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Stokes, England’s 2019 World Cup final hero, will make his 105th and final ODI appearance at his home ground of Chester-le-Street against South Africa on Tuesday after his shock announcement 24 hours earlier.
An “unsustainable” schedule was cited as a major factor and Key, whose first act upon being appointed as managing director of men’s cricket was to install Stokes as Test skipper, was unsurprised.
While the monetary terms of Stokes’ central contract could come under review, Key feels England’s Test and Twenty20 teams will stand to gain enormously from the all-rounder lightening his workload.
“It may well end up having financial implications to Ben Stokes in terms of his contract,” Key said on Sky Sports News. “That’s why it’s a selfless decision, he could easily have said ‘no, no, I’m the key’ and kept getting picked in the 50-over team.
“But he wants to do the Test job as best as he can, he wants to take England’s Test team forward.
“I was probably surprised at the timing but I’m not surprised that he’s had to give one format away. I think it’s a good decision from Ben that England will benefit from in the long term.”
Key, who spoke to Stokes about his decision last Thursday, thinks the 31-year-old was also motivated by his desire to continue being a presence in both batting and bowling disciplines in the Test side.
“Him bowling is actually the thing he wants to be able to do, he doesn’t just want to go and be a batter, he wants to be able to contribute as an all-rounder,” Key said.
“To do that he feels this is the best way. I’m hoping and I’m betting that this is what gets him up to 120-plus Test matches.”
Stokes quitting one format has led to questions about England’s congested programme, with 12 white-ball fixtures crammed into 25 days this month while they also have seven Tests this summer.
Less than a week after their final home Test in September, they are due to leave for Pakistan for seven T20s. A white-ball tour of Australia then takes place, including the T20 World Cup, before a return to Pakistan for a Test series – all of which occurs before Christmas.
“What it really needs is all the boards, the ICC and everyone, to come up with something that’s manageable,” Key added.
“Actually come up with something so that everyone gets what you want out of it: the players, the boards, the broadcasters, so that we get something that’s a bit more manageable. It’s not going to be easy but that’s what it needs.”