England set for major boost ahead of fourth India Test

England captain Ben Stokes has hinted he may make a return to bowling duties for the remainder of the series in India.

England's faltering ICC World Test Championship hopes could receive a massive boost with news that skipper Ben Stokes may return to the bowling crease for the fourth Test against India in Ranchi.

Stokes hasn't bowled during the first three Tests on the sub-continent as he continues to recover from an operation on his knee last year and his absence as a bowler has been felt as India have won two Tests on the trot to hold a 2-1 series lead in the five-match contest.

The consecutive losses have also seen England slip to eighth on the World Test Championship standings and Stokes' side need to salvage something from their final two matches in India if they are to stay in contention of reaching next year's final at Lord's.

England captain Ben Stokes bowling at training // Getty Images

Being able to use Stokes with the ball would allow England to select a more balanced XI for the crucial fourth Test that commences on Friday and the experienced skipper was bullish about his prospects when quizzed on the idea following his team's 434-run loss to India during the third Test in Rajkot.

"I'm not saying yes, I'm not saying no," Stokes pondered when asked if he would bowl during the remainder of the India series. 

"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.

"I managed to bowl at 100 percent 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."

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If Stokes does make himself available as a bowler then England have the option of re-jigging their XI completely,  or he could join James Anderson and Mark Wood in a three-player pace attack next to a trio of spinners that includes Rehan Ahmed, Tom Hartley and fellow all-rounder Joe Root.

England coach Brendon McCullum said a decision on Stokes' bowling availability and the make-up of his final XI would not be made until the team gets the chance to monitor the conditions in Ranchi and that all members of the travelling party would come into contention of featuring.

"We've got two really good options on the sideline as well with Ollie Robinson and Gus Atkinson," McCullum posed. 

"So we've got a really good squad to pick from. We just need to work out when we get there what conditions we're going to be confronted with and see the health of the army, and then make a decision on what we go with.

"Obviously we haven't seen the conditions in Ranchi yet. I think it might spin. I guess it should spin but we'll see when we get there. But, look, we're really comfortable with what we've got and we're certainly not going to add to the squad.

"We've got a group of players here who have played some outstanding cricket so far over the last three Test matches and whatever XI we decide to go with we will fully back. Hopefully we'll be in a different situation to what we're in now."

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McCullum said it was a positive sign that Stokes is considering making a return to the bowling crease, but he doesn't expect his captain to put his hand up for lengthy spells unless he knows his body can put up with the rigours of bowling in difficult conditions faced on the sub-continent.

"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."

England Test squad: Ben Stokes (c), Rehan Ahmed, James Anderson, Gus Atkinson, Jonny Bairstow, Shoaib Bashir, Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ben Foakes, Tom Hartley, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Joe Root, Mark Wood

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