Ben Stokes is set to make his long-awaited England comeback in the first one-day international against New Zealand.
Captain Eoin Morgan confirmed the plan to ease Stokes back in tomorrow (1am start-time UK), for the first time since England’s go-to match-winner was arrested in Bristol last September.
When Stokes sets foot on the pitch in Hamilton, it will be five months almost to the minute since the altercation outside a nightclub which resulted in his unavailability throughout this winter’s Ashes.
It was only after his not-guilty plea to a charge of affray at Bristol Magistrates’ Court this month that the England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed he would rejoin the squad for this ODI and Test tour.
Morgan is in no mood to extend Stokes’s absence any further.
“We’re expecting (him to play), providing there aren’t any hiccups,” said the Irishman.
“Providing he gets through a little bit of bowling these next two days of prep then he’ll be fit.”
Stokes proved that point in the Seddon Park nets yesterday when he followed a long batting session with around eight overs in one spell.
“He’s travelled very well and he’s turned up incredibly fit,” added Morgan.
“The bowling would be the hiccup if he did pick up a niggle or something where it might put him back, but at the moment it’s looking good.”
Morgan borrowed the analogy of all-action all-rounder Stokes resembling a racehorse long ready for its first run, with the proviso no chances should be taken with such a rare talent.
“It would be nice for him to get a race under his belt,” said Morgan.
“But equally when you have a racehorse of the quality of Ben you need to look after him as well.”
Joe Root is equally confident that Stokes can put his troubles behind him and recapture his “magnificent” form for England.
Root, England’s Test captain, is pleased to have Stokes back in harness and said: “I look at Ben now and he’s extremely excited to start playing cricket for England again.
“He’s obviously a close friend of mine, I’ve played a lot of cricket with him.
“He’s done some magnificent things for England in the past and I look at what he’s capable of doing in the future.
“That’s the way I’m seeing Ben now, I’m sure he’s got a lot of drive and determination to put in some really strong performances in the future and to almost get back to where he was at the back end of the summer.”
Stokes missed England’s Ashes defeat to Australia, which itself was dogged by disciplinary issues – batsman Ben Duckett was excluded from England Lions selection after pouring a pint over senior bowler James Anderson, while Jonny Bairstow had to answer for a bizarre headbutt greeting to Australia batsman Cameron Bancroft in a bar in Perth.
Root continued: “You know in Australia, it’s a very difficult place to go and win and you’re going to have to be at your best throughout the whole tour.
“There were incidents off the field which obviously didn’t help us and distracted a little bit from our cricket, especially for people watching back home.
“That wasn’t great for our image as a team after what had happened, and it could look like it fell into the way we went about approaching the cricket (but) I don’t think it played too much of a part in the result.”
Stokes’s return does pose one awkward question, over who makes way. Morgan indicated it will be a batsman, which may leave a straight decision as to which of Alex Hales or Jonny Bairstow opens alongside Jason Roy. One man certain to play this weekend is leg-spinner Adil Rashid, a week after telling Yorkshire he only wanted to play in limited-overs cricket in 2018.
Rashid’s choice: Page 8.