Ranchi pitch forces England to reconsider plans for fourth Test against India

Visitors bring in Ollie Robinson and Shoaib Bashir, while hosts also make changes

The England team inspect the pitch at the JSCA Stadium in Ranchi ahead of the fourth Test against India. AFP
Powered by automated translation

The fourth Test between India and England, which begins in the eastern city of Ranchi on Friday, is posing unique challenges for both teams with anticipation of quick and early turn for spinners.

The pitch at the JSCA Stadium has raised eyebrows, with one end of the playing surface sporting an unusual number of cracks. That will be a departure from the relatively flatter wickets seen earlier in the Test series.

Whether the wicket holds any demons will be known only over the next few days, but it has already unsettled England captain Ben Stokes.

Stokes told British media late on 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 said.

"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."

That meant England had to put their thinking caps on while selecting the playing XI.

Still recovering from their record defeat by 434 runs in Rajkot, England have brought in seamer Ollie Robinson and spinner Shoaib Bashir, replacing pacer Mark Wood and out-of-form Rehan Ahmed.

The expectation is that the pitch will offer inconsistent bounce, so control from bowlers is likely to be the deciding factor.

The Indians, on the other hand, saw no issue with the pitch.

"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."

India's ace spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and coach Rahul Dravid were at the ground on Thursday and took a close look at the wicket.

The hosts will once again be forced to scrape together a playing XI. Virat Kohli remains absent as he recently became a father, while KL Rahul has not yet recovered from injury. Fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah has been given rest for workload management.

That means India will likely bring in spin bowling all-rounder Axar Patel and hand out another Test cap - to pacer Akash Deep. Batsman Rajat Patidar has failed to make the mark, so India could go with Patel and strengthen both the batting and bowling departments.

India's youngsters and new caps have performed well so far. Opener Yashasvi Jaiswal, 22, hit an unbeaten 214 in the third Test - his second double century. 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 domestic cricket to produce 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."

Updated: February 22, 2024, 11:52 AM