England v New Zealand: World Cup opportunity may knock for Yorkshire CCC's Harry Brook due to Ben Stokes injury concern
Stokes reversed his year-long retirement from ODI cricket in order to help defend the title he helped secure in 2019, despite concerns over his long-term fitness.
The 32-year-old has been struggling with a chronic knee condition in recent years and was selected as a specialist batter for the tournament after deciding to spare his body the rigours of bowling.
But on the eve of the opening match at the cavernous Narendra Modi Stadium, the biggest cricket venue on the planet with a capacity of more than 130,000, he was still being assessed.
Stokes has not played since smashing 182 against the Black Caps on September 13 and was the only squad member to play no part in this week’s warm-up victory over Bangladesh.
Captain Jos Buttler, speaking ahead of his side’s final training session, said: “He’s got a slight niggle with his hip, but fingers crossed that it’ll be good news for us. We’ll see.
“He’s working hard with the physios and we’ll know more when the guys arrive for training.
“We’ll make the right call. If he’s not fit to play, he’s not fit to play. If he is, we can make that decision.
“It’s not the time to take big risks on someone at the start of the tournament. Nearer the end, maybe you do take more of a risk with people’s injuries but it’s going to be a long tournament.”
Should England opt not to gamble on Stokes, a middle-order vacancy would open up and potentially create a spot for Yorkshire’s Harry Brook.
The Keighley-born batter was originally left out of the squad, but made the final cut ahead of Jason Roy due to his flexibility as a spare batter who could slot in anywhere in the top six. The uncertainty over Stokes may already have justified that call, with Roy’s status as a specialist opener making him an unlikely fit had he been involved.
Brook is yet to make a major statement in 50-over cricket, as he has done in Tests and T20s, but is viewed as a future star of the format.
“We all know what a fantastic player he is. He’s at the start of an international career that’s been outstanding in T20 cricket and the Test format,” said Buttler.
“He’s not played loads of ODI cricket, but it’s a format that should suit him perfectly. It will allow him to bat for a long time and make big runs and that’s something he enjoys doing. So, he’s got all the shots and you know from Test cricket he can play big innings. This is a format that should suit him really well.”
Stokes is not the only squad member short of peak condition, with Brook’s Yorkshire team-mates Jonny Bairstow suffering back spasms in the Bangladesh match and bowlers Mark Wood and White Rose leg-spinner Adil Rashid treated with caution at the end of the English summer.
Hopes are high for a clean bill of health, but with nine group games to consider, a pragmatic approach is likely in the event of any uncertainty.
New Zealand’s stand-in captain Tom Latham, meanwhile, insists his side have “parked” memories of their 2019 World Cup final loss to England.
The dramatic nature of England’s victory at Lord’s – a nerve-jangling tie followed by an unprecedented super over and a last-ball run-out – will never be forgotten, but for the losing team time has moved on.
“From our point of view we’re solely focused on the job at hand,” said Latham.