Ben Stokes: IPL duties will not get in way of England captaincy during Ashes
Ben Stokes will not allow the Indian Premier League to get in the way of his England captaincy, insisting he will be leading the team in the first Test of their Ashes summer.
Stokes opted out of the IPL auction in 2022 as he prioritised getting to grips with his leadership role, but put himself back under the hammer in December and landed a bumper GBP 1.63million deal with Chennai Super Kings.
The group stages of the world’s biggest T20 tournament run all the way to May 28, with the eliminator match and final to follow, while England take on Ireland at Lord’s from June 1 in their final outing before the eagerly-awaited series against Australia.
The possibility for a clash in Stokes’ calendar is apparent but he has made it clear that he will be donning his England whites rather than the yellow shirt of CSK when the time comes.
He is understood to have already agreed a departure date with the franchise and will be back in time to take a full part in preparations ahead of the first international of the season.
Asked if he would be on duty at the home of cricket if there was a spot for him in the IPL final, he left no room for doubt.
“Yes, I’ll play,” he said. “I’ll be making sure that I give myself enough time to get back and play that game.”
The picture is less clear when it comes to other players, though. The likes of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Harry Brook all have IPL contracts, as well as being lined up for key roles as England attempt to win back the urn for the first time since 2015.
Director of cricket Rob Key may ultimately be the one to determine how and when key players return to red-ball cricket – be it in the County Championship or straight to Lord’s – but Stokes suggested case-by-case decisions may be made.
With individual fitness concerns and a tightly-packed schedule of six Tests in just over seven weeks, the only thing for sure at this stage is where Stokes’ focus is trained.
“I think it’s a little bit too far ahead to say (for others), but one thing I’ve got to look at is we’ve got the Ashes after the Ireland Test, so I’ll probably get round the individuals and ask them what they want to be ready for the Ashes,” he said.
“Those five games are obviously the big one of the summer and you’ve got to think about what lads want, but you also have to think about if something was to happen in that game and we lose someone for the Ashes.
“It’s just one of those where you have to weigh up the options of what the individual person actually wants out of that week versus do we really need to play that one? Because I’m obviously right in saying that series is bigger than that game against Ireland.”
For now, though, the biggest game at hand is Friday’s series-settling second Test against New Zealand in Wellington and a chance to make it 11 wins in 12 attempts as skipper.
England have yet to settle on their XI, with their preference for going in unchanged after their 267-run win at Mount Maunganui challenged by some aches and pains in the seam attack of Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Ollie Robinson.
All three enjoyed a light bowling session in the middle at Basin Reserve two days out, but Anderson and Robinson appeared stiff at times and may require another tilt before being cleared.
Durham’s Matthew Potts would be the favourite to step up if a change was required, with Olly Stone also on hand.
“I suppose if we have got a couple of people who are a bit sore, or bowlers who don’t feel like they are 100 per cent right to go, then I will still be picking my best team because I will be picking the XI who are able to play,” Stokes added.
“That’s the beauty of the squad we’ve got at the moment – if someone doesn’t feel like they’re quite up to performing again after a close turnaround, we’ll still be able to pick the best team judging by the people we’ve got.”
After crowds in Mount Maunganui out-performed local expectations, New Zealand Cricket has already sold out the first three days in the capital. And Stokes is taking that as a sign that his pledge to revitalise the format with a team of entertainers is bearing fruit.
“I’ll say we get sold-out crowds because of the way we play, but I’m not 100 per cent sure. We’ll take it as another win,” he said.
“I think the last game was a good indication of that. I think after the initial sales there were another 1,000 tickets sold on one of the days.
“Brendon (McCullum, head coach) actually said this is the best crowd they’ve seen in a Test match down there.
“I think that’s a little bit to do with the Barmy Army as well and the fans we get following us around the world, but seeing the crowds come in last week was a good thing for us. We want people to come down to a Test match and have a good time.”
Elsewhere, Anderson on Wednesday returned to top spot in the world bowling rankings, reaching the position for the sixth time in his career at the age of 40 after his six-wicket haul. He takes over from Australia captain Pat Cummins, who had been in first place since February 2019.
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