Fit-again Ben Stokes feared his World Cup was over before it started

Ben Stokes is set to make an overdue return to the World Cup stage this weekend but he feared his tournament was over before it had even started when he “heard a pop” while training in the gym.

Stokes has missed all three of England’s games so far, with details sketchy about the nature of the hip problem that occurred during the warm-up week in Guwahati.

But the 32-year-old is now primed and ready for a comeback in Saturday’s must-win clash against South Africa in Mumbai and finally free to open up about worries he had sustained a major injury.

Ben Stokes during batting practice
Ben Stokes has missed England’s opening three matches in India (Ashwini Bhatia/AP)

“I actually ripped the fascia off my muscle. It was a very interesting one, a very rare one to do,” he said.

“I did it in the gym…I heard it pop. So did our strength and conditioning coach. When I initially did it I thought I was done, because it’s not good hearing a pop.

“I did think I was out but we got the scans back 36hrs, maybe two days, later and thankfully it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as we originally thought.

“We got a programme in place straightaway, it went really well, and now I’m here now available for selection. I’ve worked very hard to get to where I am now and I’m pretty confident that everything will be good.”

Stokes was put through his paces during a lengthy workout at the Wankhede Stadium on Thursday night, taking part in high-intensity fielding drills and enjoying a long batting stint in the nets. Meanwhile, Jofra Archer was also seen for the first time since joining up with the squad as a reserve, running in the outfield as he continued his recovery from a long stint on the sidelines.

It is hard to over-estimate the importance of Stokes’ presence in the side as England look to cast off a modest start to their title defence and rediscover their mojo.

Stokes’ presence has loomed large for a long time, be it his match-winning turn in the 2019 final, his clutch performance in the T20 equivalent last year or his remarkable reinvention of the Test team in his role as red-ball captain.

Yet he is at pains to avoid being drawn as an incoming saviour, riding to his team-mates’ rescue.

“We need to tone it down a bit on me coming back in,” he said.

Afghanistan celebrate victory over England
England were beaten by Afghanistan (Manish Swarup/AP)

“I’m not the Messiah, I think Woody (Mark Wood) has already said that, which is true. I’m one person in a team sport…I know I’m just a very small part of a bigger entity.

“Everyone who walks on to that field for England is a match-winner in their own right. All I can try and do is what I do every single time I wear an England shirt and give my absolute all.”

Despite his protestations, Stokes remains much more than a cog in the machine. He was even dubbed the squad’s “spiritual leader” by head coach Matthew Mott after delivering a dressing room speech following their defeat to Afghanistan in Delhi.

“That must be because we’re in India!” he said of his new job description.

England head coach Matthew Mott
England head coach Matthew Mott had special praise for Ben Stokes (PA)

“But I know that people do listen when I talk. I don’t try and speak too much but I try and speak when I feel it’s the right time.

“Jos Buttler and Motty have got a lot on their shoulders with it being a World Cup, so I try and help out as much as I can without stepping on their toes.

“I find myself just reminding everyone of certain things – reinforcing what they are, who they are, what they’ve achieved in the game, how talented and how good they are at this sport.”

And when it comes to Saturday’s high-stakes encounter at the Wankhede Stadium, his mission statement is clear: “If we’re going to go down, let’s go down doing what we’re known for.

“Let’s not be timid or restricted in what we want to do. We want to go out and show the opposition what England is and what we’ve been known for. We are double world champions in T20 and 50-over cricket.

“You hear me say it a lot – I don’t care if we lose, I just want us to go out there and play in the way we talk about.”

Stokes’ return means difficult decisions will need to be taken over the composition of the XI, with his stand-in Harry Brook having made a strong case for retention.

A rebalancing of the side may be necessary, with all-rounders Sam Curran, Liam Livingstone and Chris Woakes proving an unconvincing engine room so far.