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Ben Stokes opts out of England’s T20 World Cup campaign this summer
Cricket Sport

Ben Stokes opts out of England’s T20 World Cup campaign this summer

England’s chances of retaining their men’s T20 World Cup title in the Caribbean this summer have suffered a huge blow after Ben Stokes decided to withdraw from contention for the squad as he focuses on being fit to bat and bowl across a busy Test summer.

After bowling in the final Test in India last month Stokes appeared on track to be selected for the T20 World Cup as an all-rounder, an outcome which England’s white-ball coach, Matthew Mott, had hoped and planned for. But as captain of the Test team, and with two three-match Test series to play across the summer against West Indies and Sri Lanka, Stokes has decided his priorities lie elsewhere.

Stokes pulled out of the current Indian Premier League last November – partly with the T20 World Cup in mind – and has now decided to further delay a return to white-ball cricket, though the statement announcing his decision notably contained reassurances that he remains committed to the shorter formats.

“I’m working hard and focusing on building my bowling fitness back up to fulfil a full role as an all-rounder in all formats of cricket,” he said. “Opting out of the IPL and the World Cup will hopefully be a sacrifice that allows me to be the all-rounder I want to be for the foreseeable future.”

Over the last two years Stokes has struggled with a chronic injury to his left knee, reported to be patellar tendinitis, which at times has severely limited his movement and completely curtailed his ability to bowl. Between the end of June 2013 and the end of June 2023 he bowled in 211 of the 228 completed international matches he played in, establishing himself as perhaps the world’s premier all-rounder, but in 17 international appearances since then he has been able to bowl only once. For the last four Tests of last summer’s Ashes, the first four against India, and for the 50-over World Cup that came between them he played as a specialist batter.

“The recent Test tour of India highlighted how far behind I was from a bowling point of view after my knee surgery and nine months without bowling,” Stokes said. “I’m looking forward to playing for Durham in the County Championship before the start of our Test summer. I wish Jos [Buttler, England’s white-ball captain], Motty and all the team the best of luck in defending our title.”

Dr Andy Williams, a surgeon whose previous clients include Liverpools Virgil van Dijk, Newcastle’s Callum Wilson and Chelsea’s John Terry, operated on Stokes’s knee last November. The 32-year-old was told he would not be able to bowl for 12 to 13 weeks after the surgery; within 10 he was back in the nets with a ball in his hands. “I feel very good about my knee,” he said in February. “Worked very hard to get to where I am now. Definitely ahead of schedule.”

There has been no fresh setback since then, but Stokes has suffered enough of them to convince him to take his recovery slowly. His decision will cause a significant headache for Mott in his World Cup planning: when England won the tournament in Australia in 2022 Stokes averaged 36.66 with the bat, including a match-winning innings in the final, and bowled in all six matches.

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“Ben, aside from his incredible match-winning ability in every department, the ability to have a seam bowler in that top six gives you so many options with your team balance,” the Australian said in December. “It makes selection a hell of a lot easier. Every team in the world wants someone like that and they’re rare.”

Source: theguardian.com