England waiting on fitness of Ben Stokes ahead of World Cup opener

England are ready to kick off their World Cup defence with a rerun of their 2019 final victory against New Zealand, but returning hero Ben Stokes has emerged as an injury doubt for the opening game.

The lure of repeating the tournament triumph of four years ago was enough to draw Stokes out of ODI retirement after a year away from the format, but he may be confined to a watching brief in Ahmedabad.

While England fans will be glad to hear there are no signs of his long-term knee problems flaring up, skipper Jos Buttler revealed the 32-year-old has been struggling with soreness in his left hip in recent days.

He was the only member of the 15-strong squad not to play some part in this week’s warm-up win over Bangladesh, meaning he has not featured since scoring a new national record of 182 against the Black Caps on September 13.

Ben Stokes
Ben Stokes, centre, may not play England’s first World Cup game (Rafiq Maqbool/AP)

Stokes joined his team-mates for their final training session under lights at the Narendra Modi Stadium – which is not expected to fill even half of its gargantuan 132,000 capacity – but was little more than a bystander.

He spent some time in the indoor gym but did not bat. Given the lengthy nature of the competition, which spans nine group games over six weeks, it seems highly unlikely that England would gamble with their prized asset at such an early stage.

“He’s got a slight niggle with his hip, but fingers crossed that it’ll be good news for us. We’ll see,” said Buttler.

“We’ll make the right call. If he’s not fit to play, he’s not fit to play. It’s not the time to take big risks on someone at the start of the tournament. Nearer the end, maybe you do take more of a risk with people’s injuries but it’s going to be a long tournament.”

Buttler is looking to repeat the career-defining achievement of his predecessor Eoin Morgan by lifting the trophy, but distanced himself from the notion of a title ‘defence’.

Jos Buttler and Babar Azam
Jos Buttler, left, will captain England in India (Ajit Solanki/AP)

For a side who have rebuilt their entire philosophy around an aggressive mindset, it is a term he is more than happy to banish.

“I don’t see us as defending champions. We’re not defending anything. I want us to attack so I don’t like the word defending,” he said.

“For us it’s irrelevant. It certainly is for me. It’s fantastic to be reigning champions and I won’t say we’ve left that behind completely because it’s a nice place to be, but you’ve given that trophy back now. It’s done.

“It’s about trying to create something new. There’s always a desire for more, a hunger for more. We wouldn’t be here if we were content with what we’ve done.”

Stokes’ likely absence could open the way for Harry Brook to make his World Cup debut, a remarkable shift in fortunes for a player who was omitted from the original squad only to edge out Jason Roy at the eleventh hour.