Ind vs Eng 1st Test – Tom Hartley – Tom Hartley relishing India rematch after thrilling first taste of Bazball

Few players can have experienced as many of Test cricket’s highs and lows as Tom Hartley did on debut across the four days of the first Test at Hyderabad.

Hartley’s first delivery in Test cricket was carted by opener Yashasvi Jaiswal over long-on for six. His 308th and most recent spun past an on-rushing Mohammed Siraj for a ninth wicket in the match. That rounded off his epic second-innings figures of 7 for 62, the first seven-for by an England debutant spinner since Jim Laker in 1948, and sealed a famous England win by 28 runs.

“He’s not the first, and he won’t be the last!” Hartley joked, as he recalled the manner in which Jaiswal had dispatched his maiden delivery.

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“As a spinner, people are going to come after you,” he added. “I’m fine with it if people want to come after me. I sort of have to go into a different mind-set. You look back at the ball and you think it wasn’t a bad ball. If that’s the way they want to play, you’ve just got to play with it.”

It is a refreshingly phlegmatic take, no doubt helped by the fact that that chastening first ball, first day and first innings of 2 for 131 are now academic. But it is also a hardwired perspective the 24-year-old has forged from white-ball cricket.

Still a relative newbie in the first-class game – this was his 21st appearance – Hartley has 82 T20 matches under his belt. All have come for either Lancashire or Manchester Originals.

His job, like most slow bowlers in the shorter formats, is to be defensive, which does not lend itself to an effective attacking role with the red ball. But it also does involve bowling up top, where the best, most destructive batters reside, and often when the odds are stacked against you.

Of the overs (and sets) he’s sent down, 25.8 percent – or one in each allocation of four – have come in the Powerplay. Though opening in this Test was a red-ball novelty, he had done it many times before in limited-overs formats, most notably sending down the first ball of the inaugural men’s Hundred back in 2021. He is the competition’s third-highest wicket taker.

“He bowls the tough overs for us all the time,” Carl Crowe, spin coach at Lancashire and Originals, told ESPNcricinfo. “Often to a short leg-side boundary (at Emirates Old Trafford), at the best batters – and never once questions it.”

That mentality has aligned with an appetite for progression with his red-ball skills.

Crowe, who came across Hartley before he had made a first-team appearance, worked on tightening up his seam position which is now as clean as it has ever been. Though he only took 19 County Championship wickets at 44.84 during the 2023 season, he impressed ECB coaches on England Lions tours either side of the summer enough to take a punt on him here.

It did not take long for Hartley’s new England team-mates to see why he had been selected. He gave batters a torrid time on raked, saw-dusted practice pitches in Abu Dhabi during their pre-tour training camp. Balls were spinning, gripping or burrowing on broadly similar lengths, not too dissimilar to the surface he had before him on Sunday.

Even during the Test, Hartley took on board and actioned advice. Following that nervous start, assistant coach Jeetan Patel recommended he adjust the speed of his run-up.

“When you’re playing for the first time you just run up that bit quick,” Hartley said. “And you think, well, just slow things down, let your action do the work. When I run in quick, I just tend to lose my action a bit. I just slowed it down and kept it simple, and it seemed to work.”

The result was a more fluid, more controlled and more incisive spell in what was only the seventh time he had bowled in the fourth innings of a match. Unsurprisingly for someone with only one previous five-wicket haul, he had never felt in such a groove before. Certainly not in a match.

“Only in the nets,” he said. “It’s the only time that it really rags like that, in the nets. But it was fantastic, it’s such a nice feeling that every ball you’re going to put down is going to turn quite a lot.

“You can just keep it so simple, pitch every ball on the stumps and if it skids on, perfect, and if it doesn’t, if it rags one-foot, even better. It’s just unbelievable.”

The novelty of Ben Stokes’ captaincy was also something to get used to. Like many, Hartley has been transfixed by England since Stokes and Brendon McCullum got together at the start of the 2022 summer. Now he is living the dream himself, and will eventually get the hang of the constant shifts in the field.

“I’ve watched a bit, and they’ve done some rogue things,” he said. “That’s just the way they are, and after being in this Test match, I’m all aboard. Even before, I was happy with it, I was all in anyway. They’re just such a great combo and they bring so much confidence and life to this team.

“When you’re bowling, you look round and think ‘there was a fielder there last ball and now he’s gone somewhere else’. But you just put that out of your mind. You just concentrate on the bowling and he’ll do the fielding for you.”

With different surfaces and a different India set-up to come, starting in Visakhapatnam on Friday. Hartley will have more learning and more adapting to do. But having negotiated the first bump, he is bullish about what lies ahead.

“Coming out here, I was just looking to get a game or a couple of games. I might have a big role, but I’m more than ready for that. I want more of it.”

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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