Ben Stokes withdraws from T20 World Cup contention to prioritise Test cricket

Ben Stokes - Ben Stokes withdraws from T20 World Cup to prioritise Test cricket
Ben Stokes is making Test cricket his main focus this summer - Reuters/Andrew Boyers

Ben Stokes has withdrawn from contention for England’s T20 World Cup defence this summer in order to prioritise Test cricket and his return to full all-round status.

Stokes, England’s Test captain, was almost certain to be named in Jos Buttler’s squad for the T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and USA in June, despite playing just two matches in the shortest format since helping them win the tournament in 2022.

However he has decided to withdraw from selection so he is ready to play a full role as an all-rounder when the Test summer starts against West Indies at Lord’s on July 10. England have 12 more Tests this year, and Stokes is determined to still be a force as an all-rounder in a seismic 2025, which sees his team take on India for five Tests at home and an away Ashes tour.

Stokes delayed surgery on his long-standing left knee injury in order to come out of retirement for England’s dreadful ODI World Cup defence in the autumn.

He eventually had surgery in late November and was fit to play every game on the Test tour of India this year, but bowled just five overs, all of them in a single spell in the dead-rubber final Test. With his first ball back, he took the wicket of India captain Rohit Sharma, his 198th in Test cricket.

England's Ben Stokes plays a shot during the 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup one-day international (ODI) match between England and Netherlands
Stokes was a near-certainty to be selected for the T20 World Cup - Getty Images/PUNIT PARANJPE

After a short break, Stokes has continued bowling in training since returning from India and posted an update on social media this weekend saying he was bowling “pain free”, which has been impossible for some years.

Stokes had already withdrawn from contention for the ongoing Indian Premier League and, while he has not retired from any international format on this occasion, he will not travel to the Caribbean.

“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,” said Stokes.

“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.

“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.

“I wish Jos [Buttler, the captain], Motty [Matthew Mott, the coach] and all the team the best of luck in defending our title.”

Last summer, Stokes outlined why he was desperate to return to full all-round status, saying: “It’s something I’ve done since I was a kid. Wanting to be involved with the game is something that’s got the best out of myself”.

Stokes made a vital 52 not out when England won the T20 World Cup final against Pakistan in Melbourne in 2022 and would have been pencilled in to play a similar anchor role this time. He played a similarly ice-cool hand in the 2019 World Cup final as England won a tied match and tied super over.

While Test coach Brendon McCullum will likely be delighted, the biggest winners are perhaps Durham, Stokes’s county. He now appears likely to play as many as four Championship matches (the most he has managed in any season since 2016) for them before the Test summer begins.

Stokes’ T20 withdrawal is right decision for England’s wider future

The recent history of Ben Stokes and international white-ball tournaments has been a tale of will-he, won’t-he?

In 2022, he retired from ODI cricket, but played in the T20 World Cup, helping England become the first men’s team to hold the two white-ball belts at once. Despite his retirement, the question of whether he would travel to India for the World Cup a year later never quite went away and eventually he U-turned.

It was a decision that backfired. Stokes picked up another injury on the eve of the tournament, which ruled him out for the first three games. By the time he returned, England’s title defence was a mess and by the time he found form at the end of the tournament, they were out.

Not only that, but parachuting him in delayed surgery on his left knee, which meant he had not fully recovered by the Test tour of India, and he was fit to bowl just five overs.

No such risks this time. Stokes has been exceptionally diligent in his recovery from knee surgery in November and that single spell in India was more than was expected of him. He has continued his rehab since returning from India and decided not to risk all that progress – which now has him bowling at 100 per cent intensity, pain-free – on an event he has conquered before.

It is the sensible decision and one that will benefit England in the all-round. In T20, Stokes is a clutch player capable of winning games off his own bat. But he is also not a T20 regular like the younger thrusters Phil Salt and Will Jacks, who could both slot into a top four alongside Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow.

For all his brilliance, England may not even be a worse team without him. It will require Sam Curran and Liam Livingstone to step up in the middle order, and as bowling options, too. Even without Stokes, they still have enough all-rounders to pick a balanced, aggressive team.

Stokes needs to bowl in Test cricket, both for himself and his team. Stokes without the ball looks a cricketer denuded, and lacking purpose. Without a premier all-rounder, the team lacks balance that only he can give them.

He is 33 in June, with a badly worn body, but intent on leading England to the Ashes in the winter of 2025/26. The only way he will get there is with careful management and by prioritising Test cricket.

This, then, is a step in the right direction.