England are prepared to play Ben Stokes as a batsman only when they defend their 50-over men’s World Cup title in India after the Test captain reversed his decision to retire from one-day internationals. The all-rounder, troubled by a longstanding left knee injury that restricted his bowling during the recent drawn Ashes Test series at home to Australia, said playing in all three international formats was “unsustainable” when calling time on his ODI career 13 months ago. The 32-year-old had planned to use a six-month gap until England next play Test cricket, away to India, in order to attend to his chronic problem.
But he is now set for a role as a specialist batsman as one of nine survivors named in a 15-man squad to face New Zealand in three home ODIs next month that is also set to double as England’s party for a World Cup in India that runs from October 5-November 19.
“It wasn’t really a case of changing his (Stokes’s) mind,” said England national selector Luke Wright after the squad was unveiled on Wednesday.
“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 return of Stokes, the player of the match in the 2019 World Cup final against New Zealand at Lord’s and the man whose unbeaten fifty led his side to victory in the Twenty20 equivalent last year, comes at the expense of Harry Brook.
The Yorkshire batsman has been the rising star of the England set-up during the past year, with the 24-year-old having compiled four hundreds in 12 Tests, while boasting strike rates of 98.85 and 137.77 in ODIs and T20s respectively.
“It’s as hard a decision as you’re ever going to get,” said Wright, who labelled Brook a “superstar” before adding: “But unfortunately in a 15-man squad, someone’s going to have to miss out. On this occasion it’s been him.”
Uncapped Surrey fast bowler Gus Atkinson, who has been cloked at 95 mph (153 kph), is also in the squad, seemingly as cover for Jofra Archer.
The injured Archer, the Super Over star of the 2019 World Cup final, is currently recovering from his latest elbow injury.
Archer last played for England in March and Wright, once a team-mate of the 28-year-old at county side Sussex, said: “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.
“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.
“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 his rehab before then.”
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