England captain Ben Stokes not risking fitness for Ashes by playing IPL – Brendon McCullum
- By Stephan Shemilt
- Chief cricket writer in Wellington
England Test captain Ben Stokes is not risking his fitness for this summer’s Ashes against Australia by playing in the Indian Premier League, according to coach Brendon McCullum.
Stokes struggled with his left knee during England’s one-run defeat by New Zealand in the second Test.
The 31-year-old has confirmed he will play for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, which starts on 31 March.
“He knows how to get right for the big moments,” said McCullum.
All-rounder Stokes was only able to bowl two overs in Wellington, then struggled physically while batting on the final day. He scored 33 from 116 balls as England fell agonisingly short of their target of 258 in one of the greatest finishes in Test history.
Stokes said the injury is “incredibly frustrating” and confirmed he knows what the problem is but would not reveal it.
This season will be his first at the IPL since 2021, when he suffered a badly broken finger playing for Rajasthan Royals.
Chennai paid £1.63m for Stokes in December’s auction. He said before the second Test against New Zealand that he planned to miss the end of the IPL in order to prepare for England’s Test against Ireland at Lord’s on 1 June.
Chennai are coached by McCullum’s fellow New Zealander Stephen Fleming and the pair played golf together on Wednesday.
“I’ll be talking to him and making sure he looks after the skipper,” said McCullum, who is a former Chennai player.
“They’re very good. They’ve got a good team and an outstanding leader in Flem. He sees the big picture in everything.
“I’ve no concerns that the skipper will be totally looked after and I also believe that the Ashes is the script that the skipper is waiting to write, so he’ll be sweet.”
England’s first Test in the five-match Ashes series against Australia is at Edgbaston on 16 June.
Australia have held the Ashes since 2018 but have not won in the UK in 22 years. The last series hosted by England was drawn 2-2.
“We have the opportunity to really start to plot and plan and turn our attention to what’s going to be a pretty amazing time in the guys’ lives: an Ashes series at home against a good Australian side,” said McCullum.
“We’ll go into it with a lot of confidence. We know they’re a good side. We’ll work out who wins.”
McCullum also said that England batter Zak Crawley retains his full support, despite the opener going eight innings without passing 50.
Crawley, 25, has played 33 Tests since making his debut in 2019, averaging 27.60 with the bat.
“I have said right from my time being here that he is one of those players who is going to be inconsistent because of the role he is asked to perform, which is to impose himself on the opposition and play a style that puts them under pressure,” said McCullum.
“Our team is set up at the top of the order for Zak to play like that.
“From my conversations with Ricky Ponting, the Australians respect him for the instinct and power he has, and how destructive he can be. He is still a big player for us moving forward.”