Ben Stokes unconcerned by sickness bug ahead of fifth Test

By Sports Desk March 06, 2024

England are confident Shoaib Bashir will be available for the fifth Test against India despite an upset stomach that has led to the tourists taking precautionary measures to prevent an outbreak.

Young off-spinner Bashir and seamer Ollie Robinson woke up on Wednesday morning feeling under the weather, so the pair missed the afternoon’s practice and have been separated from the rest of the team.

While Robinson has been replaced by Mark Wood as England try to salvage a consolation win in the final match in Dharamsala, Bashir was retained as one of two spinners alongside slow left-armer Tom Hartley.

Ben Stokes doubts a late change will be necessary, even if two umpires stopping at the team hotel are also unwell. Illness to on-field official Joel Wilson and TV umpire Kumar Dharmasena might lead to fourth umpire Jayaraman Madanagopal being on standby for duties in the middle.

“I don’t think it’s anything to be too concerned about,” said the England captain, whose side trail 3-1 in the five-match series.

“The day before the game you don’t want to put anybody at risk so we’ve decided to keep them away from the team. It’s the sensible thing to do.

“When you’ve got so many people contained in the same space all the time you want to limit the chance of it spreading.

“It’s not a major issue, we just wanted to safeguard against anything spreading to someone else.”

Stokes has “not thought too far ahead” about contingencies, although England are down to two frontline spinners after electing against drafting in replacements when Jack Leach and Rehan Ahmed returned home.

With the picturesque HPCA Stadium situated in the foothills of the Himalayas, against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, conditions are cooler than those England have experienced on the tour thus far.

Even Stokes expected England would have to play three seamers and a lone spinner but an inspection of a wicket he described as an “absolute belter” for batting in the last day or two has prompted a rethink.

“Playing two seamers and still having Bash and Tom gives us a good mixture when you’re a little bit unsure of what it will do as the Test goes on,” said Stokes.

Stokes insisted the XI was not predicated on him bowling competitively for the first time since July. While Stokes had surgery on a longstanding left knee injury in November, his recovery went better than expected and he has hinted in recent weeks he could send down a few overs before the trip is over.

“If I do bowl any overs in this game it will again be a bonus, just like when we picked the team for the four games before this,” he said.

Stokes wanted Wood’s “pace and firepower to break the game open”, while the 41-year-old James Anderson will go in search of the two wickets he needs to become the first non-spinner to reach 700 Test dismissals.

“It’s phenomenal to think about, especially as a seam bowler,” said Stokes. “It’s been an amazing career to date and I can’t see him stopping.

“I have played with Jimmy for a long time and I’ve never seen him as physically fit as he is right now. Being 41, showing that hunger and desire to get better every single day is testament to his attitude and commitment.”

Stokes threw his backing behind Robinson, who is England’s only change from Ranchi after struggling with back issues that led to him being down on pace and sending down 13 wicketless overs last time out.

“Ollie did everything in his power to put in a match-winning performance last week and unfortunately not everything works out the way we want it to,” added Stokes.

“When you see someone putting in the hard work and showing that desire to not only be physically and mentally fit and something happens to them that is uncontrollable, you can’t really moan about it.”

Jonny Bairstow is set for his 100th Test appearance this week and ahead of training on Wednesday, the Yorkshireman plus Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Tom Hartley, Gus Atkinson, Dan Lawrence and some members of the backroom team visited the Dalai Lama at his residence in McLeod Ganj – 10km north of Dharamsala.

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