Ben Stokes confirmed for Durham Championship return

England

Ben Stokes will make his first appearance for Durham in the County Championship since May 2022 against Lancashire this week as he steps up his return as an allrounder.

The England Test captain’s last competitive match came in the final match of the tour of India at the start of March. Having pulled out of the IPL, Stokes subsequently made himself unavailable for next month’s T20 World Cup to ensure he can play a full part in the Test summer, with bat and ball, following surgery in November to clear out a troublesome left knee that prevented him from doing the latter.

With almost two months to go before the first Test against West Indies, which begins at Lord’s on July 10, Stokes will begin his tune-up at Blackpool on Friday. With Durham sitting fifth in Division One with one win and three draws, head coach Ryan Campbell was understandably buoyed by the influence Stokes’ will have on his squad and the competition as a whole.

“We’re looking to kickstart our season and we’re looking forward to welcoming England captain Ben Stokes back into our team for the first time – it will be absolutely awesome,” Campbell told BBC Radio Newcastle.

“I suggest if you’ve got a few days over the weekend you get down to Blackpool and watch the great Ben Stokes return for Durham.

“Players always want to play against the best players in the competition. To have one of those players in our own team to show us the way, his experiences, it’s unbelievable.

“Suddenly, there’s an air of excitement around the place just because he walks in the room.”

Stokes, 32, played all five matches of England’s 4-1 loss in India, but only bowled in the final Test. He removed Rohit Sharma with his very first delivery, eventually bowling just five overs.

Having initially ruled himself out of bowling on the trip, such was the speed of his recovery behind the scenes that he decided to turn his arm over in Dharamsala. He subsequently left the tour with his sights set on building his bowling back up, not least because England struggled to balance their team without a seam-bowling allrounder.

Though Stokes has had time off, he has ticked over with his bowling, slowly increasing the intensity of sessions with six Tests to come this summer – three against Sri Lanka after the West Indies series – and tours of Pakistan and New Zealand before the end of the year. Speaking to the BBC’s Test Match Special podcast on Monday, men’s managing director Rob Key said he was encouraged by Stokes’ progress.

“Ben in particular is feeling, for the first time in quite some time, that he is bowling pain free, and is able to bowl almost, straight away, into his top end speed,” Key said. “And he’s not having to go through pain barriers all the time to do it. I think he feels liberated by the fact the knee op has been a success and he feels he can now look to this part of his career being able to do both things, which is always a big thing for an allrounder.

“It’s one thing if you’re batting; if you fail with the bat you feel you can contribute with the ball. If you take one of those away, it becomes a trickier game for allrounders.”

The trip to Blackpool is one of four red-ball matches for Durham that Stokes could play between now and the first West Indies Test. It is still to be determined whether he will be available for Durham’s Vitality Blast campaign, which begins on May 30. Whether with the red or white ball, Stokes and the England management will aim to ensure he has the necessary overs under his belt before the Test summer begins.

“Even Ben Stokes, as indestructible as we always think he is, he needs to build up slowly and then hopefully peak at just the right time to go on and not have to worry,” said Key.

“Because it’s not just about your back, your knee and the knee you had operated on – you just lose that bit of resilience and robustness that bowling requires. I don’t think there’s any other force you can put your body through like what it does when you bowl, so he just needs to build up into that again.”

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