Ben Stokes set for England comeback in first one-day international in NZ
Ben Stokes is in line for his England return this weekend after a five-month absence
Ben Stokes is set to make his long-awaited England comeback in the first one-day international against New Zealand.
Captain Eoin Morgan confirmed the plan to ease Stokes back in on Sunday, for the first time since England’s go-to match-winner was arrested in Bristol last September.
When Stokes sets foot on the pitch in Hamilton, it will be five months almost to the minute since the altercation outside a nightclub which resulted in his unavailability throughout this winter’s Ashes.
It was only after his not-guilty plea to a charge of affray at Bristol Magistrates’ Court this month that the England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed he would rejoin the squad for this ODI and Test tour.
Morgan is in no mood to extend Stokes’ absence any further.
“We’re expecting (him to play), providing there aren’t any hiccups,” the Irishman said.
“Providing he gets through a little bit of bowling these next two days of prep then he’ll be fit.”
This chap looks ready for a run in Hamilton to me. pic.twitter.com/P4r4tTgb2r— David Clough (@DavidBClough) February 23, 2018
Stokes proved that point in the Seddon Park nets on Friday when he followed a long batting session with around eight overs in one spell.
“He’s travelled very well and he’s turned up incredibly fit,” Morgan added. “The bowling would be the hiccup if he did pick up a niggle or something where it might put him back, but at the moment it’s looking good.”
Morgan borrowed the analogy of all-action all-rounder Stokes resembling a racehorse long ready for its first run, with the proviso no chances should be taken with such a rare talent.
“It would be nice for him to get a race under his belt,” Morgan said. “But equally when you have a racehorse of the quality of Ben you need to look after him as well.”
Warm welcome for Ben Stokes at the team hotel in Hamilton this morning. Liam Plunkett, David Willey and physio Craig de Weymarn formed the welcome committee. pic.twitter.com/PvtZr7ougk— Rory Dollard (@thervd) February 16, 2018
Stokes’ return does pose one awkward question, over who makes way.
Morgan indicated it will be a batsman, which may leave a straight decision as to which of Alex Hales or Jonny Bairstow opens alongside Jason Roy.
One man certain to play this weekend is leg-spinner Adil Rashid, who has explained his decision to negotiate a limited-overs only contract with Yorkshire.
Rashid caused a stir when it emerged he will play no first-class cricket this summer, and instead concentrate solely on white-ball fixtures for club and country.
He insists his surprise switch, announced just days before his 30th birthday, was unavoidable.
“Last year, playing red-ball cricket for Yorkshire, my thought was that if I wasn’t giving 100 per cent then I would be letting the team down and also myself down,” Rashid said.
My mind’s not there - my heart’s not there. I had to get it off my chest and let Yorkshire know. Adil Rashid
“My mind’s not there – my heart’s not there. I had to get it off my chest and let Yorkshire know.
“It’s something I’ve thought about and felt I had to do, and has been inside me for a little while.”
Rashid is confident he will not regret his move, reassured he can reverse it if necessary in years to come – perhaps after England’s 2019 home World Cup campaign.
“It’s not a permanent thing.
“It’s for this season, to see how it goes, how it unfolds and what happens… to see what my mind says and what my heart feels.
“If it changes I could be going back to red-ball cricket next season.”
Rashid has played 10 Tests but never on home soil, and was overlooked for England’s Ashes campaign this winter in favour of the much younger Mason Crane.
“I’m not thinking of what-ifs,” he said. “I’m happy with the decision I have made – whether it’s a good one or a not-so-good one, I’m fully committed to it.”