Ben Stokes finding bowling ‘a bit of a challenge’ as England’s Ashes opener looms large

Ben Stokes finding bowling ‘a bit of a challenge’ as England’s Ashes opener looms large

Ben Stokes is still finding bowling “a bit of a challenge” just a month out from the start of the Ashes, according to his IPL coach Stephen Fleming.

Stokes remains in India with Chennai Super Kings but has not played a game since April 3 and is being considered as “batting cover” heading into the final weeks of the franchise tournament.

The all-rounder was initially sidelined by a toe injury and then suffered a setback in his recovery, but has been overlooked for selection since returning to fitness in the past week.

IPL teams are restricted to naming a maximum of four overseas players in their XIs and Chennai have settled on the combination of Sri Lankan bowlers Matheesha Pathirana and Maheesh Theekshana, New Zealand batter Devon Conway and Stokes’s England team-mate Moeen Ali.

Chennai have just one regular season match left to play, away to Delhi Capitals on Saturday, but are currently second in the table and on course to qualify for the playoffs.

Struggle: Ben Stokes has not played for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL since April 3 (AFP via Getty Images)
Struggle: Ben Stokes has not played for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL since April 3 (AFP via Getty Images)

“Ben’s ability to bowl overs at the moment is a bit of a challenge but he’s there as that batting cover,” Fleming said. “But with Moeen bowling well in good conditions ... we go to Delhi next which has been turning, we think the balance of the side has been right.

“We’re second in the table so it’s not our style to chop and change just because we’ve had a loss [against Kolkata Knight Riders on Sunday] where things didn’t go our way.”

England start their Test summer with a one-off four-day game against Ireland at Lord’s on June 1, a match that is doubling as a de-facto warm-up ahead of the Ashes series opener against Australia, which starts on June 16 at Edgbaston.

Stokes has previously vowed to return home in time to prepare for the Ireland Test, which could mean leaving the IPL early given the final does not take place until May 28, if Chennai get that far.

Fleming’s concern that Stokes is still having issues bowling will be a worry for England, given the captain’s hopes of playing a full role as the side’s fourth seamer this summer.

Stokes bowled just two overs during England’s last Test match, the dramatic one-run defeat to New Zealand in Wellington, as he was plagued by a long-standing knee problem, though his lack of IPL action has at least provided chance to rest that particular issue.