Ben Stokes expected to be fit for India Test series but will not bowl

It will be England's first Test series since the retirement of veteran pacer Stuart Broad

By AP

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England captain Ben Stokes. — AFP
England captain Ben Stokes. — AFP

Published: Tue 12 Dec 2023, 12:20 AM

England Test captain Ben Stokes is expected to be fit for the start of the five-Test tour of India beginning January 25 after being selected in a 16-man squad less than two weeks after undergoing left knee surgery.

Stokes will not bowl in the series, England director of cricket Rob Key said in a video call on Monday, though that was never the plan in the wake of his Nov. 29 operation.

Key accepted that not having Stokes available as an all-rounder was affecting the balance of the team. Stokes barely bowled in this year's Ashes series against Australia, which finished in a 2-2 draw, and was only a batter in the recent 50-over World Cup where England failed to reach the semifinals of a disappointing title defence.

“With Ben, it’s never been simple,” Key said. "It’s never been the case of, ‘Just put him into surgery and everything will be all right and in six weeks he’ll be coming back.’

“It does make it trickier but as long as you know it, you can come up with a plan.”

Key said Stokes' surgery was a “success" and that the captain was on course to be ready for the first Test in Hyderabad from Jan. 25-29.

It will be England's first Test series since the retirement of veteran pacer Stuart Broad, while Chris Woakes — one of the team's best fast bowlers in the Ashes — was left out.

Instead, England will have four seamers in Jimmy Anderson, Ollie Robinson, Mark Wood and uncapped Gus Atkinson.

Four spinners were selected: Jack Leach — fit again after a stress fracture of the back that forced him to miss the Ashes — backed up by Rehan Ahmed and uncapped pair Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir.

The 20-year-old Bashir was largely going on the tour for experience, Key said, having only made his first-class debut for Somerset six months ago and played just six senior red-ball matches, taking 10 wickets at an average of 67.

However, he impressed on a recent training camp for the second-string England Lions in the UAE and England's selectors made a similar call to promote a promising youngster 12 months ago when drafting Ahmed, aged 18 at the time, to bowl leg-spin for the tour of Pakistan.

“This is the start of his journey where we will hopefully see a world-class spinner in the future,” Key said of Bashir. “He’s got one of the higher release points in the game — he just looks like everything that you see in a classical off-spinner: a bit of real craft, a bit of real guile and a decent character as well.

“It can be different if you’re bowling at Virat Kohli out in India in front of 50,000 people but we feel like his character is very solid and he looks like his ceiling is very high."

England will have a training week in the UAE before the first test, which is followed by matches in Vizag, Rajkot, Ranchi and Dharamsala.

Squad: Ben Stokes (captain), Rehan Ahmed, James Anderson, Gus Atkinson, Jonny Bairstow, Shoaib Bashir, Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ben Foakes, Tom Hartley, Jack Leach, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Joe Root, Mark Wood.

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