Ollie Robinson in line for recall as England weigh up bowling balance


England are considering turning back to their one specialist quick approach for the must-win fourth Test in Ranchi, with Ollie Robinson set to make his first appearance of the tour. And they could also be boosted by Ben Stokes returning to his role as a seam-bowling allrounder.

The tourists are yet to make a concrete decision on the exact make-up of their bowling line-up, but are leaning heavily towards the balance they struck in the first two Tests, where Mark Wood, then James Anderson, operated independently alongside three spinners, and Joe Root. Anderson and Wood then lined up alongside one another for the third Test, which India won by 434 runs to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

After the pair sent down 76 overs between them and fielded on each of the four days in Ranchi, Robinson is expected to return to offer some fresh legs, with Wood likely to be rested. It then leaves Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum with a decision to make on whether to recall off-spinner Shoaib Bashir for Anderson or stick with the veteran seamer, who has six wickets at 35.83 in his two appearances to date.

Robinson’s previous Test appearance came against Australia at Headingley in July, which was also his last competitive match. Despite underwhelming in the Ashes, he still has 76 wickets at 22.21 in 19 caps, and can lean on his experience in Pakistan last winter when he managed nine dismissals at 21.22, with an economy rate of 2.47 on broadly unhelpful surfaces.

The shift back to a spin-dominant attack has come after a first sight of the pitch at the JSCA International Stadium. Two days out from the start of the Test. England were surprised by the extent of the cracks already, and anticipate plenty of turn from the start of the match, with variable bounce to come into play sooner rather than later.

“There’s a lot of cracks,” Ollie Pope, England’s vice-captain, said. “It’s very platey, and they’ve just wetted it as well, which generally dries it up. It doesn’t necessarily look like a belting wicket at the moment. It kind of looks like one half is good, and then there are a lot of platey cracks. 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 the far end, it’s outside the right-hander’s off stump and then from this end, the left-hander’s off-stump. 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.

Should Stokes be available to bowl, he could operate as a second seamer. Thus making England’s decision to recall Bashir that much easier, giving them the best of both worlds.

After opening up the possibility of bowling again in the remainder of the series, the England captain used Wednesday’s first training session in Ranchi to bowl at batters for the first time since his left knee surgery in November. His session was a long stint, and was almost exclusively against Jonny Bairstow, with the help of England men’s selector Luke Wright standing as the umpire to keep an eye on his front foot. He looked strong throughout and, once finished, had a debrief with England team physician Glen Rae.

Stokes, with 197 wickets at 32.07, last bowled competitively in June, during the second Ashes Test at Lord’s. Having made a “pinky-promise” to team physio Ben Davies that he would not bowl in India, he could be about to break that.

“There’s definitely a chance,” Pope said on the prospect of Stokes bowling this week. “He’s not confirmed it even in the changing-room, so we will see. He bowled at the batters today. We’ll see how he pulls up, and if that’s good hopefully we will see him with the ball in hand in the game.”

Speaking on Monday, McCullum said it would be his job to hold Stokes back if he felt he was trying to progress too quickly. Similarly, Pope, as Stokes’ deputy, appreciates he will have the unenviable task of keeping Stokes in check while on the field.

“I think when he’s going it’s pretty tough to get the ball out of his hand, to be honest. But I’ll chat to him before the game, see if he wants anything like that from me. If he’s got full confidence in his knee, I guess you’ve got to trust the medical advice and trust his opinions as well. That’s the main thing and if he needs a bit of guidance on the pitch, then I can be someone to lean on.”

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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