Ben Stokes the all-rounder ready to deliver finale against India that England were denied in Ashes

Ben Stokes at England training
England fans could see Ben Stokes bat and bowl in the must-win fourth Test - Getty Images/Philip Brown

The Manchester rain ruined a once-in-a-lifetime, winner-takes-all Ashes contest at the Oval last summer but England have the chance to set up a blockbuster finish for this series with India.

Rain should not be an issue in Ranchi, where an England win will provide a decider at the world’s most picturesque cricket ground in the Himalayan hill town of Dharamsala in a fortnight’s time.

It is into this scenario that Ben Stokes the all-rounder steps. He was coy on whether he would bowl in the fourth Test but he went through a 35-minute spell in the nets on Tuesday, complete with Joe Root checking his front foot for no balls, and is at least two weeks ahead of schedule with his recovery from knee surgery.

Ben Stokes bowls for 35 minutes in the nets
Stokes had no pain in his knee after bowling in the nets - Getty Images/Gareth Copley

With his team 2-1 down, the captain is ready to fully lead from the front again despite a week ago “pinky” promising the physio he would not bowl. Only Stokes will make that decision – the coach is possibly the only person in the group who could say no to him – and he seems ready to go, saying he had no pain in his knee bowling for the first time in years. It will lift the whole team to see the captain fully back in harness if it happens. But before he picks up a bat or ball it would be very handy to win the toss on a pitch England suspect will rag square very quickly.

Stokes spent a long time gazing at the surface after England’s first net session and the verdict was it would start as a day-two surface, taking spin from the first over. It is odd, because India have beaten England on two very good batting pitches that expose their young spinners, who need turn to be effective. Look at how Tom Hartley took seven wickets in Hyderabad.

By resting Jasprit Bumrah, India signalled their intentions with this surface and England may well fancy a low-scoring fist fight that suits a team we can now see is ill-suited to playing the long game on slow Asian pitches.

This is the third Test to be played at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association International Stadium and England’s first. Root is the only one to have played international cricket here before, the first one-dayer at the ground 11 years ago, and with so little historical data to go on it will be essential the management read conditions and pick the right team.

Groundstaff prepare the pitch at JSCA International Stadium
Groundstaff prepare the pitch at JSCA International Stadium - Getty Images/Gareth Copley

“If it does spin from ball one I guess it’s an even playing field,” Ollie Pope, the England vice-captain, said. “We won the first Test after winning the toss and they’ve won the last two after batting first. Look, it doesn’t define the result, but it does give you an advantage if you win the toss and bat on the slightly flatter wickets. But if it [the pitch] does a fair bit like we expect it to, it definitely brings us into the game.”

Ranchi is a city benefitting from investment from the Indian government but was a cricketing backwater until MS Dhoni’s rise to the top of the world game. This is his home town and the pavilion named after him dwarfs the rest of this attractive ground, which boasts large practice facilities, both indoor and outdoor, and holds just under 40,000 fans with grassy banks square of the wicket on both sides.

The city has long historical links with the United Kingdom. General Slim’s army in the Second World War did its jungle training in Ranchi for the Burma campaign – there is a Commonwealth War Graves site here – and it remains a garrison town to this day.

It is perhaps a fitting place, then, for a rearguard by England; a team who have a habit of responding to heavy defeats with a win – a knack that pre-dates Stokes as captain.

Stokes insists the Bazballers treat victory and defeat in the same manner and Brendon McCullum’s phrase – “be where your feet are” – is a reminder to the players to concentrate on the here and now.

After England’s heaviest defeat since 1934, it would be easy for heads to drop and some to yearn for home after nearly five weeks in India, but there was a vibrancy to England’s practice on Tuesday. At least outwardly, there is no sense they are on a downward spiral, despite the criticism after the Rajkot meltdown, with Bazball in the dock following back-to-back defeats for the first time.

“It’s what we’re good at, taking every game as it comes,” Stokes said. “That’s what we have done ever since I started as captain. You will have good days and bad days, good games and bad games. Going out there and sticking to the way that we know allows us to play our best cricket is what we constantly focus on.”

Ollie Robinson is almost certain to play, the first cricket for him since limping out of the Headingley Ashes Test in June. Robinson, with his height, hitting the seam on a cracked pitch will be dangerous. He is fresh, too, and a beaten team always need an injection of something new.

“He has worked incredibly hard while he has been out here and it is tough for someone like Ollie who’s played such a big part in the game over the last two years to not take part in a game, but the stuff he has done away from the games has been very good,” said Stokes, who has taken a personal interest over the past two years in cajoling the best out of Robinson. “I told him today he has been a great example of doing the right things and waiting for your turn if it comes.”

At 2-1 down, England need Robinson to make an instant impression. Time is running out on this tour.