Talismanic all-rounder Ben Stokes has been added to the England squad for the tour of Australia later this year, delivering a huge boost in their bid to reclaim the Ashes.
The 30-year-old said he is refreshed after taking time out from the game both for his mental health and to have two operations on a fractured left index finger.
“I had a break to prioritise my mental well-being and I got my finger sorted,” said Stokes in an ECB statement on Monday. “I am looking forward to seeing my mates and being on the field with them. I’m ready for Australia.”
Ashley Giles, managing director of England men’s cricket, said Stokes’ return to the squad was terrific news but he added due to lack of game time they needed to move cautiously.
“Time and time again, Ben has demonstrated how important he is to the England team and having him available for the Ashes series is excellent news for all of us.
“Having not played for some time, we will move forward cautiously over the next few weeks to ensure he is fully prepared across all facets of his game.
“Ahead of a very busy period of cricket, we continue to remain mindful of the stresses on all our personnel, and our primary focus continues to be the well-being of all of our players and support staff.”
Stokes has not played for England since July, when he cut short his injury rehabilitation to captain the one-day side against Pakistan at short notice following a coronavirus outbreak.
He was not included for the ongoing T20 World Cup and was left out of England’s initial Ashes squad.
The tour had been the subject of tense negotiations after England’s players and their families expressed concerns over tough Covid-19 quarantine restrictions in Australia.
However, the Australians will now be on notice that England’s most likely match-winner will be facing them.
“It is obviously great news for England as Ben Stokes is virtually irreplaceable in any format. He’s one of the great all-rounders in world cricket at the moment,” said former England captain Nasser Hussain. “But, more importantly, it’s great news for Ben Stokes, both physically and mentally.”
Stokes produced one of the most memorable Test innings to steer England to victory in the third Test of the 2019 Ashes series.
He scored an unbeaten 135 at Headingley to level the series – a few months after he had played a pivotal role in England’s 50-over World Cup success.
Stokes will depart with the Test specialists and the reserve Lions squad on 4 November.
The first of the five-Test series begins on 8 December in Brisbane.
England have won only one Ashes series in Australia since 1986-87 and have failed to even win a Test match in their last two trips Down Under.
© Agence France-Presse