Ben Stokes has ‘hit the ground running’ after return to training ahead of ODI
Ben Stokes is almost certain to make his England comeback against his native New Zealand on Sunday
Ben Stokes will make his long-awaited England return in the first one-day international against New Zealand – subject to one final check on his fitness on the morning of the match.
Stokes, unavailable for his country for the past five months after his arrest outside a Bristol nightclub last September, appears all set for his comeback at Hamilton’s Seddon Park on Sunday.
Eoin Morgan exercised caution in declining to confirm the match-winning all-rounder’s participation against the Kiwis this weekend, only because Stokes was still bowling in the nets when the England captain spoke to the press.
Stokes is nonetheless almost certainly about to play his first international match since September 24 – with opener Alex Hales highly likely to be the man who steps aside to achieve the balance Morgan wants in his 50-over team.
Asked about Stokes’ readiness, Morgan said: “He’s bowling out the back at the minute.
“If he comes through fine today and unscathed tomorrow and a low risk of getting injured on Sunday, then he’ll be fit to play.”
Stokes’ absence has been the premier talking point of the past Ashes winter, in which England lost the Tests 4-0 to Australia without him but then bounced back under Morgan for a 4-1 ODI success – before most recently falling short in the Twenty20 Tri-Series.
Stokes was unavailable until he was able to confirm his not guilty plea to a charge of affray at Bristol Magistrates Court earlier this month, and was duly cleared to travel out to join his team-mates in New Zealand.
Expectations will be high for the return of a world-renowned cricketer capable of turning any match with bat or ball.
He’s hit the ground running, and he’s been himself - which has been great to see Eoin Morgan
But Morgan has wisely advised against anticipating too much too soon.
“I mentioned yesterday that he might be better the more games he does play – this is his first for quite a long time,” he said.
“His thoughts will be along the same lines.”
Morgan has, however, been impressed by what he has seen so far from Stokes in practice – and his ability to set aside any off-field concerns.
“It’s a skill of any professional sportsman, or any professional when it comes down to doing your job, and it’s actually a nice release because you get to focus on one thing.
“He looks in great nick.
“He’s hit the ground running, and he’s been himself – which has been great to see.”
With or without Stokes, England face an exacting task against opponents who have won all eight of their ODIs at home this year, trouncing West Indies and Pakistan.
“Before the Australia series, I said these two series had the potential to expose some of our weakness as a side – and we have to be open to improving on them,” added Morgan.
“New Zealand have been on a run, and have a well-balanced side.
“Adapting our game to conditions is an important part of it.”
Morgan can be a hard taskmaster, and proved the point with a critique of England despite victories in eight of their last nine ODI series and their run to the semi-finals of last year’s Champions Trophy.
“Our batting has taken a bit of a backward step in Australia, so we’d like to see improvements in this series,” he said.
“Our bowling has come a long way in the last 11 months, which has been a really good sign.
“You can win a lot of games with the bat, but restricting and having control of the game with the ball is so powerful.”