England to fight fire with fire in all-out attack on extreme Indian pitch

Groundstaff prepare the pitch - England to fight fire with fire in all-out attack on extreme Indian pitch
The tourists will have to deal with a ‘cracked’ pitch in Ranchi - Getty Images/Gareth Copley

England will respond to a “cracked, crumbly and crusted” pitch and the most extreme spinning conditions they have encountered in India so far with a policy of all-out attack as they look to set up a decider in Dharamshala.

England arrived at the ground in Ranchi ahead of the fourth Test to discover a pitch with “a lot of cracks”, and expect a short match characterised by extreme spinning conditions.

Ranchi pitch
The pitch in Ranchi does not look like it will be much fun for batting - X/@cameronponsonby

They are mulling two changes to their team, with Ollie Robinson likely to come in alongside one of Dan Lawrence – who would deepen the batting while offering part-time spin – or spinner Shoaib Bashir.

After a heavy workload in the thumping defeat in Rajkot, James Anderson and Mark Wood look set to drop out, but no decision will be taken until they have looked at the pitch once more on the eve of the game.

Sources have indicated that Lawrence is the favourite to make the side, for the first time under Ben Stokes’s captaincy.

They have, however, been boosted by the sight of Stokes coming through a 35-minute spell of bowling as he prepared to return to all-rounder status for the first time since the second Ashes Test in June.

Ben Stokes - England to fight fire with fire in all-out attack on extreme Indian pitch
Ben Stokes is still recovering after knee surgery but is keeping options open after a heavy defeat in the third Test - Getty Images/Gareth Copley

Stokes said he had “never seen something like” the pitch in Ranchi, which his vice-captain Ollie Pope described as “interesting”.

“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,” Stokes said.

Pope added: “There’s a lot of cracks, it’s very platey, and they’ve just watered it as well, which generally dries it up. If you wet it and leave it in the sun, we have found it has crusted that top layer. It doesn’t necessarily look like a belting wicket [for batting] at the moment. It looks like one half is good and then there’s a lot of platey cracks [cracks around plate-shaped areas]. That’s how we see it at the minute. I think we will see what happens tomorrow after the Indian team has looked at the wicket, then make a decision from there.

“At the minute, it looks like batting from one end, it [the cracked area] is outside the right-hander’s off-stump and then from the other end, the left-hander’s off-stump. At the minute, it just looks like it’s down the wicket, it’s kind of plated on one side and then the other side looks like a pretty good wicket.”

India are without Jasprit Bumrah, the world’s best fast bowler, which may have led them to switch strategy from good batting surfaces in Vizag and Rajkot to a turning track with England one defeat from losing the series.

Pope said that the “template” for England on a spinning pitch would be the second innings in the first Test in Hyderabad, when he made 196 and the team pulled off a stunning turnaround.

“Your best bet is trying to hit the bowler off his length and try and get him to not bowl where he wants to bowl every ball,” he said. “So personally, I think it helps if you try and put a little more pressure on the bowler and similar to that first Test there might be more sweeping and more positive shots.

“If it is spinning more, you’re probably going to see more sweep shots, more innovative shots. We realise the threats they pose on a spinning wicket, our best way of putting them under pressure is being more positive, like we were in that second innings in Hyderabad. That can give us a large amount of confidence going forward into this Test if it does end up spinning a lot like it did then.”

Asked if the spinning pitch brought England into it more, Pope said: “Yes, I think so, and I think it takes the toss a little bit out of it as well.

“If it does spin from ball one, I guess it’s an even playing field. But if that pitch does a fair bit, like we expect it to having looked at it today, it definitely brings us into the game.”

Stokes bowled at batsmen in the nets – rather than just a set of stumps – for the first time since knee surgery in November and said he would decide if he could bowl in the match based on how he felt physically on Thursday. Describing himself as pain-free, he held long conversations with coach Brendon McCullum, doctor Glen Rae and physiotherapist Ben Davies as he plotted a return to bowling that he had ruled out only recently.

“I’m quite far ahead [of schedule],” he said. “It was a 35-minute bowl today and that is the longest I have bowled in six months, so let’s see how everything pulls up.

“My knee itself was absolutely fine today bowling. It was just good to push past that 20-minute barrier, which is what I’ve been working around at the moment.”