Ben Stokes to play as specialist batter at World Cup after ODI retirement U-turn

Ben Stokes has backtracked on his ODI retirement and is included in an England squad to face New Zealand that doubles as a provisional travelling party for the defence of their World Cup crown.

Uncapped quick Gus Atkinson has also been drafted in for four tune-up ODIs next month as Jofra Archer will not be fit until at least the closing stages of the World Cup in India in October and November.

Stokes branded a three-format schedule as “unsustainable” when calling time on his ODI career 13 months ago, while concerns abound over a chronic left knee problem that restricted his bowling in the Ashes.

Ben Stokes was instrumental in England's 2019 World Cup triumph (Nick Potts/PA)
Ben Stokes was instrumental in England’s 2019 World Cup triumph (Nick Potts/PA)

He had planned to use a six-month gap between Test assignments to address the issue but is now set for a specialist batting role as one of nine survivors that helped England win the 2019 World Cup.

“It wasn’t really a case of changing his mind,” said England men’s national selector Luke Wright, who confirmed a 15-strong squad to face the Kiwis next month will be their submission for the World Cup.

“Once his body was in a good place and he’d had a rest, he was really keen to play. He still has time to do his rest and rehab, which he’s doing, and he says his knee does feel like it’s improving.

“The one thing we won’t be doing is pushing him to bowl unless he’s absolutely fit and raring to go. That was a big part of the decision for him, being able to just play as a batter and that was an easy decision for us.

“Ultimately the decision came down to it’s a World Cup we want to win and we feel like we are better, and have more chance, with Stokesy than we haven’t. If ever there’s someone for the big moments it’s Ben Stokes.”

The ODI return of England’s Test captain, the player of the match in the 2019 World Cup final whose unbeaten fifty led his side to victory in the T20 equivalent showpiece last year, comes at the expense of Harry Brook.

Ben Duckett also misses out in four ODIs against the Black Caps from September 8-15 but Brook’s absence is conspicuous given the impact he has had in all formats over the past year.

“It’s as hard a decision as you’re ever going to get,” said Wright. “Everything’s going brilliantly with Brooky.

“There’s no denying what a superstar he is, and what a huge future he’s got with us. But unfortunately in a 15-man squad, someone’s going to have to miss out. On this occasion it’s been him.”

Selecting Atkinson is a curve ball given he has played just two List A matches in his career but the 25-year-old offers England another express pace option alongside Mark Wood in a fast bowling attack also containing Chris Woakes, plus left-armers Sam Curran, Reece Topley and David Willey.

While he started the domestic season outside Surrey’s XI, Atkinson has impressed in all formats in recent months, especially in The Hundred where he was clocked bowling at 95mph for Oval Invincibles.

England can make changes to their World Cup squad up until September 28 but it seems Archer’s best chance of being on the plane to India is as one of three travelling reserves.

Archer was England’s super over hero four years ago but is on the comeback trail from his latest elbow problem and may only come into the World Cup reckoning if another bowler goes down injured.

“There has got to be a duty of care with Jof, we know how desperate we all are to have him, there’s no doubt about that, but we’ve also got to get it right for him,” Wright added.

“As much as the temptation is to try and rush him in and get him in for the start of this World Cup, unfortunately we’re just going to run out of time.

Jofra Archer, left, was England's super over hero in 2019 (John Walton/PA)
Jofra Archer, left, was England’s super over hero in 2019 (John Walton/PA)

“The best case scenario for Jof at the moment would probably be available for the back end of the tournament. But obviously, a lot of things have still got to go right with this rehab before then.”

England’s white-ball programme this summer starts with a four-match T20 series against New Zealand from August 30 to September 5, where Atkinson could make his international debut.

Hampshire seamer John Turner has earned his first senior call-up, while Josh Tongue, who has caught the eye in the Test side this summer, is set for his maiden experience of England’s limited-overs set-up.

England ODI squad to face New Zealand from September 8-15: J Buttler (captain), M Ali, G Atkinson, J Bairstow, S Curran, L Livingstone, D Malan, A Rashid, J Root, J Roy, B Stokes, R Topley, D Willey, M Wood, C Woakes.

England T20 squad to face New Zealand from August 30-September 5: J Buttler (captain), R Ahmed, M Ali, G Atkinson, J Bairstow, H Brook, S Curran, B Duckett, W Jacks, L Livingstone, D Malan, A Rashid, J Tongue, J Turner, L Wood.