Brendon McCullum admitted it would be “slightly mad” if the progress Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir have made on England’s tour of India was stymied by a lack of opportunities at county level.

The spinning duo were uncapped at the start of the trip and held modest first-class records, albeit from small sample sizes, but Hartley is the series’ leading wicket-taker with 20 dismissals in four Tests and Bashir took a maiden professional five-for in Ranchi.

But Lancashire signing Australia star Nathan Lyon this summer places a question mark over how much game time Hartley will get and Bashir is second choice at Somerset to Jack Leach, who will have surgery on a knee injury which ended his tour early and allowed the rookies to shine on the international stage.

While McCullum acknowledged Lancashire and Somerset have their own interests to consider, England’s head coach hopes Hartley, 24, and Bashir, 20, will not fade away in the months ahead.

“We’ve got to keep trying to get cricket into them,” McCullum said. “Whatever opportunity we can we’ll try and give it to them because there’s two guys there more than good enough for international cricket.

“They’re tough characters. We’ve seen both of them have big hearts. It doesn’t get any harder than it is right now and they’ve both stood up and performed so we’ve just to keep giving both of them chances.

“It will be a slight frustration of ours if they weren’t given opportunities at county level. There’s a very real possibility that might be the case.

“But without wanting to dictate to counties because they have their own agendas, when you see performances like we have out of those two bowlers throughout the series, I think you’d be slightly mad if you didn’t give them more opportunities in county cricket.”

England losing by five wickets in Ranchi leaves them 3-1 down with just the final Test in Dharamshala, starting Thursday week, with McCullum suffering the first series defeat of his reign.

There have been just four wins in their last 11 Tests but McCullum is convinced England are a superior team than the one he inherited in May 2022, which had triumphed just once in their previous 17 matches.

“We weren’t quite good enough when it mattered – or India were better, to be honest, than us being not quite good enough,” McCullum said.

“We’ve lost this series and we didn’t win the Ashes (last year) but we’re a better cricket team than we were 18 months ago and we’ve got opportunity in the next 18 months to do some pretty special s***.

“Time on the tools, experience and just keep chiselling away at any of those rough edges which creep up every now and then, which is natural, and we’ll get there eventually.”

McCullum confirmed Jonny Bairstow will play in his 100th Test next week, despite not reaching 40 in the series, but there is scrutiny over seamer Ollie Robinson following a disappointing return to action.

Robinson registered an important fifty in his first competitive appearance since July last year but while pace has never been his biggest asset, he struggled to reach 80mph on the speed gun and sent down six no-balls – taking his career tally to 77, which is one more than his haul of wickets in 20 Tests.

His drop of Dhruv Jurel was a key moment, allowing India to move to within 46 of England’s total after the first innings, while Robinson was not called upon to bowl as the hosts chased 192 to win by five wickets on Monday.

McCullum explained Robinson, who has an impressive Test average of 22.92, felt a twinge in his back, which he has struggled with in the past.

“Everything he did leading into the Test match suggested we’d see not just the Ollie Robinson we’d seen previously but a better version of it,” McCullum added.

“He’s not just as disappointed as everyone else, he’s the most disappointed out of everyone. It’s just sport right? You have great expectations and sometimes you’re not quite able to deliver.”

Zak Crawley insisted there was never any doubt “phenomenal” Joe Root would return to form for England following his unbeaten century against India.

Root came into the fourth Test having not reached 30 in the series while a couple of uncharacteristic dismissals recently led to scrutiny on whether he should tailor his methods to fit the ‘Bazball’ philosophy.

The argument has been Root does not need to alter his approach and he put his lean patch behind him with a more traditional Test innings to amass 106 not out as England went to stumps on 302 for seven.

The 33-year-old rescued England after they had slipped to 112 for five in a helter-skelter opening session on a cracked Ranchi pitch and Crawley believes the Yorkshireman is the only batter who could have dug the tourists out of the fire.

“He’s probably the only bloke in our team who could have done that knock, he’s that good and he’s stepped up when we needed him to,” Crawley said.

“He’s a phenomenal player. We fully expected him to get a good score at some point in this series. He was due, he’s the best player we’ve ever had and he played phenomenally.

“We’re so happy for him and we never doubted him. If anything we know that when he’s got a couple of low scores he’s even more likely to get the big one, and we expected that from him.

“He deserves everything he gets, he works so hard at his game and he always comes good.”

Root’s 31st Test hundred – brought up off 219 balls, the slowest century by any England batter under the leadership of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum – was marked in understated fashion as he kissed the badge on his helmet and raised his bat to team-mates who were celebrating enthusiastically on the dressing-room balcony.

There was no sign of the reverse ramp he had gotten out to in Rajkot, which proved a sliding doors moment in England’s heavy defeat as they went 2-1 down in the five-match series, while conventional and reverse sweeps were rare occurrences.

Root was unbreachable in defence, judicious off front and back foot and unfurled his customary late cuts and leg glances behind square, while there was also the odd cover drive.

Crawley, though, insisted a surface offering early movement and uneven bounce throughout dictated Root’s more classical innings, rather than widespread criticism he has faced in the last few days.

“If the pitch had been truer, I reckon he would have still played those shots,” Crawley said.

“It might have just been the variable bounce which stopped him sweeping and paddling, it wasn’t really the pitch for that kind of thing; it was too inconsistent.

“In Dharamshala (which will host the fifth Test), it’s a flatter wicket, I’d fully expect him to reverse ramp one. That’s just Joe. He’s very present when he bats and doesn’t overthink too much.”

England went at 4.63 an over in the morning thanks to counter-attacking knocks from Crawley, who made a run-a-ball 42, and Jonny Bairstow’s 38 off 35 deliveries.

But the tricky surface, rather than a brain fade, was largely responsible for England’s precarious position at lunch, with Crawley bowled twice by Akash Deep, the first off a no-ball, as the India debutant bagged a three-wicket haul.

While the odd one still kept low, batting conditions improved upon the resumption as Root and Ben Foakes (47) combined to put on 113 to stabilise the tourists.

Crawley hopes England’s seamers can make similar inroads with the new ball but anticipates spin to dominate for the remainder of the match.

“I got out still fairly early but it looked like it wasn’t bouncing anywhere near as much or as quickly as earlier on against seam,” Crawley added.

“It got harder against the spin, it will continue to break up. It might be a new-ball wicket, hopefully it is when we bowl but the I think the spin’s only going to get harder.”

England have put an emphasis on height in selecting seamer Ollie Robinson and off-spinner Shoaib Bashir for the fourth Test against India on a pitch expected to offer turn and variable bounce.

The surface in Ranchi was described on Wednesday by Ben Stokes as “like nothing I’ve ever seen before” 48 hours before the start of the Test, with cracks running down one side of the cut strip.

After a second inspection on Thursday alongside head coach Brendon McCullum and selector Luke Wright, England captain Stokes elected to keep faith with two seamers as Robinson partners James Anderson.

Robinson and Bashir are both well over 6ft and the bounce they can extract has earned them the nod over skiddier pair Mark Wood and Rehan Ahmed as England look to hit back from a heavy defeat in Rajkot.

“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. 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. Looking at that, I think there is going to be assistance for spin.

“But I think also it looks like 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.

“I also feel having two seamers gives us a good chance purely because of Ollie Robinson’s release height and his relentlessness with his areas.”

The selection of Robinson, who has not played competitively since the third Ashes Test in July, and evergreen Anderson may lessen the need for Stokes to resume his career as a fully-fledged all-rounder.

Despite reporting no soreness after a 35-minute spell of bowling full tilt on Wednesday, Stokes was coy about if he would give his side, trailing 2-1 in the five-match series, another seam option.

“I’ve pulled up really well,” Stokes told the BBC. “It’s another step forward for me in terms of the ball. As keen as I am to get there, I do have to be very sensible about it.”

Bashir took four wickets in his debut for England in the second Test in Visakhapatnam before bring dropped in Rajkot but he partners slow left-armer Tom Hartley as the tourists’ two main spinners.

That means no room for Ahmed, who played in the first three Tests and took 11 wickets at an average of 44, although Stokes insisted the young leg-spinner’s absence was no reflection on how he has performed.

“He’s gone out and tried everything that we’ve asked of him,” Stokes said. “The way in which he has taken the game on with the ball is something I’ve been very, very impressed with.

“I think he’ll take a lot of learnings out of these three games, which will only progress his career, rather than not being the person who bowled in that situation, if that makes sense.”

Despite bowling 38 overs in the 434-run loss in Rajkot and just four days’ rest between the end of the third Test and start of the fourth, Anderson retains his spot.

Anderson needs just four more wickets to become the first fast bowler in history to reach 700 in Tests and Stokes marvelled at the 41-year-old’s professionalism and longevity.

“If you’re a young fast bowler, Jimmy Anderson is the one person who you want as your role model,” Stokes added. “Not only the amount of wickets he’s got but the fact he can keep going at his age.

“Even saying approaching 700 Test wickets as a fast bowler is incredible. He’ll know that but I don’t think that will be at the top of his mind for this week, just because of where we’re at in the series.”

Ben Stokes is poised to resume his status as an all-rounder and boost England’s bowling options on a pitch expected to be the most spin-friendly on the tour of India.

Stokes will wait to see how his body reacts to a demanding 35-minute spell of fast bowling in training on Wednesday before deciding if he will send down any overs in the fourth Test, starting on Friday in Ranchi.

He has not bowled competitively since early July and initially had no plans to do so in this series after surgery in November to have stitches in his meniscus and a bone spur removed from his left knee.

Indeed, Stokes had made a “pinky promise” with England’s physiotherapist Ben Davies not to bowl in India but that looks increasingly likely to change with his side 2-1 down in the five-match series.

“Whatever way we decide to go, (if) I feel I am capable of bowling, I will bowl,” said the England captain, who added he would buy Davies a beer if he broke his vow.

“I think there is a possible chance but I will just have to wait and see how everything is.

“I wanted to get a long spell in to see how everything coped whilst doing it then see how I pull up. It is all good at the moment. That is the longest I have bowled in six months.

“Before I went and had the surgery I was told 12-13 weeks before I could start bowling. I am two weeks ahead of that and I am quite far ahead, but there are things I have to think about other than my knee.”

Stokes returning to bowl allows England to have two seamers in their XI and select three frontline spinners in Tom Hartley, Rehan Ahmed and Shoaib Bashir, as well as the part-time offerings of Joe Root.

The playing surface in the Jharkhand capital 48 hours out from the first day of the penultimate match has cracks running down one side of the cut strip, which a bemused Stokes admitted he has never encountered before in India.

The evidence points to a wicket which will offer lavish spin but there may be some variable bounce as well which could aid the quicks as England look to bounce back from a heavy defeat in Rajkot.

“It just looked interesting,” said Stokes, echoing the observation England vice-captain Ollie Pope made a couple of hours earlier.

“If you looked down one side of opposite ends it just looked different to what I am used to seeing, especially out in India.

“It looked green and grassy up in the changing rooms but then you go out there it looked different, very dark and crumbly and quite a few cracks in it.”

One or both of James Anderson and Mark Wood could make way after their heavy workloads in Rajkot, which might mean a first appearance of the series for Ollie Robinson, who has not played competitively since the third Ashes Test last July.

Robinson, who averages 22.21 in 19 Tests, can move the new ball both ways, while his use of reverse swing on the predominantly lifeless pitches of Pakistan last winter caught the eye.

“He’s got unbelievable skills to be a successful bowler anywhere in the world,” Stokes said.

“He has worked incredibly hard while he has been out here. Not playing the first three Tests can be tough and disappointing but I’ve told him he has been a great example of doing the right things and waiting your turn if it comes.”

England’s attacking methods came in for some flak after a 434-run loss last time out but Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum are resisting calls from some ex-players to tinker with their approach.

“You get plaudits when it goes well and a bit of s*** when it doesn’t,” added Stokes, when asked if he was surprised by some of the criticism. “It’s part of it, I’ve been around long enough to know that but we crack on.”

England will get a break from Jasprit Bumrah in Ranchi as India rest their star paceman for the fourth Test which starts on Friday.

The world’s number one-ranked Test bowler did not travel with the India squad as the two teams moved from Rajkot to the Jharkhand capital on a charter flight on Tuesday afternoon.

Bumrah has been the only frontline fast bowler from either side to be an ever-present in the series so far and there is just a four-day turnaround between the end of the third Test and start of the fourth.

It was widely reported that Bumrah would miss out in Rajkot after his starring role earlier this month in Visakhapatnam, where a nine-wicket match haul helped India level the series.

Bumrah featured in the third Test but had a more understated role with just one wicket in each innings on a flat pitch as India claimed victory by a record 434-run margin to move 2-1 up with two to play.

Despite being without several regulars in this series, including Virat Kohli because of personal reasons and injuries sidelining Mohammed Shami and Rishabh Pant, India have opted to rest Bumrah this week where conditions are again unlikely to be in his favour.

Batter KL Rahul will sit out again having missed the third Test with a quad injury.

“Jasprit Bumrah has been released from the squad for the 4th IDFC First Bank Test against England in Ranchi. The decision was taken keeping in mind the duration of the series and amount of cricket he has played in recent times,” a Board of Control for Cricket in India statement read.

“Meanwhile, KL Rahul is ruled out of the fourth Test. His participation in the final Test match in Dharamsala is subject to fitness.

“Mukesh Kumar, who was released from the squad for the third Test in Rajkot, has joined the squad in Ranchi.”

Bumrah is the leading wicket-taker in the series with 17 dismissals at a stunning average of 13.64 and it is thought the more seam-friendly conditions in Dharamshala – the venue for the fifth Test – will be much more to his liking.

England head coach Brendon McCullum anticipates a wicket which will turn as they take a step into the unknown later this week at the JSCA International Stadium Complex.

The venue has played host to just two Tests, the most recent in October 2019 where India beat South Africa by an innings and 202 runs, while England’s only previous visit to Ranchi was 11 years ago in an ODI.

Joe Root is the only survivor from that match in the current England squad. The Yorkshireman has struggled with the bat in the past few weeks, yet to reach 30 in six attempts although he has had a more prominent bowling role, sending down 107 overs so far.

Asked if Root could shuffle down the batting order by a place or two to make allowances for his extra workload, McCullum insisted the idea has not been discussed between him and captain Ben Stokes.

“I haven’t thought about it,” McCullum said. “I think Joe wants to be in the game. He’s totally invested in where this team wants to go. You see him on the field: he’s constantly going up to Stokesy.

“He’s incredibly invested. He spent a lot of time with his team-mates working in the nets on stuff as well. He wants a bigger role that he’s obviously offering. Honestly, I think Joe will be absolutely fine.”

England may get a break from Jasprit Bumrah in Ranchi as India are set to rest their star paceman for the fourth Test which starts on Friday.

It is understood the world’s number one-ranked Test bowler did not travel with India’s squad as the two teams travelled from Rajkot to the Jharkhand capital on a charter flight on Tuesday afternoon.

While there has been no definitive confirmation Bumrah will miss out, he has been the only frontline fast bowler from either side to be an ever-present in the series so far and there is just a four-day turnaround between the end of the third Test and start of the fourth.

It was widely reported that Bumrah would miss out in Rajkot after his starring role earlier this month in Visakhapatnam, where a nine-wicket match haul helped India level the series.

Bumrah featured in the third Test but had a more understated role with just one wicket in each innings on a flat pitch as India claimed victory by a record 434-run margin to move 2-1 up with two to play.

Despite being without several regulars in this series, including Virat Kohli because of personal reasons and injuries sidelining Mohammed Shami and Rishabh Pant, it seems India will leave out Bumrah this week where conditions are again unlikely to be in his favour.

Bumrah is the leading wicket-taker in the series with 17 dismissals at a stunning average of 13.64 and it is thought the more seam-friendly conditions in Dharamshala – the venue for the fifth Test – will be much more to his liking.

England head coach Brendon McCullum anticipates a wicket which will turn as they take a step into the unknown later this week at the JSCA International Stadium Complex.

The venue has played host to just two Tests, the most recent in October 2019 where India beat South Africa by an innings and 202 runs, while England’s only previous visit to Ranchi was 11 years ago in an ODI.

Joe Root is the only survivor from that match in the current England squad. The Yorkshireman has struggled with the bat in the past few weeks, yet to reach 30 in six attempts although he has had a more prominent bowling role, sending down 107 overs so far.

Asked if Root could shuffle down the batting order by a place or two to make allowances for his extra workload, McCullum insisted the idea has not been discussed between him and captain Ben Stokes.

“I haven’t thought about it,” McCullum said. “I think Joe wants to be in the game. He’s totally invested in where this team wants to go. You see him on the field: he’s constantly going up to Stokesy.

“He’s incredibly invested. He spent a lot of time with his team-mates working in the nets on stuff as well. He wants a bigger role that he’s obviously offering. Honestly, I think Joe will be absolutely fine.”

Brendon McCullum insisted England’s best chance of turning the tide in India is to keep trusting in their methods as he resists calls to adapt despite a humbling defeat in Rajkot.

Michael Vaughan described a 434-run loss in the third Test – their heaviest since 1934 – as a “wake-up call” on X, while Nasser Hussain indicated in the Daily Mail that “tweaks” to the ‘Bazball’ approach are a must.

The suggestions of two former England captains are likely to fall on deaf ears as McCullum sticks to his guns despite going 2-1 down in a five-match series which resumes in Ranchi on Friday.

McCullum, who has won 14 of 21 Tests as England head coach after taking charge of a team triumphant in one of their preceding 17, accepts criticism will come his way but he and skipper Ben Stokes feel that putting limitations in place can only have a disruptive effect.

“The positivity and confidence within the environment needs to remain,” McCullum said. “If we do that we give ourselves the best opportunity with the talent we possess to bounce back.

“That messaging that comes from myself and the skipper will never change regardless of how we’re going. I don’t want our guys to ever doubt themselves otherwise we go back to where it was beforehand.

“When you start retreating a little bit on what you’ve done before and what you’ve said you’re trying to achieve, you’re literally living and dying every day by your results and that’s not what this team is about.

“This team is about trying to keep pushing the game forward, to try and entertain and ultimately win. It didn’t work this time around but you can only do that by providing an environment where the guys feel safe and feel they can take on the world.”

Joe Root spilled a catch in the first innings of the Test that would have left India 47 for four before they made 445 and was then out to a reverse ramp as England crumbled from 224 for two to 319 all out, with the tourists out of the game from that point on.

Root, left nursing a sore thumb that is not thought to be serious, is yet to reach 30 in this series, while fellow Yorkshireman Jonny Bairstow is also struggling, out for nought and four in recent days.

The pair average around 50 under Stokes and McCullum, with Bairstow setting the template for the era in the summer of 2022 with four hundreds in six Tests at a jaw-dropping strike-rate of 96.59.

“Jonny’s not scored the volume of runs he would have wanted and a couple of times he’s got out kind of mildly for someone who’s got the power game he’s got,” McCullum said.

“I don’t have concerns over him. I’m not blind but he’s done so well for us. We know that a top-quality Jonny Bairstow is as good as anyone in any conditions so we’ve got to keep on giving him confidence and block out a lot of the external noise.

“Joe will be fine. It’s a great compliment to be in a funk after three Test matches. He just has to keep backing himself and wait for the luck to turn his way.

“The fact he’s missed out in three Tests, does that surely not just mean that he’s closer to getting a big score? It’s Joe Root, crikey. I mean, seriously? The law of averages suggests he’ll fill his boots in the next two Tests.”

Stokes has opened the door to resuming bowling competitively for the first time since last summer’s Ashes although McCullum admitted he may have a role to play in reining him in.

“Ben is clever,” McCullum added. “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.

“If he does get that bit between his teeth, let’s see where the danger lies and try and pull him away from it. But it’s good that he’s actually getting into a state where he thinks he might bowl.”

Rehan Ahmed remains in limbo in India although England are certain the teenage leg-spinner’s visa problem will be sorted out on Wednesday ahead of the third Test in Rajkot.

Ahmed’s single-entrance visa expired the moment he left for England’s mid-series break in the United Arab Emirates and the 19-year-old was initially red-flagged upon the team’s return to India on Monday.

England captain Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum waited with Ahmed at Hirasar Rajkot Airport as an emergency two-day visa was granted before the trio got to the team hotel separately to the group.

Ahmed trained with his team-mates at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium on Tuesday morning and – while there is yet to be a resolution -, England seem convinced the issuing of a new visa is a formality.

“It’s not a concern,” Stokes said. “The guys who dealt with it at the airport did a really good job, given where we found ourselves. I’m confident that will be sorted.”

It is unclear whether the issue will hinder Ahmed’s chances as he tries to retain his England spot when the series, which is currently deadlocked at 1-1 after two gripping instalments, resumes on Thursday.

But it has occurred just a couple of weeks after off-spinner Shoaib Bashir was forced to miss the first Test in Hyderabad because of a paperwork snag as his Pakistani heritage led to extended checks.

Ahmed, like Bashir, was born in the UK and is of Pakistani heritage but this is a separate matter owing to an oversight on the part of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

Ahmed was already in possession of an Indian visa after being placed on standby for England’s 50-over World Cup campaign in October and November but it was not activated then because he was not required to travel.

England’s players travel on electronic visas which are not stamped in passports so the situation with Ahmed only came to light in Rajkot following England’s six-day breather in Abu Dhabi.

Ahmed – who is England’s youngest cricketer in all three formats – has taken eight wickets in the series at a respectable average of 36.37 so far and also contributed 70 runs, including a cameo 23 after being bumped up to number three in the batting order as the so-called ‘nighthawk’ in the second Test.

England’s spin options have already been hard hit by Jack Leach’s series-ending knee injury, leaving Ahmed, Bashir and Tom Hartley as the three specialist spinners, boasting six Test caps between them, with Joe Root’s part-time off-breaks becoming increasingly called upon.

“We were advised, on returning to India, that there was paperwork discrepancy with Rehan Ahmed’s visa,” an England team spokesperson said.

“The local authorities at Rajkot Airport were supportive, enabling Rehan entry on a temporary visa. The correct visa should be processed and issued in the coming days.

“He will continue to prepare with the rest of the squad ahead of the third Test.”

Ben Stokes joins the 100 Test club this week in the more unlikely surroundings of Rajkot as England get back to business in India following a week off.

A headline-grabbing career has brought more peaks than troughs and, here, the PA news agency looks at the England captain’s best Test moments ahead of his landmark appearance.

120 v Australia – Perth, December 2013

England were getting mauled by moustachioed menace Mitchell Johnson et al on a calamitous 2013/14 Ashes tour but Stokes was undaunted. In his second Test on a WACA pitch bursting with deep, wide cracks, the then 22-year-old earned Australia’s grudging respect with a hard-nosed fourth-innings century. England lost but months after being told he was squandering his gifts by Andy Flower amid some indiscretions on a Lions tour, Stokes’ surreptitious “I’ll show you” response came to bear in extraordinary fashion.

101 v New Zealand – Lord’s, May 2015

In and out of the side due to injuries, under-performance and a lack of role clarity, Stokes rewarded the decision to elevate him to number six in the batting order with two buccaneering innings. Ten months on from a chastening pair at HQ, Stokes followed up a rescue-act 92 with an 85-ball hundred – the quickest ever at Lord’s – before snaring Kane Williamson and Brendon McCullum with successive balls in an England win. His place in any side when fit and available has never been in doubt since then.

Six for 36 v Australia – Trent Bridge, August 2015

Stuart Broad’s eight for 15 rightly lives longer in the memory but the ‘oh my Broad’ image that summed up the 2015 Ashes was largely down to Stokes’ one-handed leaping catch in the cordon to see off Adam Voges. In Australia’s second innings, with Broad having nothing like as much impact, Stokes channelled his inner James Anderson, finding some prodigious swing, to ultimately make sure England regained the urn. Remarkably, it is the only time in his career Stokes has been part of an Ashes-winning side.

135 not out v Australia – Headingley, August 2019

Stokes’ magnum opus came six weeks after his scarcely-credible heroics in the 2019 World Cup and a year and a week after being acquitted of affray in a Bristol court case that threatened to overshadow his career. After England were skittled for a miserly 67, Stokes, perhaps seeking to atone for his loose shot, first bowled himself into the ground to take three for 56 then roused the hosts in a then national record chase of 359. Watchful at first before exploding with just number 11 Jack Leach for company, Stokes kept the Ashes alive and sent Headingley into raptures with a knock for the ages.

103 v South Africa – Emirates Old Trafford, August 2022

Despite starting his reign as England Test skipper with four wins out of four, Stokes and the so-called ‘Bazball’ methods alongside McCullum came under scrutiny when they lost to South Africa at Lord’s. England also threatened to throw away a handy position in Manchester but measured tons from Stokes – his first since assuming the captaincy – and Ben Foakes quietened any criticism. Stokes also collected a couple of top-order wickets in both the Proteas’ innings to seal a resounding win.

Ollie Pope gushed at how Ben Stokes has “changed the game” as the England captain gears up for his 100th Test this week.

England are back in India following a break in the United Arab Emirates between the second and third Tests, with Stokes set to make his landmark appearance in Rajkot in a match that starts on Thursday.

As well as being England’s ace in the hole and pulling out all the stops when the pressure is at its peak, Stokes’ dynamic style of leadership alongside Brendon McCullum has galvanised the national side.

Stokes boasts 14 victories from 21 Tests – no one who has captained England on 10 or more occasions in the format has a better win percentage (66.67) – and his revolutionary effect was recognised by Pope.

“It’s unbelievable,” England’s vice-captain said. “For anyone to play 100 Tests is an unbelievable achievement. He’s had his highs and lows but what he’s done since he’s been captain has been amazing.

“Stokesy is not someone who likes it being all about him. He doesn’t need those accolades but away from the ground I’m sure we’ll celebrate him, get around him and think of something to do.

“He’s changed the game in a lot of respects. He just has a way of bringing out the best in himself when the team needs him the most.

“There have been so many unbelievable memories and hopefully he can play 100 more. He’s been great to watch, great to be a part of and hopefully there’ll be many more special moments in his career.”

England are a bowler light for the final three Tests after deciding against naming a replacement for slow left-armer Jack Leach, who has travelled back to the UK following a series-ending knee injury.

The sight of Stokes bowling gently in the nets in England training on Tuesday morning left locals wondering whether the 32-year-old would spring a surprise and return to all-rounder status.

But Pope poured cold water on the theory, with Stokes, who has not bowled competitively since July last year, still feeling his way back after surgery to his left knee 11 weeks ago.

“He’s just getting back to bowling and getting his knee right,” Pope said. “That’s why he had surgery – just to make sure that when he is back bowling, he’s going to be bowling quickly and as well as he can.

“I’d be surprised and I guess you never know. But I think he’s just preparing as a batter.”

Following a gripping pair of Tests in Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam that has left the series evenly poised at 1-1, England have had a six-day breather in Abu Dhabi to decompress and go again.

“It’s a nice way just to refresh,” Pope added. “The guys are energised coming into these last three Tests.

“We’ve loved every bit of this tour so far. Two competitive games of cricket that have been awesome to play in. But it was a nicely timed break to recharge the batteries.”

Rehan Ahmed has become the latest England player to run into visa problems in India but the tourists are optimistic the teenage leg-spinner will be available for the third Test in Rajkot.

The 19-year-old was initially denied entry upon the England team returning to India on Monday after a mid-series break in the United Arab Emirates because he only held a single entrance electronic visa.

The issue is different to what Shoaib Bashir encountered last month and Ahmed was granted an emergency two-day visa, allowing him to train with his England team-mates in Rajkot on Tuesday morning.

Ahmed has now applied for a multi-entrance visa and England are confident the issue will be resolved before the series, currently deadlocked at 1-1, resumes on Thursday.

“We were advised, on returning to India, that there was paperwork discrepancy with Rehan Ahmed’s visa,” an England team spokesperson said.

“The local authorities at Rajkot Airport were supportive, enabling Rehan entry on a temporary visa. The correct visa should be processed and issued in the coming days.

“He will continue to prepare with the rest of the squad ahead of the third Test.”

Bashir’s arrival was delayed because of a unforeseen snag in his paperwork, with his Pakistani heritage leading to extended checks, and meant he missed the first Test win in Hyderabad last month.

Ahmed, like Bashir, was born in the UK and is of Pakistani heritage but he was already in possession of an Indian visa after being placed on standby for England’s 50-over World Cup campaign.

That was not activated because he was not required to travel but, with all of England’s team travelling on electronic visas which are not stamped on passports, any administrative issues are harder to spot.

Ahmed, England’s youngest cricketer in all three formats, entered India for the first time ahead of the start of the series and has featured in both Tests, taking eight wickets at a decent average of 36.37.

He has also contributed 70 runs, including a cameo 23 after being bumped up to number three in the batting order as the so-called ‘nighthawk’ in the second Test, before England departed for the UAE.

Only when Ahmed had his passport scanned after England arrived at Hirasar Rajkot Airport following a chartered flight from Abu Dhabi did the oversight emerge.

England captain Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum remained with Ahmed while he was given his temporary stay and they arrived at the team hotel about an hour after the rest of the group.

Brendon McCullum credits the inspirational leadership and “total conviction” of Ben Stokes for giving England a fighting chance of leaving India with a series win.

The score is tied at 1-1 after two gripping Tests in Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam, giving England a realistic shot at becoming the first side to win away on Indian soil since 2012.

Head coach McCullum will lead his side to Abu Dhabi on Wednesday for a short break before the contest resumes on February 15 and, while the players will be resting up with family rather than hitting the nets, he insists they will be ready to “drop the shoulder and go hard” when they return for the third Test in Rajkot.

A crucial part of England’s ability to do just that so far has been the contribution of three novice spinners in the form of Rehan Ahmed, Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir, who have defied their lack of experience to claim 26 wickets between them against players who have grown up against the turning ball.

And McCullum was glowing about Stokes’ ability to instil belief in the group.

“There are heaps of positives. Our spin bowling unit, albeit young and raw, have shown they’ve got what it takes,” he said.

“I put it down to the skipper. He has total conviction in his methods and is incredibly empathetic towards people.

“He spends time with them to ensure his messaging is really consistent, in his body language and behaviours, and he backs up what he says to them off the field with opportunities on the field. He is desperate to lead this team and he wants to take this team to whatever level he can take it.

“I am absolutely delighted in how they have performed with very little experience under their belt. You look around and you just see guys who look like they belong at international level.

“I think 1-1 is probably a fair reflection of where the contest is at the moment and, if the next three Tests are anything like these last two, it’s going to be one hell of a series.”

A return to form for Joe Root would be the biggest possible boost for England’s prospects, with the former skipper yet to make an impression with the bat.

A total of 52 runs from four innings represents a meagre return for a cornerstone player with a strong case for being the country’s best ever sub-continental batter.

The manner of his most recent dismissal, slogging wildly at the wily Ravichandran Ashwin, caused consternation, but McCullum harbours no such concerns.

“There are three Tests left, still an opportunity to score a whole s*** ton of runs,” he said with a smile.

“Joe’s a world-class player and as good as anyone England has ever seen.

“People will look to the dismissal, look at the method of his option, but he was trying to get the field back so he could milk them.

“It is the bravery you have to show at times and sometimes you get out doing it, that’s just the way the game rolls. There is no doubt from our point of view about that approach.”

England are not currently anticipating any changes to their Test squad for the second phase of the trip.

A virus has made an unwelcome intrusion on the camp but should be gone before the series resumes and concerns over Root’s injured little finger have eased.

There is no expectation of Harry Brook returning to the tour, with the team management giving him space to deal with the family matters that brought him home on the eve of the series.

The only uncertainty surrounds Jack Leach, who injured his knee in Hyderabad, missed the next game and has now been hit by illness.

“It is still pretty inflamed, but I don’t really know because he has been crook,” McCullum explained.

“His knee is pretty bad though and it was remarkable he got through what he did in the first Test match.”

Brendon McCullum insists England are ready to be “really brave” with their team selection for the first Test against India, leaning into one of the biggest challenges in cricket.

England’s red-ball team are back in action for the first time in almost six months on Thursday, beginning a five-match tour in Hyderabad.

India have been dominant on home soil over the past decade and have lost only three matches out of 46 since they last lost a series, to Sir Alastair Cook’s England in 2012.

But McCullum refuses to be pessimistic and is instead piecing together an XI that can spring a surprise. On a pitch that is expected to offer plenty of turn, England must decide how bold to be with a callow spin unit featuring the established Jack Leach and rookies Rehan Ahmed, Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir.

“What balance we go for in terms of the side we’ll work out in the coming days, but the thing we need to be is really brave with whatever we decide,” he said.

“India is the land of opportunity and that’s what sits in front of us now, we’ll take the positive option. Other teams might be better, but we want to be the bravest. We’ve got to do that and that’s got to be factored into selection, too.”

Ben Stokes is set to the lead the side, with England content over his rehabilitation from knee surgery. The captain left a private clinic on crutches at the end of November, setting up a race against time to be fit, and has been chronicling his recovery on social media.

He is not ready to resume bowling but McCullum is confident he is ready for action as skipper and specialist batter.

“He looks like a greyhound. He’s stripping fit,” he said.

“He’s put the hard work in and everyone knows his work ethic is phenomenal. I’ve seen him running around and I think he’s good to go. We’ll obviously make that call as late as what we need to. But he’s put all the work in and we’ll just have to wait and see.”

With Harry Brook absent for personal reasons, England seem set to restore Ben Foakes as wicketkeeper. He and Jonny Bairstow, who took the gloves during the Ashes last summer, are both due to play but it was Foakes who took a long keeping drill during Monday’s practice.

England know they will face criticism for being under-prepared if things go badly in the opening game, but McCullum made no apologies for his decision to host a training camp in Abu Dhabi rather than warm-up games on Indian soil.

“The preparation was brilliant. The facilities out there are as good as anywhere in the world,” he said.

“The guys walked away from Abu Dhabi with a huge amount of confidence that we’ve prepared as well as we possibly can.

“In the end all you’re trying to do is get guys in the frame of mind where they feel 10 foot tall and bulletproof when they walk out to play.

“We’ve got to take 20 wickets with the ball in each Test and we’ve got to get one more run than them with the bat. It’s not rocket science but it will be the nuances of the game and when to stick and when to twist which will be the fascinating part.”

Ben Stokes has hit back at Steve Harmison’s criticism of England’s Test preparation for the forthcoming tour of India.

Ex-England seamer Harmison, a former Durham team-mate and close friend of Stokes, believes that arriving in India just three days before the start of a five-match series is a recipe for disaster.

He claimed the tourists would “deserve to get beat 5-0” without spending longer acclimatising to conditions, drawing a curt response from the England captain.

Stokes replied to a video of Harmison’s comments, saying: “Good job we’re going to Abu Dhabi for a training camp before we go to India for even more training before that 1st test then isn’t it.”

England, who lost 3-1 in their previous Indian tour on spinning pitches, do not have any warm-up fixtures scheduled but hope to tune up for the series opener on January 25 with a week-long workout in the United Arab Emirates.

Harmison suggested that approach was insufficient, telling talkSPORT: “If England go in three days before they deserve to get beat 5-0, they really do.

“I’m an old man, that’s what they’ll say…times have changed, but preparation hasn’t changed. I love this new approach, I love Ben Stokes and (head coach) Brendon McCullum. But I’m sorry, going three days before…you’d never do that for an Ashes series.

“You’d never go to Australia three days before the Gabba, so why go three days before Hyderabad? For me it stinks, it absolutely stinks.”

Stokes, meanwhile, is racing to be fully fit for the first Test.

He underwent surgery on his longstanding left knee injury at the end of November and has been chronicling his rehabilitation with a sequence of videos on Instagram.

England are not expecting him to feature as a bowler but even having him available to bat pain-free would represent an improvement on recent times.

Posting from the gym on Wednesday, he wrote: “massive progress for the week”, “muscle symmetry coming back” and “finally able to get into the flexion needed for a spin on the bike, for something normally so easy it was very pleasing to be able to do [it] today”

England head coach Brendon McCullum doubts his side will be “having a beer any time soon” with Australia’s players following a controversial climax to the second Test at Lord’s.

Jonny Bairstow’s dismissal – out of his crease believing the ball to be dead as Alex Carey’s expedient underarm threw down his stumps – overshadowed Australia’s 43-run win to move 2-0 up in the series.

The laws of the game state: “The ball shall be considered to be dead when it is clear to the bowler’s end umpire that the fielding side and both batters at the wicket have ceased to regard it as in play.”

Carey throwing upon collection of the ball without hesitation seems to vindicate him but, as Bairstow was not seeking a run, the Australia wicketkeeper’s actions call into question the so-called ‘spirit of the game’.

And the famously laid-back McCullum admitted the flash point might impact relations between the teams as he said on the BBC’s Test Match Special: “I can’t imagine we’ll be having a beer any time soon.”

Carey’s swift handiwork and Australia captain Pat Cummins’ decision to uphold the appeal meant a visibly furious Bairstow had to depart but a normally sedate Lord’s crowd seethed at the outcome, with boos and chants of “same old Aussies, always cheating” ringing out throughout the final day.

Ben Stokes channelled any frustration into a jaw-dropping innings of 155 as England were all out for 327 in pursuit of 371, but the Bairstow dismissal remained on everyone’s lips after the denouement.

McCullum added: “I think it was more about the spirit of the game and when you become older and more mature you realise the game and the spirit of it is something you need to protect.

“You have to make decisions in the moment and they can have affects on games and people’s characters.

“By the letter of the law he is out. Jonny was not trying to take a run and the umpires had called over.

“It is one of those difficult ones to swallow and you look at the small margins it is incredibly disappointing.

“But lots of people will have their opinion on both sides of the fence. But the most disappointing thing is that it will be the most talked about event of a great Test match.”

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