England batter Ollie Pope unfazed by ‘interesting’ Ranchi pitch for fourth Test

By Sports Desk February 21, 2024

England vice-captain Ollie Pope has described the pitch for the fourth Test in Ranchi as “interesting” but believes this may favour the tourists after back-to-back defeats by India.

The playing surface in the Jharkhand capital 48 hours out from the first day of the penultimate match has cracks running down one side of the cut strip and was watered on Wednesday morning before being briefly left to bake under the sun.

A crusted top layer formed before the area was covered – all of which suggests some balls may explode off the ground and spinners from both sides are likely to be involved from the off.

India hold a 2-1 lead on pitches that have generally been slow turners, with the team that has won the toss coming out on top on all three occasions, but England are gearing up for lavish spin this week.

“It looks an interesting pitch,” Pope said. “It doesn’t necessarily look like a belting wicket at the moment. It kind of looks like one half is good and there’s a lot of cracks (on the other half).”

Pope, though, insisted this does not faze England, who are likely to go back to their policy of selecting one front-line seamer to bowl alongside three spinners that they had in the first two Tests.

That suggests either or both of James Anderson and Mark Wood dropping out, with Ollie Robinson in the frame for the first time in the series, and Tom Hartley, Rehan Ahmed and Shoaib Bashir as the spinners.

“If that does a fair bit like we expect it to having looked at it, it definitely brings us into the game,” Pope said. “If it does spin from ball one, I guess it’s an even playing field.

“We have got some young spinners but I think they’ve bowled well on some pretty good surfaces as well so it definitely brings some wicket-taking opportunities into the game.

“It takes the toss a little bit out of it as well. When the ball’s doing more, your best bet is trying to hit the bowler off his length and try and get him to not bowl where he wants to bowl every ball.”

The return of Ben Stokes as a fully fledged all-rounder is gathering more momentum, with the England captain having an extended bowling session at the batters in the nets without any apparent discomfort.

He was seen briefly speaking to team doctor Glen Rae after he had stopped, raising the prospect of Stokes bowling competitively this week for the first time since last year’s Lord’s Ashes Test.

Stokes had surgery on his left knee in November, with stitches in his meniscus and a big bone spur removed, but had made a “pinky promise” to England’s physiotherapist he would not bowl on this tour.

But Stokes revealed after England’s 434-run defeat in Rajkot he was further along in his progress than was initially suspected to be the case and bowling at optimum level.

“There’s definitely a chance,” Pope, England’s vice-captain, said. “He’s not confirmed it even in the changing room, so we will see. We’ll see how he pulls up, and if that’s good hopefully we will see him with the ball in hand in the game.

“If he’s got full confidence in his knee, I guess you’ve got to trust the medical advice and trust his opinions as well. If he needs a bit of guidance on the pitch then I can be someone to lean on.”

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