Ben Stokes considering all-rounder role on ‘interesting’ fourth Test pitch

<span>Ben Stokes bowls in the nets in Ranchi, the first time on tour he has had batters at the other end.</span><span>Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images</span>
Ben Stokes bowls in the nets in Ranchi, the first time on tour he has had batters at the other end.Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Ben Stokes is considering playing as an all-rounder in the fourth Test against India and on a pitch the ­England captain described pointedly as “interesting”.

Two days before a must‑win Test for the tourists at 2-1 down, Stokes bowled heavily in training. A 20‑­minute spell on the outfield was followed by 35 minutes against Jonny Bairstow in the nets – his first time to a batter since the Ashes last summer.

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Having previously given the ­England physio Ben Davies a “pinky promise” he would not bowl in the series after knee surgery last November, Stokes may be about to break this in response to a dry pitch that is being tipped to spin sharply from the outset. England certainly believe so, Stokes noting a lot of early cracks and “crumbly” top soil.

This could lead to Ollie Robinson featuring as the solitary frontline seamer – his first outing since the Headingley Test last year – with the spinner Shoaib Bashir the other to replace the rested Mark Wood and Jimmy Anderson. If a truly rapid Test is deemed to be on the cards, an alternative would be to draft in Dan Lawrence and pack the batting.

Asked what he thought of the pitch, Stokes replied “interesting” before being pressed further. “It just looked interesting didn’t it? I dunno. I can’t say too much. I’ve never seen something like that before so I have no idea – I don’t know what could happen.

It looked green and grassy from the changing rooms but then you go out there it looked different: very dark and crumbly and quite a few cracks in it.”

If so it would be a change of style to the first three Tests, where batting surfaces were preferred by the hosts; ones that offered a touch of ­movement on the first morning of each match through the early moisture but then stayed true until much later in the contest.

England noted that more cracks sat on one side of the surface in Ranchi, possibly aiding the different angles of attack from India’s varied spin attack. The ground staff watered the pitch on Wednesday before covering it - a common move to stop further deterioration.

Stokes was coy about stepping up his workloads with the ball in training but said he was “two weeks” ahead of a 12- to 14‑week rehabilitation period. The 32-year-old, who sits three ­wickets away from 200 in Tests, has not bowled since the ­second Ashes Test at Lord’s because of a torn meniscus and bone spurs in his left knee .

It was notable that Joe Root was checking Stokes’s front foot for possible no-balls in the nets. This was an issue after the all-rounder’s pre­vious extended period without bowling – the break for mental health reasons in 2021 – when he bowled David Warner on the opening day of the Ashes in Australia, only to see it scrubbed off for over-stepping.

The session was followed by discussions with Davies, the England physio, and Glen Rae, the team doctor for the second half of this tour. Stokes was nodding positively during the conversation, saying later that the knee felt fine. But given the additional stress on the rest of his body, he still needed to see how everything would respond overnight.

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Asked how he would make up for breaking his promise to Davies, Stokes replied: “I dunno, I’ll buy him a beer or something.”

India meanwhile were ­reportedly considering a Test debut for the seamer Akash Deep with Jasprit Bumrah, the ­leading wicket-taker in the series, being rested for this fourth Test.

This may suggest England are overthinking the pitch although, given the hosts have Ravindra Jadeja, ­Ravichandran ­Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav in their side already, their spin options are plentiful regardless of what transpires.