India ready for turner in Ranchi after Stokes questions pitch

Published February 23, 2024
ENGLAND head coach Brendon McCullum (second L) and captain Ben Stokes (third R) inspect the pitch during a practice session at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association Stadium on Thursday.—AFP
ENGLAND head coach Brendon McCullum (second L) and captain Ben Stokes (third R) inspect the pitch during a practice session at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association Stadium on Thursday.—AFP

RANCHI: India said on Thursday they are primed for whatever the pitch has in store for the fourth Test but expect it to favour spinners, after England captain Ben Stokes said he “had never seen anything like” the Ranchi wicket.

The Rohit Sharma-led hosts are looking to seal the series in the Test beginning at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association Stadium on Friday after hammering England by 434 runs to lead 2-1 with two matches to play.

England won the opener in Hyderabad by 28 runs on a turning track but lost the next two.

The surface at Ranchi appears to have deep cracks down one side but looks flat on the other and could spin sharply with variable bounce.

“It’s a typical Indian wicket, there are cracks, this wicket always had cracks,” batting coach Vikram Rathour said.

“It will turn, but how much it will turn and from when we are not sure. We have enough balance in our team to go whichever way we want to go.”

Stokes told British media late Wednesday: “I’ve never seen something like that before. I don’t know what could happen.”

On Thursday, Stokes said his “overall thinking and understanding” of the wicket had not changed but added that he was keeping an open mind.

“We get asked about the pitch and we give our opinion, but that doesn’t mean we are going in with too many preconceived ideas,” Stokes told reporters.

“The pitch could be as flat as a pancake, who knows? If it is, we will adapt to that.

“If it does more than we think it will, we will adapt to that as well. We won’t let those conversations seep into what we do.”

India’s lead off-spinner Ravichandran Ash­win and coach Rahul Dravid were at the ground Thursday and took a close look at the wicket.

India’s youngsters and new caps have stood out in the absence of Virat Kohli, who is missing the series for the birth of his second child, and the injured KL Rahul.

Opener Yashasvi Jaiswal, 22, hit an unbeaten 214 in the third Test — his second double century in consecutive matches. He also put on a destructive 172-run stand with debutant Sarfaraz Khan, who hit 68.

Rathour said the performance of the youngsters showed the ability of India’s robust domestic cricket to promote emerging talent.

“Once you get to this level and start playing Test cricket, everything said and done, there are nerves, there is some pressure, but if you get a good start, nothing better than that,” said Rathour.

“They have cricket intelligence in them, which is again a great sign. It’s a great message, coming from Indian domestic cricket, that the new players are cricket smart.”

ENGLAND BRING IN ROBINSON, BASHIR

Fast bowler Ollie Robinson was named in the England team for the fourth Test with spinner Shoaib Bashir also getting the nod.

Robinson, 30, last played for England in the third Ashes Test at Headingley in July, where he bowled just 11.2 overs before being sidelined for the remainder of the series with a back spasm.

He replaces Mark Wood, who has played in two of the India Tests, while Bashir comes in for Rehan Ahmed.

The 20-year-old Bashir made his Test debut in the second match against India at Visakhapatnam after missing the opener because of a visa delay.

Stokes wants rookie Bashir, a tall off-spinner, to utilise the spin-friendly conditions to his advantage.

“We do like to look at the pitch two days out and one day out because that’s how we like to pick our XIs,” said Stokes.

“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,” added Stokes.

All-rounder Stokes came into the series purely as a batsman after knee surgery last year but he bowled in the nets on Wednesday.

He was non-committal on Thursday about the chances of him bowling in Ranchi, saying “maybe, maybe not”.

Stokes was more effusive on the subject of pace spearhead James Anderson, who will play his second straight match after a break of just five days at the age of 41.

Anderson is four short of 700 Test wickets, but returned with just one wicket in the previous match.

“If you’re a young fast bowler, Jimmy Anderson is the one person who you want as your role model,” Stokes said of the man dubbed the “swing king” for his ability to seam the ball both ways.

“Not only the amount of wickets he’s got but the fact he can keep going at his age,” said Stokes, adding that Anderson was “raring to go and feeling as fresh as a fiddle”.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2024

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