Tall order – England opt for height in attack for fourth Test against India

By Sports Desk February 22, 2024

England have put an emphasis on height in selecting seamer Ollie Robinson and off-spinner Shoaib Bashir for the fourth Test against India on a pitch expected to offer turn and variable bounce.

The surface in Ranchi was described on Wednesday by Ben Stokes as “like nothing I’ve ever seen before” 48 hours before the start of the Test, with cracks running down one side of the cut strip.

After a second inspection on Thursday alongside head coach Brendon McCullum and selector Luke Wright, England captain Stokes elected to keep faith with two seamers as Robinson partners James Anderson.

Robinson and Bashir are both well over 6ft and the bounce they can extract has earned them the nod over skiddier pair Mark Wood and Rehan Ahmed as England look to hit back from a heavy defeat in Rajkot.

“We get asked about the pitch and we give our opinion but that doesn’t mean we are going in with too many preconceived ideas,” Stokes said. “The pitch could be as flat as a pancake, who knows?

“If it is, we will adapt to that. We do like to look at the pitch two days out and one day out, because that’s how we like to pick our XIs. Looking at that, I think there is going to be assistance for spin.

“But I think also it looks like someone like Bash, who releases the ball from such a high release point, the extra bounce that he gets we feel is going to bring us more into the game.

“I also feel having two seamers gives us a good chance purely because of Ollie Robinson’s release height and his relentlessness with his areas.”

The selection of Robinson, who has not played competitively since the third Ashes Test in July, and evergreen Anderson may lessen the need for Stokes to resume his career as a fully-fledged all-rounder.

Despite reporting no soreness after a 35-minute spell of bowling full tilt on Wednesday, Stokes was coy about if he would give his side, trailing 2-1 in the five-match series, another seam option.

“I’ve pulled up really well,” Stokes told the BBC. “It’s another step forward for me in terms of the ball. As keen as I am to get there, I do have to be very sensible about it.”

Bashir took four wickets in his debut for England in the second Test in Visakhapatnam before bring dropped in Rajkot but he partners slow left-armer Tom Hartley as the tourists’ two main spinners.

That means no room for Ahmed, who played in the first three Tests and took 11 wickets at an average of 44, although Stokes insisted the young leg-spinner’s absence was no reflection on how he has performed.

“He’s gone out and tried everything that we’ve asked of him,” Stokes said. “The way in which he has taken the game on with the ball is something I’ve been very, very impressed with.

“I think he’ll take a lot of learnings out of these three games, which will only progress his career, rather than not being the person who bowled in that situation, if that makes sense.”

Despite bowling 38 overs in the 434-run loss in Rajkot and just four days’ rest between the end of the third Test and start of the fourth, Anderson retains his spot.

Anderson needs just four more wickets to become the first fast bowler in history to reach 700 in Tests and Stokes marvelled at the 41-year-old’s professionalism and longevity.

“If you’re a young fast bowler, Jimmy Anderson is the one person who you want as your role model,” Stokes added. “Not only the amount of wickets he’s got but the fact he can keep going at his age.

“Even saying approaching 700 Test wickets as a fast bowler is incredible. He’ll know that but I don’t think that will be at the top of his mind for this week, just because of where we’re at in the series.”

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