Rehan Ahmed visa issue resolved as England recall Mark Wood for third Test against India

Rehan Ahmed, who has become the latest England player to run into visa problems in India but the tourists are optimistic the teenage leg-spinner will be available for the third Test in Rajkot. Issue date: Tuesday February 13, 2024
Rehan Ahmed is free to play the third Test in Rajkot - Mike Egerton/PA

Rehan Ahmed has been cleared to take his place in an England XI showing one change for the third Test against India after an “anxious” wait for visa clearance was ended.

England travelled to Abu Dhabi during the break between the second Test in Vizag and third in Rajkot, but on their return to India on Monday discovered that Ahmed only had a single entry visa, while his colleagues were allowed to come and go. He was immediately issued an emergency reprieve while officials looked to sort the issue, and he has now been cleared to stay in the country for the remainder of the tour.

Ahmed, 19, keeps his place in the XI, with Mark Wood coming in for Shoaib Bashir in a rebalanced attack that sees England play two seamers for the first time on the tour.

Unlike Bashir’s visa issue earlier in the tour (when he had to fly back to London from Abu Dhabi to secure entry to India, possibly due to his Pakistani heritage), this blunder was of England’s making. Captain Ben Stokes was not in the mood for apportioning blame, however, and said there was never doubt that Ahmed would play.

“It was always one of those situations for an individual where having to wait for that, it’s always an anxious period but thankfully we’ve got it through this morning,” said Stokes. “First of all the guys at the airport did a great job at giving him his visa initially to get through and then everyone at the BCCI and the government to get the visa through quickly. We don’t have to worry about any more of those issues.

“We were very confident we would get the visa for Rehan before the game started. There was no thoughts around not playing him this week. The great thing about youth is they just take everything in their stride and I thought he handled a situation that could have affected quite a lot of people in a different way very, very well for such a young kid. The Test matches he’s played so far, he’s done very, very well and everything we’ve asked of him he’s gone out and tried to deliver. I’m looking forward to him getting another game this week.

“When you have a problem like that rather than try to blame someone you just have to try to find a solution and get it sorted. We’ve had two of those situations so far on this trip and we’ve managed to do that. I don’t know how we ended up being in that situation but when it came up at the airport we were straight on to doing what we needed to do to get Rehan in rather than wasting time trying to find out whose fault it was because that wouldn’t have got us anywhere.”

Mark Wood of England bowls during a nets session at Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium on February 13, 2024 in Rajkot, India
Mark Wood returns to the England side after being left out of the second Test - Gareth Copley/Getty Images

England took one final look at the pitch on Wednesday before making the decision. Rajkot has hosted just two Tests before, including one against England in 2016, and it is expected to be a flat pitch that breaks up as it goes along. A day before the game, it still retained a green tinge, though, which explains Wood’s selection alongside James Anderson.

“Taking a bit of knowledge from the last Test match we played here, albeit a long time ago, it was a pretty true, flat wicket,” said Stokes. “Looking at it today, it looks a bit platey [meaning cracks could open up] but I think it’s a good wicket.

“Bash performed incredibly well in his first game for England; he’ll just take it in his stride, he’s a young lad and would want to play every game possible but I’ve got no doubt there will be more opportunities for him going forward in this series. He’s more than happy to be here, helping out the lads, improving his skills every single day.”

Since the second Test, England have lost Jack Leach for the remainder of the tour due to his knee issue. Joe Root has recovered from a bash to the pinkie sustained in Vizag.

Stokes will play his 100th Test here, but it will be the eighth in his last 10 that he has not bowled. Stokes had knee surgery in November and is building back up to full all-round responsibilities. He returned to bowling in training in Vizag, and bowled three overs at “70 per cent intensity” in both England’s net sessions this week, but has promised that he will not bowl in this series.

“I’ve pinky promised my physio I won’t be loosening up to bowl even if everything is feeling well because that would just be a risk that’s not worth it,” he said.

“We don’t have a plan with where I go with my intensity. It’s just how I feel at the time, but also not getting too far ahead. I’ve said a couple of times that the rest of my body has to get up to speed with bowling. This [training] was another step forward.”

India expect to have Ravindra Jadeja back in a team showing a number of changes. Batsmen Sarfaraz Khan and wicketkeeper Dhruv Jurel are in contention for debuts.

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