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England all-rounder Ben Stokes ready for long-awaited return to Test cricket

Ben Stokes is set for his first Test appearance since September.

Ben Stokes is ready for his England Test return
Ben Stokes is ready for his England Test return

Ben Stokes remains on course to make his return to Test cricket against New Zealand in Auckland.

England captain Joe Root stopped short of naming Stokes in his team to face the Kiwis when he held his pre-match press conference at Eden Park on Wednesday.

But, barring any last-minute setback, Stokes is sure to play in some capacity in the day-night fixture – his first Test in more than six months since his man-of-the-match performance in last September’s series-sealing victory over West Indies at Lord’s.

It was uncertain for several days whether the 26-year-old would be fit to bowl as well as bat against New Zealand, but, on the evidence of practice this week, he appears to have recovered sufficiently from a stiff back to fulfil his key all-rounder’s role.

Stokes missed this winter’s 4-0 Ashes defeat in Australia while he was waiting to hear if he would be charged following an altercation outside a Bristol nightclub in September last year.

Only after he was charged with affray and then last month indicated a not-guilty plea at Bristol Magistrates’ Court did the England and Wales Cricket Board announce the player could rejoin his team-mates, initially for their one-day international series win over New Zealand en route to the two-Test series set to begin on Thursday.

Asked if he was able to name his team a day out, Root said: “I’m afraid not – you’ll have to wait till (Thursday) for that.”

I'm quite happy that Ben will play a part within the game. England captain Joe Root

It appears simply a case of England treading understandably carefully before making any announcement which could yet conceivably have to be revised.

Any concerns Stokes could suffer a setback at evening nets were promptly washed away, however, as a heavy shower stopped England practising as scheduled under lights.

The only relative unknown factor is Stokes’ readiness to play a full part as a fourth seamer, and if he could not do so for any reason the likely implication would be that Craig Overton receives a late call – with incumbent number three batsman James Vince sacrificed.

Root added: “There’s still stuff that needs to come out of (Wednesday) to be very sure of that, but I’m quite happy that Ben will play a part within the game.”

It is the most obvious of decisions to select a fit Stokes – England’s go-to match-winner with bat and ball – whenever he is available.

Root does have other trickier issues on his mind, though – notably whether to act on his warm-up match gambit of handing the new ball alongside James Anderson not to Stuart Broad, who needs just one more wicket here for his 400th in Tests, but instead Chris Woakes.

He has declined to confirm if that will happen, citing the need for a new “flexibility” and “fluidity” in England’s tactics as they try to arrest a miserable sequence of one away Test series victory in their last eight over the past five years.

Stuart Broad is on 399 Test wickets

Root is reassured that he has a team who will pull together one for all, rather than dwelling on any individual disappointment at perceived demotion.

“You know as a collective, as a group, that the main thing is taking 20 wickets and giving yourself the best chance to do that,” he said.

“It might be that certain players prefer to open the bowling, for example, or prefer to do certain things – as do batters around the world as well.

“But you’ve got to make sure you’re versatile enough to do a number of different skills for your team, and I think we’re fortunate enough to have a group of bowlers to do that.”

Press Association

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