Ben Stokes takes wicket with first ball since surgery but India remain in charge

By Sports Desk March 08, 2024

Ben Stokes bagged a wicket with his first competitive delivery since surgery on his knee last year although England remain behind the eight-ball in Dharamsala.

England’s prospects were growing increasingly bleak after centuries from India pair Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill on the second morning of the fifth Test but Stokes stepped up in jaw-dropping fashion.

Having teased a return to bowling for the past few weeks, the England captain showed he was worth the wait by beating the outside edge of a flat-footed Rohit and clipping the top of off-stump, sending his opposite number back in the second over after lunch for 103.

James Anderson moved to Test wicket 699 by castling Shubman Gill through the gate for 110 but India remain firmly in charge after going to tea on 376 for three, putting them 158 ahead of their opponents.

Sarfaraz Khan was unbeaten on 56 off just 59 balls, while Devdutt Padikkal ended the session on 44 not out as England’s hopes of a consolation victory at the end of the series continue to recede.

Stokes, though, provided the magic moment 251 days since he last bowled on July 1. He has been used exclusively as a batter since then and went under the knife in November to remove a bone spur and have his meniscus reinforced with stitches to try to resolve a longstanding complaint in his left knee.

He had made a “pinky promise” with England’s physiotherapist Ben Davies not to bowl on this tour but he has progressed well enough in his recovery and been operating at full tilt in practice sessions.

Even in a career full of highlight-reel moments, this was still scarcely credible from Stokes. England barely had a sniff as Rohit and Gill put on 171 and the pair each went past three figures to carry to an imposing 275 for one in response to England’s 218.

There was no loosener from Stokes, whose angled first delivery held its line and beat Rohit’s tentative push before disturbing the stumps. Stokes barely acknowledged what he had done but Mark Wood had his hands on his head in disbelief, while Brendon McCullum cupped his hand to his mouth on the sidelines.

Anderson found a hint of reverse swing to send back Gill eight balls later and England sensed an opening. However, Stokes was frustrated at being unable to hang on to a low return catch diving forward when Sarfaraz was on two and while it was a no-ball, it was a let-off for the batter.

Stokes sent down a tidy spell of 5-1-17-1 as Sarfaraz and Test debutant Padikkal started cautiously. Sarfaraz took just nine off his first 30 balls, kept quiet by Stokes and initially Wood, before exploding with a rash of boundaries to bring up his fifty off only 55 deliveries.

Padikkal was a useful foil as their partnership advanced to an unbroken 97 in just 131 balls as India ended the session firmly in command.

England’s batting collapse on day one left them needing wickets on the second morning but India advanced an overnight 135 for one to 264 without further loss in the opening session, with both Rohit and Gill imperious.

Rohit offered the merest of chances on 68 after glancing Shoaib Bashir off his hip but Zak Crawley, perhaps unsighted at leg slip, was too late to get in position as the ball flicked off his fingertips and away.

England were unable to exert much control, with Gill disdainfully thrashing Anderson back over his head for six before carting Bashir twice over the rope. Rohit was the first to his century off 154 balls while Gill did so in the next over, off 137 deliveries, with a slog sweep for four off Bashir.

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