Ben Stokes’ England plan offers timely boost for domestic cricket as County Championship returns

Ben Stokes has not played a County Championship match for Durham since 2022 (Getty Images)
Ben Stokes has not played a County Championship match for Durham since 2022 (Getty Images)

Ben Stokes’ decision to rule himself out of England selection for the upcoming T20 World Cup can only be a boost for England’s domestic red ball competition, the County Championship.

The current men’s Test captain, who has arguably stretched himself far too thin over the years trying to compete in all formats for the national side, has not only re-retired from 50-over cricket following the World Cup, but has now pulled out of the other ICC flagship event: the T20 World Cup.

The announcement itself was not a complete surprise, it came a few months after his decision to withdraw from the 2024 Indian Premier League auction, a tournament that is widely considered to be the ideal preparation for the T20 World Cup.

Even the chief executive officer of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Richard Gould, admitted playing every format is not a feasible option for those trying to make their way in the game.

“I think if every player played in every format of cricket, either at domestic level or international, yes it is too crowded, and players do have to pick and choose at times as to when they’re going to be available based on form, fitness and priorities,” Gould said.

“Clearly not playing in the IPL this year has given him something of a break.

“I think it also tells you where he is physically. He’s made some comments in terms of who he wants to get back playing as a regular all-rounder.

“It was great to see him bowl in India for a short spell, but that probably has just told him how much he still needs to do in terms of his body.

“I think it’s great for us, for English cricket, and he’s got that ambition, he’s had his knee sorted.

“Now he’s going to make sure that he’s back firing all cylinders because he’s still a relatively young man in terms of cricket.”

The result of Stokes’ decision will see him be available for Durham in the County Championship for the first time since 19 May 2022.

“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. I’m looking forward to playing for Durham in the County Championship before the start of our Test summer,” Stokes himself said when the decision was announced.

Ben Stokes only returned to bowling in the fifth Test of the series against India (Getty Images)
Ben Stokes only returned to bowling in the fifth Test of the series against India (Getty Images)

Stokes underwent knee surgery on a longstanding problem in November and worked tirelessly to be able to operate as an all-rounder, having played the final three Ashes Tests, and all of the 50-over World Cup in the autumn as a specialist batter.

The County Championship season starts on 5 April, and Durham will host Hampshire in a four-day game to mark their return to Division One.

Stokes is not the only England player looking to make their mark on the domestic red-ball circuit, which often finds itself short of talent when the top players get called up to their respective nations’ international folds.

When asked if the availability of the top international players such as Stokes would be a boost to the start of the domestic season, Gould said: “There’s quite a few (England) players playing (in the County Championship), and I think that is a real boost.

“In this period of windows and cluttered global schedules, and I know it’s an early start, but aside from the IPL, we can all focus on first-class red-ball Championship for April and May, and that’s a good thing.

“Clearly, we want to try and find a spread throughout the summer and get more balance, and that’s one of those things that clearly is a perennial issue.”