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Ben Stokes is a growing doubt for the Ashes tour this winter, with England’s trip to the West Indies early next year considered a more likely time for his international return.
Stokes withdrew from England’s Test series against India because of concerns about his mental health. He was also not selected for England’s squad for the Twenty20 World Cup, which begins next month in the United Arab Emirates.
Stokes is understood to have spoken to Test captain Joe Root recently, but England have been careful to leave him space and avoid rushing him back, with his welfare the primary concern.
While Stokes is understood to have made progress, England are aware he would face a huge challenge to return during an Ashes tour, with players facing an extended quarantine period and uncertain whether they would be able to take their families.
As Telegraph Sport disclosed, England’s players will learn the conditions they face on the Ashes tour by the end of the month, with players then briefed on whether they wish to make themselves available.
The Ashes squad will be named early next month, with some players potentially declaring themselves available for only three of the five Tests.
Stokes is also understood to still be recovering from his finger injury. This remains a major ongoing concern, with the risk that a further blow could lead to a prolonged period out of the side.
The absence of Stokes for the Ashes tour would be a huge blow to England’s chances of regaining the urn. His unique ability to command a top-six berth with the bat while being a major asset with the ball balances England’s Test side. During the 2019 Ashes, Stokes’s 135 not out – one of the greatest Test innings of all time – sealed a remarkable victory at Headingley. He is currently ranked the second-best Test match all-rounder by the International Cricket Council, behind only Jason Holder, of the West Indies.
Stokes has played 71 Test matches for England, scoring 4,631 runs – including 10 centuries – at an average of 37 and also taking 163 wickets at 31.4 apiece.
As well as his batting and bowling, Stokes’s slip catching – a notable area of weakness for England in their summer Test matches this year – and support he provides Root are crucial.
Stokes has played only four Tests in Australia, but scored a brilliant century at Perth, in only his second Test, during the 2013/14 Ashes tour.
He missed the tour in 2017/18 in the fallout after a street brawl in Bristol, but returned to help England win the World Cup during the 2019 summer.
Stokes’s decision to take a break from the sport followed over a year of playing in biosecure conditions. An intended break from playing for England during the one-day international series against Pakistan this summer, when he was playing for Durham, ended abruptly after Covid-19 swept through the squad and Stokes was summoned to lead a hastily assembled England squad. He led England to a 3-0 series victory. His most recent games were two matches for Northern Superchargers in the Hundred competition at the end of July.