Stokes can reprise the all-rounder role in the final two tests against India

By Real11 - Feb 20 2024 94 Views

Stokes considers return to bowling ahead of Ranchi Test

Brendon McCullum says he might have to desist England skipper Ben Stokes from bowling in the ongoing series with India but believes it is a “positive sign” the captain is open to the possibility of recapitulating the all rounder role in the last two tests. 

Following a knee operation on his left knee at the end of November, Stokes has been progressing his bowling throughout the tour. Having begun in Visakhapatnam ahead of the second match, he has intensified in Rajkover over the past week, and has been seen bowling at full rhythm. 

Stokes last shouldered the bowling responsibility during a competitive game in June while playing a test match against Australia at Lord’s, and was adamant he would not do so in that five match series after a “pinky promise” with his physiotherapist. But speaking following England’s colossal defeat in the third Test, Stokes reopened the door once he had closed, considering the progress he has made with time. "a lot faster than I thought [it] would". He even felt he could have bowled in the third Test. 

"I'm not saying yes, I'm not saying no," he answered, when asked about bowling in the remaining two tests. "Me being me, I'm always very optimistic about most things. That will be a more detailed chat with the medical team about what workload I have done to pass me off as not being a massive risk.

"I managed to bowl at 100% in one of the warm-up days here which made me feel pretty good. I felt like I could have bowled in the game but that would have been stupid."

McCullum was thrilled with Stokes’ optimism. And while admitting Stokes would not do anything extreme, there was a respect and recognition that he, as head coach, had a duty to make sure his skipper did not do something drastic or unnecessarily push himself.

Well, it's good that he's actually getting into a state where he thinks he might bowl," McCullum said. "But Ben is clever; he's really clever as well. He won't bowl unless he thinks he's legitimately able to bowl. The problem would be if he starts getting into a spell and then he can't get out of the spell. So we'll see what unfolds.

"If he does get that bit between his teeth, then let's see where the danger lies there and try and pull him away from it. But it's a good sign."

Stokes return as an all rounder would significantly improve the balance of the XI. Having functioned with a sole pacer for the opening two tests, along with four spinners- including Joe Root- England dropped Shaib Bashir in order to include both James Anderson and Mark Wood for the third test. 

The pace duo of Wood and Anderson did well in the first innings, with Wood picking four of the five wickets between them. But they went wicketless during the second and looked jaded during their combined 23 overs. It meant an inexperienced spin attack was exposed as India piled on the runs to give England a mammoth target of 557.  

With the fourth test commencing on Friday, Anderson and Wood will only have four days to recover. And while the England coach said England will see how they are, at least one is likely to miss out with Ollie Robinson expected to come in ahead of Gut Atkinson. If Stokes gets a green light on bowling again, it could give England the luxury to recall Bashir and operate with two seamers and four spinners. It would also give Stokes the opportunity to follow his 100th Test cap with a landmark of 200 wickets. He is currently on 197. 

Wickets were shared around in the previous Ranchi test back in 2019 where India defeated South Africa by an innings and 202 runs. England will only make selection calls only after their first look at the surface on Wednesday when they first train at the JSCA International Stadium, and could name the XI a day before the start of the match. 

"We've got two really good options on the sideline as well with Ollie Robinson and Gus Atkinson," McCullum said. "So we've got a really good squad to pick from. We just need to work out when we get there what conditions we're going to be confronted with and see the health of the army, and then make a decision on what we go with.

"Obviously we haven't seen the conditions in Ranchi yet. I think it might spin. I guess it should spin but we'll see when we get there. But, look, we're really comfortable with what we've got and we're certainly not going to add to the squad.

"We've got a group of players here who have played some outstanding cricket so far over the last three Test matches and whatever XI we decide to go with we will fully back. Hopefully we'll be in a different situation to what we're in now."

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