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    Ben Stokes is not bothered by the criticism he received for playing Bazball, as England prepares to play again
Ben Stokes is not bothered by the criticism he received for playing Bazball, as England prepares to play again
Jonny Bairstow, Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes via Getty Images

Ben Stokes is not bothered by the criticism he received for playing Bazball, as England prepares to play again

Supports Robinson for his first outing of the series on an 'interesting' surface in Ranchi.

Ben Stokes gave a diplomatic answer when asked about the pitches in India.

England had made a conscious effort not to complain about the pitches before the tour, as curating a surface on their own terms was India's prerogative. Complaining about them would make England seem like sore losers and create paranoia within their own ranks. The internal messaging was straightforward: handle the situation. The preparation in Abu Dhabi, on raked, sand-laced strips, was done with this in mind.

They have mostly adhered to this approach - aside from DRS complaints, of course. The pitches at Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, and Rajkot have been consistently excellent, evolving to provide variety and, ultimately, rewarding quality. And, as evidenced by the 2-1 scoreline, India have been the superior team thus far.

Things are about to change at Ranchi. The visiting team arrived at the JSCA International Stadium to find an unusual 22-yard strip. The pitch was already cracked two days before the Friday start, and some players expect the plates to shift under pressure.

England suspected that these conditions would be the most unusual of the series when it was announced that Jasprit Bumrah would be rested for the fourth Test. Bumrah has taken 17 wickets at an average of 13.64 in a variety of situations and deliveries, and India won't mind if there's more on offer for their spinners in his absence, particularly with a 2-1 lead.

England must grin and bear it. As vice-captain Ollie Pope observed, if it's spin from the first ball, it's probably an even playing field.

Stokes is considering whether to revert to the spin-heavy attack of the first two Tests. He will wait for one final look on Thursday before deciding whether to bring in off-spinner Shoaib Bashir for James Anderson. Alternatively, if England anticipates a short match dominated by the need for fast scoring in turning conditions, they could reinforce the batting with Dan Lawrence stepping in for Anderson. Although he has not yet played a Test under Stokes, the England management has long appreciated his positive approach. Additionally, his idiosyncratic off-spin has been known to extract sharp turn.

At this juncture, it is certain that Ollie Robinson will replace Mark Wood, who expended plenty of energy during the defeat in the third Test and needs a rest.

Robinson has had an intriguing tour, spending most of it in the shadows after being one of the main protagonists in his last series. He was limited to just 11.2 overs in the first innings before a back spasm ruled him out of the rest of the series in the third Ashes Test at Headingley. Up to that point, he had been Australia's main antagonist, aggravating many off the field. However, on the field, he had a modest impact, taking just nine wickets at an average of 28.40.

The six months between the last of those 19 Test caps and the build-up to this tour have been spent wisely. He reduced his 2km time by 20 seconds during a fitness program, which has made him appear leaner and better prepared for the demanding work that India requires from seamers.

This is a crucial moment for Robinson, who has faced criticism for his fitness from former bowling coach Jon Lewis during the 2021/22 Ashes, was left out by Stokes for the first series in the 2022 summer against New Zealand, and was advised by his captain to improve. Despite a challenging two years, Robinson, a skilled cricketer with 76 career dismissals at an average of 22.21, has the chance to make an impact in a high-profile series. This Test is crucial for the 30-year-old as it will be his first in India.

Robinson has been fully engaged while on the periphery of this series. His partner, Mia Baker, is unavailable for the duration of the tour, and the pair have recorded a few episodes of their podcast, 'Chatting Balls', and played a few rounds of golf during their downtime.

Robinson has maintained a high level in the nets, displaying skills that worked well in Pakistan last winter on similar decks that are not seam-friendly. This has not gone unnoticed.

Stokes did not provide any definitive statements on selection until he had one last look at the pitch on Thursday afternoon. This included being coy about his participation as an all-rounder.

During Wednesday's training session, he bowled at Jonny Bairstow for 35 minutes, marking the first time he had bowled at a batter since undergoing surgery on his left knee in November. Stokes may need to make amends with touring physio Ben Davies for potentially breaking their agreement not to bowl in India. He plans to assess his physical condition after his longest bowling session during his rehabilitation before making any decisions.

As a team, the focus is on emotional recovery after the 434-run loss in Rajkot. This defeat was one of the most disappointing of the Bazball era, which has seen only six losses compared to 14 wins in 21 Tests. Unfortunately, this loss led to a significant backlash against the new movement. When asked if he was surprised by the reaction, Stokes replied, 'No, it's a sport, isn't it?

After the loss, he gathered the players in the away dressing room and cautioned them about criticism from outside their circle of trust. He also emphasized the importance of moving on from the defeat as soon as possible. But he accepts that individuals will have their own thoughts on what went wrong, which he sees as a positive.

This group has demonstrated an ability to reverse their fortunes. After suffering an opening defeat by an innings at Lord's in the South Africa series two summers ago, they bounced back with two dominant wins. Similarly, they were facing a 2-0 deficit to Australia last summer, with the team's ethos under immense strain, but they managed to turn things around in spectacular fashion to tie the Ashes. Stokes attributes the positive atmosphere to maintaining a consistent and level-headed approach, which he plans to carry into the upcoming match. This match will determine whether England can avoid a third consecutive winless series.


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