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Ben Stokes’ desperate last-ditch move to end England’s woes as all-rounder considers ending 8-month long hiatus

England could sink to their first series defeat since Ben Stokes took over as captain if they lose the upcoming fourth Test against India in Ranchi.

England have squandered a 1-0 lead in their ongoing five-match Test series in India after losing the second and third Tests. While the second Test in Visakhapatnam was a thriller and England were lauded for the way they fought, the visitors have copped a lot of criticism for the way they capitulated in the third. England lost the match in Rajkot by 434 runs, the highest margin of victory by runs for India in their Test history.

Ben Stokes has not bowled since June last year(REUTERS)

A defeat in the fourth Test in Ranchi would confirm a series victory for India and it looks like England captain Ben Stokes is ready to go pull out all stops to ensure his team stay in the series, even if that means an ahead-of-schedule return to bowling.

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“I’m not saying yes, I’m not saying no. 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,” Stokes said about bowling in the fourth Test. The 32-year-old is recovering from a knee surgery and had earlier said that he had made a “pinky-promise” to his physiotherapist that he would not bowl through this series. However, Stokes said that progress on his return to bowling full-time in Test matches has been “a lot faster than I thought (it) would”.

During the Rajkot Test, Stokes had even trained at 100 per cent intensity and conceded that he felt pretty good. “I managed to bowl at 100 per cent 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.”

Stokes being able to bowl will be a huge positive for England’s balance in their bowling lineup. The visitors came in with a spin attack woefully lacking in experience. While Tom Hartley, Rehan Ahmed and Shoaib Bashir ended up matching the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja almost toe to toe, even surpassing them, in the first two Tests, they were largely taken to the cleaners in the third. Moreover, England have also needed to drop one of their spinners when they needed to bring in a second pacer, leaving out Bashir to play both Mark Wood and James Anderson in Rajkot.

Head coach Brendon McCullum said that he is confident Stokes won’t do it unless he really thinks he is ready. However, the former New Zealand captain said that Stokes even talking about returning to bowling is good news. “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,” said McCullum.


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