the condition of the outfield in Dharamshala when they face Bangladesh today.
A surprise thumping at the hands of New Zealand in their opener has narrowed England’s margin for error but concerns in the lead-up to their second fixture have centred on the field of play.
Uneven grass coverage and a loose sandy make-up at the HPCA Stadium in the foothills of the Himalayas led England captain Jos Buttler to suggest “the integrity of the game” could be compromised.
Full focus on Tuesday
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) October 7, 2023
Afghanistan spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman came close to a nasty injury on Saturday when his knee lodged in the surface as he slid to stop a boundary, with debris spraying up from the soil as he landed.
The International Cricket Council stressed the outfield was rated ‘average’ by the officials at that game, while match referee Javagal Srinath has declared himself satisfied after a fresh inspection.
But England have had two training days at the venue and are unimpressed by conditions, which appear to fall short of international norms.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference, Buttler said: “I think it’s poor, in my own opinion. It’s not as good as it could be or should be.
“Certainly if you feel like you’re having to hold yourself back, it’s not a place you want to be as a team, or as a player, or in a World Cup match.
“You want to dive through a row houses to save a run, so it’s obviously not ideal, the way the surface is. We won’t be using it as an excuse, we’ll just have to be a bit smart.”
He subsequently took his misgivings even further, telling the BBC: “The powers that be are comfortable, the only thing I would question is, if you are telling players not to dive and stuff does that question the integrity of the game?
“Worse case scenario is something bad happens, but fingers crossed that doesn’t happen for both teams.”
England are likely to draft left-arm quick Reece Topley into their starting XI as they ponder shifting the balance of the side to include an extra specialist seam option.
While Ben Stokes engaged in another long batting session in the nets, his second in as many days, there is no prospect of him being risked as he continues to recover from a hip injury.
England’s World Cup-winning former captain Eoin Morgan gave a wholehearted endorsement of Stokes’ importance to their title defence, given how essential he was to the cause in 2019.
Morgan believes his presence carries even more weight than it did previously, given the achievements he has racked up along the way as a T20 world champion and inspirational Test captain.
“Is he as influential as he was? Even more so I’d say,” said the Irishman, who is in India as an ICC World Cup ambassador.
“He just continues to deliver when the team needs and creates belief and confidence around that and if you play with a guy that has already crossed the finish line on numerous occasions, and speaks in straight lines and not riddles, it’s genuine.
“I think the thing that we can’t measure when it comes to Ben is how much he contributes in the changing room and how much he makes other players better around him.”