Ben Stokes indefinite break from cricket as major problems loom over Ashes

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England all-rounder Ben Stokes has withdrawn from the home Test series against India starting next week to “take an an indefinite break from all cricket”.

The shock development came with major problems looming over the Ashes tour, and the willingness of England players to be stuck in a biosecurity bubble for its duration in Australia.

Stokes wants “to prioritise his mental wellbeing and to rest his left index finger, which has not fully healed since his return to competitive cricket earlier this month,” the England and Wales Cricket Board said in a statement on Friday.

“The ECB fully supports Ben’s decision, and we will continue to help him during this period away from the game.”

Stokes broke the finger in the Indian Premier League in April and returned home for an operation. It also ruled him out of England’s test series against New Zealand in June and the following limited-overs series against Sri Lanka.

But when the England squad had to isolate because of a virus outbreak, Stokes accepted an emergency call to captain England in a one-day international series against Pakistan this month. After winning the series, he stepped back from England duty again.

“Ben has shown tremendous courage to open up about his feelings and wellbeing,” ECB managing director of men’s cricket Ashley Giles said in a statement.

“Our primary focus has always been, and will continue to be, the mental health and welfare of all of our people. The demands on our athletes to prepare and play elite sport are relentless in a typical environment, but the ongoing pandemic has acutely compounded this.

“Spending significant amounts of time away from family, with minimal freedoms, is extremely challenging. The cumulative effect of operating almost continuously in these environments over the last 16 months has had a major impact on everyone’s wellbeing.”

“Ben will be given as long as he needs.”

Stokes will be replaced in the squad by Somerset’s Craig Overton.

ENGLAND’S OMINOUS ASHES STATEMENT

The England and Wales Cricket Board is determined to find a way to ensure England’s best players are available for the Ashes in Australia in December, with serious fears that there will be absentees.

In a joint statement with the Professional Cricketers’ Association on Friday, the governing bodies reiterated their desire for the five-test series to be played at the highest possible standard. Meetings with Cricket Australia are set to occur in the coming weeks.

The Australian government has limited the number of overseas arrivals during the pandemic, with thousands of its citizens unable to return and COVID-19 cases surging in the country’s largest cities amid a slow rollout of the vaccination programme.

England’s Test squad, and in particular the players who feature in all formats, could go up to four months without seeing family due to the Ashes taking place three weeks after the Twenty20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates and Oman finishes in November.

“This week, several meetings have been held between the England men’s players, ECB and Team England Player Partnership to discuss provisional plans for the tour of Australia later in the year,” the joint statement said.

“All parties are collaborating and will continue to work together to understand protocols around bubble environments, family provision and quarantine rules that will be in place for the tour during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“With player and management’s welfare paramount, the ECB will discuss planning and operational requirements with Cricket Australia in the coming weeks and how they seek to implement their policies in partnership with state and federal governments.

“All stakeholders are committed to putting player and staff welfare as the main priority and finding the right solutions that enable the England team to compete with the best players and at the highest possible standard that the Ashes series deserves.”

Former Ashes winning-captain Michael Vaughan said last week he would be amazed if England was at full strength unless travel exemption was given for the families of the touring party.

A potential alternative would be to base the families in New Zealand, where a travel corridor into Australia was established, although this month that was suspended.

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