en Stokes says he has given himself “the best chance” of playing a full role as an all-rounder in this summer’s Ashes series, but refused to confirm whether he is fit to bowl against Ireland this week.
Stokes’s fitness has been a major cause for concern in the build-up to English cricket’s biggest summer since the World Cup-Ashes double-header of 2019.
The captain struggled badly with a long-standing knee problem during the Test tour to New Zealand earlier this year, bowling only two overs in the one-run defeat in Wellington, England’s most recent red-ball outing.
Stokes has spent much of the intervening period at the IPL with Chennai Super Kings, but his bowling there was restricted by a toe problem and he eventually found himself unable to break into the team after being considered only as a specialist batter.
The 31-year-old’s bowling is key to England’s ability to balance their side and having named only three seamers – Matthew Potts, Stuart Broad and debutant Josh Tongue – in their XI to face Ireland, whether or not Stokes brings himself into the attack this week will be the subject of much intrigue.
“The knee is in a much better place than it was in Wellington,” Stokes said. “I’ve been in India for the IPL over the last nine to 10 weeks but what I have done is get myself into a position where I am not able to look back and regret or say I have not given myself the best opportunity to play a full role with the ball this summer.
“I have worked incredibly hard with the medical team in Chennai, who were liasing with the ECB guys and got myself into a place where I feel like I am back at my 2019-2020 space in terms of my own body and fitness.
“I have definitely given myself the best opportunity, but the mind and body are different things. But yeah, I have given myself the best chance.”
Pressed on whether he will bowl against Ireland, Stokes repeated: “I’ve given myself the best chance.”
He did confirm, however, that he is “absolutely” thinking of himself as an all-rounder and that his intention is to play all six of England’s Tests this summer, adding: “Unless I can’t walk, I’ll be on the field.”
England have, meanwhile, handed Tongue a surprise debut against Ireland, the Worcestershire seamer who was only called up last week as injury cover given the nod ahead of Chris Woakes, who had looked in line to play his first Test of the Bazball era.
Tongue has only a modest record in the County Championship this season but has been on England’s radar for some time after impressing on tour with the Lions this winter.
Stokes and Brendon McCullum have been taken with the 25-year-old’s extra pace in nets this week, with Mark Wood currently England’s only genuine quick following injuries to Jofra Archer, Olly Stone and the uncapped Brydon Carse, who had been touted for a call-up.
This is a chance to give Josh an opportunity, not only to show what he can do but to see what his character’s like and how he can influence a game.
“He is someone who possesses a bit more pace than most of the guys who have been spoken about as the next in line,” Stokes explained.
“Having someone who is able to bowl with that extra pace so he can come on and change the way the game is going and have that X-factor, is always great to have in your side.”
The decision to leave Woakes out looked a major blow for the Warwickshire seamer, who yesterday carried out media duties previewing the game before finding out he would not feature.
The 34-year-old has not played Test cricket since last year’s tour of the West Indies, missing the entire home summer after undergoing knee surgery. In explaining his thinking over Tongue’s debut, however, Stokes offered hope that Woakes could yet have a part to play in the Ashes.
“The way we looked at is is that everyone knows what Chris Woakes brings to a team with his all-round abilities, with ball and with bat,” Stokes added. “But we see this as a chance to give Josh Tongue an opportunity, not only for him to show what he can do but also to see what his character’s like and see how he can influence a game in the role that I think he would play if he were to play a few more games this summer.
“I think it was just a great opportunity and something we couldn’t look past. Woakesy understood that and all bowlers who are in the group this summer have been told to prepare like you’re going to be playing every game.”