Ben Stokes is unlikely to bowl again in the remainder of the Indian Premier League season, boosting concerns about the state of England’s bowling attack in the build-up to the Ashes series.
Stokes, who has taken 194 Test wickets at an average of 32.10, has bowled only one over this IPL season. Stephen Fleming, the coach of Stokes’s IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings, said that Stokes’s bowling remains “a bit of a challenge”. Telegraph Sport understands that, if selected, Stokes is unlikely to bowl in Chennai’s final league match of the season on Saturday.
While Chennai are on course to play in the IPL play-offs, Stokes will then return home to England. The Test captain had always planned to leave India after the group stages, allowing him to rest and prepare for the one-off Test against Ireland on June 1. The match will be Stokes’s only first-class game between the second Test in New Zealand, which finished on Feb 28, and the start of the Ashes.
England remain hopeful that Stokes will be able to play a full part with the ball against Ireland and in the five Test matches against Australia. But, amid ongoing concerns over his knee issues, Stokes bowled just 44 overs in England’s five Tests last winter, and only nine across the two Tests in New Zealand.
During the thrilling 2-2 drawn Ashes series in 2019, Stokes bowled 95.1 overs in the series, including delivering 24.2 overs during the second innings at Headingley, as he restricted England’s target to 359 before taking the hosts home with a remarkable 135 not out. As a bowler, Stokes has long been adept at taking wickets with the old ball on flat pitches – periods when the rest of the attack can struggle.
“The main priority for me is making sure that I can fulfil my role as fourth seamer in the Ashes,” Stokes said last month. “I’ve had some good conversations with the people who are employed to look after us, body-wise. I said I’ll be doing everything I can whilst I’m in India to make sure that when we get to the Ashes, I’ll give myself the best opportunity to do my role.
Jofra Archer and Olly Stone have already been ruled out of the start of England’s Test summer. There are also concerns about James Anderson, whose fitness is being monitored after suffering a groin strain, while Brydon Carse, who was likely to come into England’s Test squad if fit, has had a scan after sustaining what Durham called a “trunk injury”. England will announce their squad to face Ireland this week.
Mark Wood, who took 11 wickets in four IPL games, is back in the UK, while his wife awaits the birth of their child. Wood performed strongly in the 2021/22 Ashes, taking 17 wickets including six for 37 at Hobart.
Should Stokes be unable to play a full part with the ball as fourth seamer during some, or all, of the summer’s Test matches, it could lead to discussions over the balance of England’s side. During his captaincy Stokes has strongly backed left-arm spinner Jack Leach, who has played in all 12 Tests of his full-time reign and taken 41 wickets. But if England believed that they need four front-line seamers and Stokes is unable to play a full part with the ball, then it could lead to Leach’s place being discussed, especially if the summer is damp.