Advantage England or disadvantage India?: Stokes weighs in on Kohli’s absence

NEW DELHI: England captain Ben Stokes, on the eve of his 100th Test appearance, adopted a self-effacing attitude, playing down the significance of milestones while expressing excitement for the upcoming marquee game against India.
Stokes will be the 16th England player to reach the milestone when he leads the side in the third Test against India in Rajkot on Thursday.
Stokes also addressed the analysis suggesting that the absence of Virat Kohli and KL Rahul from the series could be advantageous for England. Kohli was ruled out for the entire series due to personal reasons, while Rahul is recovering from a quadriceps tear injury sustained in the first Test at Hyderabad.
Stokes did not seem particularly pleased with the idea that the absence of these key players might give England an advantage, emphasising the challenges that still lie ahead in the upcoming match.
“KL sustained an injury in the first game and that has kept him out. I said the other day that Virat not being here, I don’t like it being used as a benefit to us or a disadvantage to India,” Stokes said ahead of England’s training session.
“There are some specific reasons as to why he is not playing in this series and it should be left to that as opposed to an advantage or disadvantage to any side.”
“I wish Virat with everything that’s going around and all our well wishes from the team. You want the best players playing and he is one of them. Hopefully he will be back on the field very soon,” he added.
‘Milestones are what they are’
During the pre-match press conference, Stokes tried to downplay the hype surrounding his achievement, stating that “milestones are what they are.”
Despite his attempt to remain modest, he acknowledged the special nature of the occasion and expressed anticipation for the theatrical aspect that comes with playing such a significant game against a star-studded Indian team.
“Milestones are what they are. I’ve always enjoyed playing against India because of the contest, the theatre it brings,” he said in a brief reply when asked about his thoughts on the match.
The series is currently locked 1-1 after England won the opener in Hyderabad before India bounced back to claim the second in Visakhapatnam.
Stokes said his mind is focused on decoding the conditions and having a solid strategy in place for the crucial game.
“You look down and there’s a few cracks that meet up. Only time will tell if they will come into it. (I) don’t want to have too many preconceived ideas about pitches, but you do have to have some sort of idea which informs the XI you pick,” he said.
India saw their fortunes take a turn for the better in Vizag thanks to a superlative effort by pacer Jasprit Bumrah, who snared nine wickets on a sporting track.
‘No special plans for Bumrah’
Asked if England will have any special plans in place for the bowler, Stokes said,” No not really.”
“Jasprit Bumrah is an unbelievable bowler. He’s proven that for a very long time and has performed really well in the two games. I think everyone has to go their own way of not trying to deal with Bumrah but we do have to score runs off him as well and that’s what we’ll try to do,” he said.
“But when that doesn’t work, you just have to give credit to the bowler and Jasprit’s been outstanding the first two games. We’ve all got our own processes against every single bowler and there’s no team way of playing anyone.
“But as we always try to do we’ll be trying to keep the focus around us,” he added.
‘England’s past experience influenced Wood’s inclusion’
Stokes mentioned that England’s previous experience at the venue, having played a Test there in 2016, along with the characteristics of the pitch, influenced the decision to replace spinner Shoaib Bashir with pacer Mark Wood.
This decision suggests that England’s strategy for the upcoming match is tailored to suit the conditions they anticipate at the venue, with the inclusion of an additional pace bowler to exploit the pitch’s characteristics effectively.
“Taking a bit of knowledge from the last Test we played here a long time ago. It was a pretty flat wicket and looking at it today I think it looks good,” he said.
“Bringing in an extra seamer is the option we have gone with because we think that is going to give us the best chance of winning this week. Baz (coach Brendon McCullum) does all the good and bad news and I am there for the players to (have) any further conversations with that.
“Bash (Shoaib Bashir) performed incredibly well in his first game for England, he will take it in his stride, he is a young lad and obviously no one has played every game possible,” Stokes added.
On how he would use his bowlers in the match, Stokes said they should only target getting wickets.
“…whenever you’ve got the ball, think about taking a wicket every ball…Obviously having an extra seamer this week will definitely allow us to use Woody’s skillset in a different way to the first game when he was the only seamer.
“The way in which Jimmy (Anderson) bowled last week, he showed his class and that he can do it anywhere in the world regardless of the conditions.
“Tom (Hartley) has performed so, so well on this trip not only with the ball but also with the bat and when someone has confidence like Tom has at the moment, you want to give them the ball as often as you can,” he said.
(With PTI inputs)

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