Ben Stokes to start IPL as specialist batsman as injury concerns linger
Ben Stokes will be limited to a role as a specialist batsman until further notice in the Indian Premier League, with England’s medical team staying in daily contact with his franchise, Chennai Super Kings, as the Ashes looms ever larger.
The England and Wales Cricket Board did not prevent Stokes fulfilling his £1.6 million deal with CSK, despite the flare up of his chronic left knee injury on the tour of New Zealand a month ago. And while he does not have any direct ECB supervision on the ground in India, the England medical team will be in daily contact with their CSK counterparts and Stokes himself to ensure there are no setbacks.
Mike Hussey, his batting coach at CSK, has confirmed that Stokes will not be bowling in the early part of the tournament. Exactly when bowling will be possible is unclear. In New Zealand, Stokes’s bowling was limited by the injury, which also caused him considerable discomfort while batting.
Telegraph Sport revealed last week that Stokes, 31, had an injection on the joint before flying to India, but scans did not reveal damage that required further immediate intervention. England gave their blessing for him to take part in the IPL, with Test coach Brendon McCullum a close friend of CSK’s head coach, Stephen Fleming, his former New Zealand team-mate.
Even if Stokes is playing as a specialist batsman, England fans may be watching on nervously. The last time he played the IPL, two years ago, he broke a finger taking a catch, which ruled him out for two months initially, and was then a contributing factor in a four-month mental health break he took later in 2021.
Stokes has confirmed that he will miss the IPL knockouts in order to prepare for England’s one-off Test against Ireland at Lord’s on June 1. The Ashes follow a fortnight later, with Stokes – as much for his captaincy as his side-balancing batting and bowling – among England’s most important players.
Hussey, who worked with Stokes as part of the England backroom staff for last year’s T20 World Cup, said he had begun bowling again very gently, a month after aggravating the injury.
"The physios from Chennai and the ECB are working pretty closely together,” Hussey told PA. “This franchise is very professional and works very closely with all the national boards.
"He's ready to go as a batsman from the start, the bowling might be wait and see. I know he had his first very light bowl this week since he had his injections in his knee.
"My understanding is he won't be bowling much at all in the first few games of the tournament, or it might be a few weeks, I'm not 100 per cent sure. But hopefully we'll get him bowling at some stage in the tournament.”
Hussey, a legend of Australian cricket, joked that he would be bowling Stokes plenty in the nets to tire him out before the Ashes.
"From an Australian perspective I'm going to hope he bowls 20 or 30 overs in nets. We'll be running him into the ground and I'll be making sure he does extra weight sessions and run throughs to put pressure on that body," he said.
"I'm joking obviously. I want a fit Ben Stokes playing his best cricket at the Ashes. I want both teams at their best, going hard at it and I think it will be an unbelievable series to watch.
"He's going to be huge for us [at Chennai] too, particularly if we can get him bowling. Having those all-rounders is really important. He's only had a couple of net sessions and looks to be hitting the ball really well. That's really exciting.
"It's the first time we've been able to play in Chennai for a few years. For the first home game the atmosphere is going to be out of this world. I can't wait and I'm sure Stokesy is going to absolutely love it. That's the thing with those big players, they generally like a big stage and perform their best on it.”
Stokes does not have an official vice-captain with England. Last summer, Stuart Broad was primed to lead England had Stokes not been declared fit for the Headingley Test (in which he did not bowl), while Ollie Pope has stood in for warm-up matches this winter.
Pope is set to prepare for the Ashes by batting No 3 for the first time for Surrey in the early part of the season. He has been doing that job for the last 12 Tests for England, but has never done it for his county due to the presence of Hashim Amla, who has now retired.