Ben Stokes has confirmed he will cut short his IPL commitments to ensure he is primed and ready for the 2023 Test summer.
Stokes was picked up by Chennai Super Kings for £1.6m in December’s auction for the upcoming season, and spoke during England’s recent series with Pakistan of his desire to commit to the competition after missing last year’s edition. However the IPL schedule, announced last Friday, confirmed the final will take place on May 28, just four days before England’s first Test of the summer against Ireland at Lord’s (June 1) which leads into a five-match Ashes series.
It is normal for players, particularly those with central contracts, to miss the latter stages of the IPL given the infringement on the start of the international summer in England. However, the more relaxed approach taken by director of men’s cricket Rob Key and Test coach Brendon McCullum has recently seen the ECB work with players when it comes to fixture clashes between international and T20 tournaments, most notably with a number of players turning down England’s white-ball tour of Bangladesh to fulfill their Pakistan Super League contracts.
As Test captain, Stokes has led his side to 10 wins in 11 matches since taking over full-time, a record that might have earned him the right to play the whole competition and drop in for the first Test at Lord’s, as Trent Boult did for New Zealand last year. Instead, he has decided the best thing would be to return early.
“Yes, I’ll play,” Stokes answered when asked if he will play the Ireland Test. “I’ll be making sure that I give myself enough time to get back and play that [Ireland] game.”
How many follow his lead remains to be seen. There are currently eight other Test players – active or available – set to play in the IPL, of which six are on full-time contracts (Joe Root, Mark Wood, Jonny Bairstow, Liam Livingstone, Jofra Archer, Sam Curran), with Harry Brook on an incremental deal. While the ECB could enforce a date for them to return, Stokes says he will discuss what they need to be ready for the Ashes, leaving the door open for some to miss the Ireland Test if they’d prefer.
“I’ll probably get round the individuals and ask them what they want to be ready for for the Ashes, because those five games are obviously the big ones of the summer, and you’ve got to think about what lads want. But what if something was to happen in that game [Ireland] and we lose someone for the Ashes … It’s just one of those where you have to weigh up the options of what the individual person actually wants out of that week, versus do we really need to play that one. Because, obviously, I’m right in saying that series is bigger than that game against Ireland.”
Speaking in Wellington ahead of the second Test at the Basin Reserve, Stokes confirmed he would ideally like to go in with an unchanged XI. However there are question marks over whether he will be able to do that with seamers James Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Stuart Broad being monitored after the 267-run win at Mount Maunganui.
Robinson is the one most likely to rest after suffering discomfort below his left knee on day three. The options to replace him, if it is felt he cannot make it through the Test, are Matthew Potts, who offers a similar unerring accuracy, or the extra pace of Olly Stone.
“If we have got a couple of people who are a bit sore, or bowlers who don’t feel like they are 100 percent right to go, then I will still be picking my best team because I will be picking the XI who are able to play,” Stokes said. “So it’s the beauty of the squad we’ve got at the moment – if someone doesn’t feel like they’re quite up to performing again after a close turnaround, we’ll still be able to pick the best team judging by the people we’ve got.”