Ben Stokes could bowl in fourth Test as England look to level series

By Sports Desk February 21, 2024

Ben Stokes is poised to resume his status as an all-rounder and boost England’s bowling options on a pitch expected to be the most spin-friendly on the tour of India.

Stokes will wait to see how his body reacts to a demanding 35-minute spell of fast bowling in training on Wednesday before deciding if he will send down any overs in the fourth Test, starting on Friday in Ranchi.

He has not bowled competitively since early July and initially had no plans to do so in this series after surgery in November to have stitches in his meniscus and a bone spur removed from his left knee.

Indeed, Stokes had made a “pinky promise” with England’s physiotherapist Ben Davies not to bowl in India but that looks increasingly likely to change with his side 2-1 down in the five-match series.

“Whatever way we decide to go, (if) I feel I am capable of bowling, I will bowl,” said the England captain, who added he would buy Davies a beer if he broke his vow.

“I think there is a possible chance but I will just have to wait and see how everything is.

“I wanted to get a long spell in to see how everything coped whilst doing it then see how I pull up. It is all good at the moment. That is the longest I have bowled in six months.

“Before I went and had the surgery I was told 12-13 weeks before I could start bowling. I am two weeks ahead of that and I am quite far ahead, but there are things I have to think about other than my knee.”

Stokes returning to bowl allows England to have two seamers in their XI and select three frontline spinners in Tom Hartley, Rehan Ahmed and Shoaib Bashir, as well as the part-time offerings of Joe Root.

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, which a bemused Stokes admitted he has never encountered before in India.

The evidence points to a wicket which will offer lavish spin but there may be some variable bounce as well which could aid the quicks as England look to bounce back from a heavy defeat in Rajkot.

“It just looked interesting,” said Stokes, echoing the observation England vice-captain Ollie Pope made a couple of hours earlier.

“If you looked down one side of opposite ends it just looked different to what I am used to seeing, especially out in India.

“It looked green and grassy up in the changing rooms but then you go out there it looked different, very dark and crumbly and quite a few cracks in it.”

One or both of James Anderson and Mark Wood could make way after their heavy workloads in Rajkot, which might mean a first appearance of the series for Ollie Robinson, who has not played competitively since the third Ashes Test last July.

Robinson, who averages 22.21 in 19 Tests, can move the new ball both ways, while his use of reverse swing on the predominantly lifeless pitches of Pakistan last winter caught the eye.

“He’s got unbelievable skills to be a successful bowler anywhere in the world,” Stokes said.

“He has worked incredibly hard while he has been out here. Not playing the first three Tests can be tough and disappointing but I’ve told him he has been a great example of doing the right things and waiting your turn if it comes.”

England’s attacking methods came in for some flak after a 434-run loss last time out but Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum are resisting calls from some ex-players to tinker with their approach.

“You get plaudits when it goes well and a bit of s*** when it doesn’t,” added Stokes, when asked if he was surprised by some of the criticism. “It’s part of it, I’ve been around long enough to know that but we crack on.”

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