England turn to height with Ollie Robinson and Shoaib Bashir recall for fourth Test vs India

England recall Ollie Robinson and Shoaib Bashir for fourth Test against India
Ollie Robinson will make his first appearance of the series - Getty Images/Gareth Copley

England have brought seamer Ollie Robinson and spinner Shoaib Bashir into their XI for Friday’s fourth Test against India in the hope that their height will exploit a pitch expected to take turn and bounce unevenly in Ranchi.

Having taken a second look at the pitch, which Ben Stokes described as “interesting” and “like nothing I’ve ever seen before” on Wednesday, England made just two changes from the team drubbed in Rajkot on Sunday.

That means James Anderson, 41, plays his third Test in a row despite a heavy workload of 38 overs and on the back of just four days’ rest. Anderson is nearing his 700th Test wicket.

Robinson and Bashir come in for Mark Wood and Rehan Ahmed on a pitch that England expect to spin. They resisted the temptation to deepen their batting on a spinning pitch by selecting Dan Lawrence as an all-rounder, while captain Stokes would not be drawn on whether he will bowl in the Test. Stokes bowled for 35 minutes in the nets on Wednesday and could bowl for the first time in a match since June.

“Yesterday was a good day,” he said. “I’ve pulled up really well. 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.”

Robinson has not bowled in a match for almost as long as Stokes. He last played cricket in the third Ashes Test in early July and comes in for Wood, in part because he is taller, and in part because of the 38 overs bowled by the Durham man in Rajkot.

“Bringing Robbo in gives us good options, especially looking at this wicket,” Stokes said. “I feel like spin will be assisted but 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.

“I’m really excited for him to get his go. He’s been an incredible professional the way in which he’s operated. Not playing the first three games is extremely disappointing, especially for someone who has played such a vital role over the past two years. The way he kept everything going through the obvious disappointment of not playing is a great way to operate. Now the chance is here. He has done everything he has needed to and I’m really looking forward to seeing him out on the park again.”

‘Jimmy is an unbelievable role model to all young kids’

Bashir is selected alongside Tom Hartley, another tall spinner. Bashir made his debut in the second-Test defeat in Vizag, putting a modest record in his brief first-class career behind him to bowl with good control, picking up four wickets. Leg- spinner Ahmed is rotated out, having played all three games on the tour so far.

“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,” Stokes said.

“You look at what Bash has had to go through with the visa situation and everything like that, I think he’s handled this whole tour very well. He’s someone a lot older than what he is. Obviously missing out on games is really disappointing. But again, when we keep the selection process consistent as we do and actually give pretty in-detail reasons as to why, it was understandable to Rehan as to why we’ve gone with that option.

“In the three games that he’s played, he’s gone out and tried everything that we’ve asked of him, as to why he’s been in the team. I think any other team, he’s batting higher than No 8 and I think the way in which he has taken the game on with the ball is something I’ve been very impressed with.”

Stokes reserved special praise for Anderson.

“If you’re a young fast bowler, Jimmy Anderson is the one person who you want as your role model,” he said. “Not only the amount of wickets he’s got but the fact he can keep going at his age. Backing a very high-workload Test match to five days being fit and raring to go and feeling as fresh as a fiddle. Jimmy’s wickets, his longevity and his age, he’s an unbelievable role model to all young kids out there who want to be a fast bowler when they grow up.”

England team for fourth Test

Ben Duckett
Zak Crawley
Ollie Pope
Joe Root
Jonny Bairstow
Ben Stokes (c)
Ben Foakes (wk)
Tom Hartley
Ollie Robinson
James Anderson
Shoaib Bashir

Analysis: England gamble on height

On Wednesday, England appeared a team taken aback by their first look at the pitch in Ranchi.

They were presented with a surface like none captain Ben Stokes, a veteran of 100 Tests, had ever seen before. The words that Stokes and his vice-captain Ollie Pope used included “cracked”, “crumbly”, “crusted” and “dark”. Behind the scenes, there was talk of a three-day Test, with the ball to turn sharply in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah, India’s premier quick.

England sounded a little spooked, and as if they might be about to get funky with their team. Could Dan Lawrence be brought in to bolster the batting and add another Joe Root-level spin option (a role he fulfilled at the fag end of the last tour of India, when England’s selection was a total mess)? Could Ollie Robinson play as the sole seamer, with Stokes possibly busting a gut to help him, on the road back from injury?

These were ideas not without merit, but would have told a story of a team seeing ghosts and getting too cute and, under Stokes and Brendon McCullum, that has not really been their way. They have read pitches better than previous regimes, kept things simple, and been fiercely loyal selectors.

And so, after a night’s sleep, another look at the pitch (much the same as first impression, Stokes said), and a check-in on everyone’s readiness to play, they kept it simple again. They stuck with the same top seven, then picked the two seamers they felt would have the most impact (Robinson and James Anderson) and the two spinners they felt would have the most impact (Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir) meaning Rehan Ahmed missed out.

The surprise was that Anderson, their greatest-ever seamer, was fit to play, even at 41, even after a heavy workload and a short turnaround. That meant they could see any overs Stokes might feel compelled to bowl as a bonus, rather than getting too clever.

Anderson is the odd one out in the attack they selected, because his height is not a core characteristic of his bowling. Anderson is taller than people realise, at 6ft 2in, with many surprised by his height when they meet him. He puts that surprise down to the many hours he has spent standing next to 6ft 6in Stuart Broad across his career.

Robinson, Hartley and Bashir are all tall, with high release points. England hope that plopping the ball down from a great height will bring variable bounce into play, and catch India’s batsmen out. They hope that as the game wears on, the rough pitch means the ball scoots through or shoots up. The two men who missed out – Mark Wood and Ahmed – are markedly smaller.

For all the concerns about how many runs they might be able to scramble on a spinning pitch, Stokes knows they cannot level the series without taking 20 wickets. Last week, they managed just 14, and two of those were run-outs. They are banking on height to break the game open.