LONDON: England Test captain Ben Stokes has ruled himself out of the team’s T20 World Cup title defence, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced on Tuesday.

The 32-year-old will skip the tournament in the United States and the West Indies to make sure he is fit to be a fully-fledged all-rounder in Test cricket.

“Opting out of the IPL (Indian Premier League) and the (T20) World Cup will hopefully be a sacrifice that allows me to be the all-rounder I want to be for the foreseeable future,” Stokes said in an ECB statement.

Stokes’ withdrawal was something of a surprise given that, when asked last month if he would participate in the T20 World Cup in June, he said he had “not even thought about that but I’m available”.

It is understood Stokes has not suffered any setbacks after briefly returning to bowling last month during a Test tour of India, where England lost a five-match series 4-1.

There is no lingering discomfort in his left knee following surgery in November.

But although he has long been one of England’s leading multi-format cricketers, Stokes has decided to prioritise his role as Test captain.

He hopes to be able to play a full role with both bat and ball during six Tests — three against the West Indies and three against Sri Lanka — in the upcoming home season.

The first Test against the West Indies at Lord’s starts on July 10, less than two weeks after the June 29 T20 World Cup final in Barbados.

“I’m working hard and focusing on building my bowling fitness back up to fulfil a full role as an all-rounder in all formats of cricket,” Stokes said.

“The recent Test tour of India highlighted how far behind I was from a bowling point of view after my knee surgery and nine months without bowling.

“I’m looking forward to playing for Durham in the County Championship before the start of our Test summer.”

‘FIRING ON ALL CYLINDERS’

ECB chief executive Richard Gould, speaking to reporters at The Oval later Tuesday, said: “It was great to see him (Stokes) bowl in India for a short spell, but that probably has just told him how much he still needs to do in terms of his body.

“I think it’s great for English cricket he’s got that ambition and he’s had his knee sorted.

“Now he’s going to make sure that he’s back firing all cylinders because he’s still a relatively young man in terms of cricket.” Stokes was

a central figure as England won the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia.

The left-handed batsman’s 42 against Sri Lanka in Sydney took England into the knockout rounds, while his unbeaten 52 — his first fifty in international T20 cricket — secured victory over Pakistan in the final in Melbourne.

Stokes delayed an operation on a longstanding left knee problem to play in last year’s 50-over World Cup in India, where reigning champions England suffered an embarrassing exit before the knockout stages after winning just three of their nine group games.

After undergoing surgery at the end of last year, Stokes was an ever-present in England’s defeat in India.

Following the Test series at home to the West Indies, England will tour Pakistan and New Zealand.

Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2024

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