Ben Stokes has a strong chance of resuming his England career in Hamilton on Sunday, 155 days after he last put on the shirt, barring any reaction to his bowling workloads in training over the last few days.
When Stokes flew out to join the tour after his court appearance in Bristol, where he pleaded not guilty to affray, England coach Trevor Bayliss indicated the second match of the series against New Zealand would be a likelier comeback date following Stokes’ absence from international cricket since late September.
However, towards the end of the tri-series, when Stokes had linked up with the squad, Eoin Morgan was more positive about his potential to make the opening ODI at Seddon Park. The England captain has watched him at close quarters – Stokes’ workload included an eight-over spell in the nets on Friday – since the squad returned to training ahead of the one-day series.
England have a final training session on Saturday, and Stokes will need to come through that, although Morgan indicated he may not have to be available for his full ten-over allocation straightaway.
“He’s pulled up well over the last couple of days and providing he gets through a little bit of bowling these next two days of prep, then he’ll be fit,” Morgan said. “If he’s not, it’s not a big decision for me to leave him out but he’s arrived here, he’s pulled up really well. He’s travelled very well and he’s turned up incredibly fit. The bowling would be the hiccup if he did pick up a niggle or something where it might put him back, but at the moment, it’s looking good.
“He could equally be picked as a batter, but if he can’t bowl there will be a reason behind that, a niggle or something wrong with some part of his body. If he’s fine, he should be able to play some part with the ball. Coming back in the Champions Trophy, he couldn’t bowl at a hundred percent so he bowled four or maybe five or six overs and built it up from there.”
Since the incident in Bristol following the one-day international against West Indies on September 24, Stokes’ on-field action has been limited to six pre-Christmas outings for Canterbury in the Ford Trophy and Super Smash competitions. Having been made available for England selection again last month, his journey to New Zealand was delayed when his initial court date clashed with the T20 against New Zealand in Wellington.
Stokes’ availability would give England a sixth frontline-bowling option and allow them to return to the balance of four quicks and two spinners, while also having Joe Root up their sleeve after he played an important role in the one-day series against Australia.
In turn, that will provide a selection conundrum to open up a spot for Stokes. It would appear that it is Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales vying for position with Jason Roy seemingly safe in the security of his England-record 180 in the first ODI against Australia. Even though his scores have faded since, it is unlikely it would have any bearing on his chances. In that series, Hales batted at No. 3 with Root – who was Man of the Series – at No. 4, with Root likely to move back up to first drop with Stokes’ return.
“Again, it’s a tough decision,” Morgan said. “We’ve been spoilt for batters the period of time we have been together in this group but it’s a nice choice to have. I can’t tell you which way I’m leaning, sorry.”
Since being called on to open the batting in the Champions Trophy semi-final against Pakistan last year – when Roy was dropped – Bairstow has scored 502 runs at 62.75, including two centuries. He, however, failed to build on starts against Australia with scores of 14, 60, 39 and 44.
Hales made three single-figure scores in the one-day series against Australia alongside a half-century in Brisbane and 35 at Perth. Given he joined Adil Rashid in signing a white-ball-only contract with his county, Nottinghamshire, this week, it would be a blow to his psyche if he were to miss out on England’s first limited-overs side since making that decision.