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Ben Stokes' bowling return a boost for England's future as tourists get pummelled in the present

Ben Stokes takes wicket with first ball in 251 days, bowling Rohit Sharma with a beauty; Steven Finn says signs are promising that Stokes can play full role with the ball going forward for England as Sir Alastair Cook wonders whether not bowling has impacted on captain's batting form

Ben Stokes bowling (Getty Images)
Image: Ben Stokes bowled Rohit Sharma with a beauty as he bowled his first spell since undergoing knee surgery

You couldn't have scripted it better.

Ben Stokes taking a wicket with his first delivery in 251 days, his first since knee surgery in November, his first since making a "pinky promise" to the physio that he would not bowl in India.

And it wasn't a tame dismissal either, it wasn't gifted to him, it was earned via a superb ball that nipped away past India skipper Rohit Sharma's edge to take the off stump and set social media ablaze.

England assistant coach Jeetan Patel said: "It was almost written in the stars that he was going to bowl a jaffa first up. It's magical, isn't it? It's so nice to see him back."

Stokes' breakthrough was big for England, snapping a 171-run stand between Rohit and fellow centurion Shubman Gill as the skipper once again stepped up when his team really needed a boost.

So often that has been with the bat - Headingley, Lord's, the MCG - but he has great history with the ball as well, including bowling England to victory over South Africa in Cape Town in 2020.

That 2019 Ashes Test in Leeds is best remembered for Stokes' match-winning 135 but he bowled a 15-over spell unchanged earlier in the game after Jofra Archer suffered with cramp.

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He also picked up what looked the key wicket of Usman Khawaja on the final day of last year's Ashes opener at Edgbaston, before Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon steered Australia to a thrilling victory.

Ben Stokes, The Ashes (Associated Press)
Image: Before the Dharamsala Test, Stokes last bowled in the second Ashes Test in July

And as he completely befuddled Rohit with that magic delivery in Dharamsala, it showed you just what England had been missing over the first four Tests - a potential partnership-breaker once India got on top of the tourists' game but inexperienced spin attack.

Patel added: "We all know how he can round our attack out, especially in conditions like these where you've usually got two spinners, two seamers and you want your third in Stokesy. We've just got to be careful we don't push him too far, it's still early days"

'Stokes still looks the same bowler after knee surgery'

Stokes with the ball makes England better, not only because of the wickets he can take (he now has 198 in Tests to go with 6,314 runs) but also because of the lift he gives team-mates and supporters.

His presence as a fully-fledged all-rounder makes it so much easier for England to balance their side and, according to former team-mate Steven Finn, the early signs are promising that Stokes can play a substantial role with the ball going forward.

Finn told TNT Sports after Stokes recorded figures of 1-17 from five overs: "All the talk in the build-up to the series is that Ben was not allowed to bowl, that he was told that by the doctor and physios.

"But I have played with Ben a lot and you know that what goes into his ears is not always [listened to]. The narrative has been growing that he may get the ball in his hand and that moment came.

"I have had three knee surgeries and I found it really hard after my first one to come back and be exactly the same bowler.

Ben Stokes' Test bowling record

  • Innings: 147
  • Wickets: 198
  • Average: 31.99
  • Strike rate: 58.0
  • Five-fors: Four
  • Best innings figures: 6-22

"You lose that bit of bite and zip, you lose the ability to fully brace your front leg and create that whip in your shoulders that gives you the zip that sets you apart from people playing domestic cricket.

"Ben has the ability to get extra bits of bite off the surface and the first ball he bowled had that bite.

"Sometimes your knee can collapse and you bowl through the crease but there was no give in that knee whatsoever, which was a great sign for me - not just for today but for Ben and England fans in the future because he is such a huge component of this team.

"You worry if someone will be the same bowler again after knee surgery but the evidence looks like he can be."

His stats are middle of the road but he asks a very different question when you are facing him. The natural instinct when you face him is that the ball is going to shape into you. Rohit would have thought that ball would carry on into him but Ben has the skill to get it to hold a little bit.
Sir Alastair Cook on Ben Stokes' bowling

Has not bowling negatively impacted Stokes' bating?

Stokes has been playing as a specialist batter against India and it has not gone well for him, averaging just 21.88 from nine innings and struggling to combat left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav.

Former England captain Sir Alastair Cook told TNT Sports: "Stokes has always been involved in the game.

"Even before he was captain, he always wanted to field at first slip to spin, field at silly point, chase everything. I think he has found this series incredibly frustrating in that he has only been able to bat.

"If you are used to being involved in everything, when you go out to bat, you then realise, 'god, I have to make an impact here'. That brings a different kind of pressure.

"You speak to people like Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler, who sometimes keep and sometimes don't, and they much prefer batting and keeping as they get two chances to influence the game.

"It will be interesting to find out if Stokes has [felt like that] as his numbers in this series have not been what we would expect."

Ben Stokes, England, Dharamsala (Getty Images)
Image: Stokes has averaged 21.88 with the bat against India in this series

Stokes may need to improve those numbers with the bat and conjure up something special with the ball if England are to win the final Test, with India 473-8 at stumps on day two and 255 runs to the good after the visitors crumbled from 175-3 to 218 all out on day one.

Despite spinners Shoaib Bashir and Tom Hartley improving as the second day wore on, especially Bashir as he picked up a four-wicket haul (it would have been five had Stokes not shelled a chance at slip late on), England are getting pummelled in the present, with sloppy fielding not aiding their cause on Friday.

But the return to all-rounder duty for Stokes is a big boost for the future, ahead of this summer's Tests at home to Sri Lanka and West Indies and, perhaps, the next Ashes tour in 2025-26.

Follow text commentary from day three of the fifth Test between India and England live on and the Sky Sports App from 3.50am on Saturday (4am first ball).

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