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Ben Stokes: 'Their skill was better than ours on this occasion'

England captain praises young spin attack despite India inflicting first series defeat of his tenure

Ben Stokes was unable to marshal an England win as India chased 192 in the fourth innings  •  Getty Images

Ben Stokes was unable to marshal an England win as India chased 192 in the fourth innings  •  Getty Images

Ben Stokes refused to criticise his side's second-innings batting effort after England saw an opportunity to square the series with victory in Ranchi slip by. Having taken a lead of 46 on first innings, England were bowled out for 145 on day three, in conditions Stokes described as close to "impossible" to bat on, as India regrouped to secure a five-wicket win on the fourth afternoon.
Only Zak Crawley, who made his third half-century of the series, and Jonny Bairstow, with 30 off 42, provided scores of note as England steadily lost momentum after a positive start. Ben Foakes grafted almost an hour and a half for 17 off 76 balls while batting with the tail, with England losing their last seven wickets for 35 runs from 25.5 overs, India's spin trio of R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav sharing all ten wickets between them.
Victory for India saw them take an unassailable 3-1 lead in the series ahead of the final Test in Dharamsala, starting on March 7.
Asked about his side's batting overall at the post-match presentation, Stokes said, "I think we've been good in periods. If we look at yesterday, when we had our turn with bat, [it was] I think - I don't want to say impossible, because I don't think anything is impossible - but that was incredibly hard yesterday, when you get conditions against Ashwin, Jadeja and Kuldeep like that. Scoring becomes very, very hard, especially when you want to eke the game out as long as we wanted to do.
"We didn't think the pitch was going to get any better, and I think we've seen that today. So look, I think the way in which the Indian spinners operated yesterday made it incredibly hard for us to score but also to rotate the strike. That little period there was very, very tough.
"Cricket is a game of skill against skill, isn't it?" he added, speaking to TNT Sport. "When you look at it like that, skill vs skill their skill was better than ours on this occasion."
Having been set a target of 192 to win, India's openers proceeded to knock off 40 in eight overs before close on day three. Rohit Sharma and Yashasvi Jaiswal then took their stand to 84 the next morning before Joe Root made the breakthrough for England. That triggered a spell in which India lost 5 for 36 either side of lunch, as Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir cranked up the pressure, before an unbroken partnership of 72 between Shubman Gill and Dhruv Jurel took India home.
"I think so far this series, not only has that brought out a lot of talent not only for us, but also for India. I'm a massive cricket fan, I love Test cricket. And I think on both sides, we've seen some young, inexperienced players come out and I think the future is great for Test cricket"
Ben Stokes
"I think it was a great Test match," Stokes said. "If you look at the scoreboard, India win my five wickets, I don't think it really gives enough credit to the game as a whole. The amount of ebbs and flows, every single day that happened, and I've got to give so much credit to our spinners, Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir. To come out and put in that performance throughout the whole Test match, but in particular today, being exposed in situations like that at such an early start of their career, I mean, incredible. I couldn't be more proud of those two in particular, but obviously very proud of the team throughout this whole week and what we've thrown at India."
Bashir, the 20-year-old offspinner playing his second Test, claimed the first five-wicket haul of his first-class career in India's first innings, going on to finish with match figures of 8 for 198, while Hartley picked up 4 for 138 to move ahead of Jasprit Bumrah as the leading wicket-taker for the series. Between them, they bowled 51 of the 61 overs in India's second innings. Although Hartley's seven-for on debut had helped bowl England to victory in the first Test in Hyderabad, as a marker of the attack's inexperience, Ranchi was only the eighth time he had bowled in the fourth innings of a first-class game. Bashir had done so once previously for Somerset, delivering two overs as Surrey knocked off a target of 29.
"It was amazing," Stokes told TNT. "Not only the way in which they performed but I think their character as well. It should be very, very intimidating for two young spinners at the start of their careers to come out on day four to try and bowl India out for a pretty small target. We thought we were always in the game because of the wicket, and not once did they take a backward step, not once did you look at their body language or their enthusiasm towards the game and think that we were beat."
Of his approach to captaining his young spin attack on tour, which has also included 19-year-old Rehan Ahmed, Stokes said, "That's the way I am as a person. That's who I am as a captain. It's allowing these young guys to come into a pretty intimidating situation, Test cricket against India, who are an incredibly hard team to come out here and play against and, you know, just allowing them the freedom to run up and treat every ball as an occasion rather than thinking about something that's already happening and can't be changed.
"I think so far this series, not only has that brought out a lot of talent not only for us, but also for India. I'm a massive cricket fan, I love Test cricket. And I think on both sides, we've seen some young, inexperienced players come out and I think the future is great for Test cricket."
England's third defeat in a row after having taken a surprise 1-0 lead, means Stokes and Brendon McCullum have suffered their first series loss since taking charge of the Test team in the summer of 2022. But Stokes praised the effort put in by his players, without focusing too much on the result - much as he had done through a run of 13 wins in 18 matches prior to coming to India.
"You come into series and obviously want to win, you want to win games of cricket," he said. "But you know, I've been here for two years and my message is consistent. It's about the input that everyone gives to the team. If you worry too much about the output, I think we're not committing as much as we can do as individuals and as a team. Everyone, every Test match here has thrown absolutely everything they can out in the field. Nothing has ever been left out on that field. And that's all we ask of our players."