Haseeb Hameed to debut for England as opener
Lancashire batsman Haseeb Hameed will become the youngest debutant to open for England in Test cricket, in the first match against India in Rajkot.
Hameed, aged 19 and 297 days by the time the game starts, will become England's fifth-youngest Test debutant, and Alastair Cook's tenth opening partner since the 2012.
Ben Duckett, who opened the batting in Bangladesh and made a sparky half-century in his final innings of the series, will move down to No. 4 to accommodate Hameed. Gary Ballance, who scored just 24 runs in four innings in Bangladesh, was dropped from the XI for Rajkot.
Hameed enjoyed a breakthrough season in the 2016 Championship campaign. Opening the batting for Lancashire, he scored almost 1200 runs at an average of 49.91. The four centuries he scored included two in a match against a strong Yorkshire attack. As a right-hander, he will also correct a slight imbalance in an England top order that, in Bangladesh, saw five left-handers in their top six.
While he was born in Bolton, Hameed has a strong affiliation with India and Gujarat in particular. His parents - who will be at the game - were born here and his brother was married here in recent days. He names Sachin Tendulkar, who he met as a seven-year-old, and Virat Kohli among his heroes and, in 2010, he travelled to Mumbai to learn to bat on the city's maidans that have been the breeding ground of many fine cricketers.
"Haseeb has impressed everyone so far on this trip," Cook said. "You wonder if a 19-year-old, coming on tour, will be overawed but he hasn't been at all. He has looked really good in the nets and the way he has gone about his business. It's obviously a very special day to pick someone so young.
"He is incredibly unflappable. He looks a very good player of spin. He picks length well and uses the crease well. Stuart Broad bowled at him last summer and was almost straight on the phone to me saying how impressed he was with this guy.
"He is one of those natural run-scorers. All through his age group, whatever team and whatever standard, he has scored runs. It's probably a year earlier than he would have thought. But to average 50-odd as an opener in Division One as a 19-year-old is an incredible feat. I was nowhere near the player he is at 19.
"Of course there will be some tough moments for him over the next few of playing Test cricket, but I think this guy can play."
While Cook admitted it was "not ideal" to move Duckett down the order after two Tests, he did not foresee any negative impact. "He's a pretty unflappable character," Cook said. "Historically he has played all his cricket in the middle order until the last year. He's comfortable batting anywhere."
Hameed's selection means no place for Jos Buttler, who has only played one first-class match since he was dropped a year ago, or Ballance, who has averaged only 19.90 in the six Tests since he was recalled in July and failed to reach 30 in his last seven innings.
"It was a tough decision," Cook said. "Jos has played some really good one-day cricket on this tour and his batting looks in really good shape in the nets. But he hasn't played that much first-class cricket. Gary hasn't scored the runs he would have liked."
Cook also played down talk about his imminent retirement as captain, after being quoted by the Cricketer magazine as saying: "I don't know how much longer I am going to carry on. It could be two months, it could be a year."
But talking ahead of the Test, Cook reiterated his oft-stated view that he will take the role "series by series".
"It's a mountain out of a mole hill," he said. "It's been blown out of proportion. Since the World Cup, I have been very open and we have taken it series by series. It could be two months, six months or two years."
The Rajkot game will represent the 55th time Cook has captained England at Test level, surpassing the previous record of 54 times by Michael Atherton.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo