England’s hopes of reclaiming the Ashes in Australia received a huge boost on Monday with the return of talismanic all-rounder Ben Stokes for the five-Test series later this year.
Stokes took an indefinite break from cricket in July to focus on his mental health and recover from two operations on a fractured left index finger.
The 30-year-old said he was refreshed and “ready for Australia” after being given the all clear to make his return.
“I had a break to prioritise my mental wellbeing and I got my finger sorted,” said Ben Stokes in an England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) statement on Monday.
“I am looking forward to seeing my mates and being on the field with them.”
Stokes has not played for England since July, when he cut short his injury rehabilitation to captain the one-day side against Pakistan at short notice following a coronavirus outbreak.
He was not included for the ongoing T20 World Cup and was left out of England’s initial Ashes squad.
The tour had been the subject of tense negotiations after England’s players and their families expressed concerns over tough Covid quarantine restrictions in Australia.
However, the Australians will be aware that one of England’s most likely match-winners is now set to face them.
“One of the greats as a cricketer and an even better bloke,” England captain Joe Root posted on Twitter.
“Welcome back my friend.”
Ashley Giles, managing director of England’s men’s cricket, welcomed Stokes’ return but warned about overexerting him after such a lengthy spell out.
“Time and time again, Ben has demonstrated how important he is to the England team and having him available for the Ashes series is excellent news for all of us,” said Giles.
“Having not played for some time, we will move forward cautiously over the next few weeks to ensure he is fully prepared across all facets of his game.
“Ahead of a very busy period of cricket, we continue to remain mindful of the stresses on all our personnel, and our primary focus continues to be the wellbeing of all of our players and support staff.”
Stokes produced one of the most memorable Test innings to steer England to victory in the third Test of the 2019 Ashes series.
He scored an unbeaten 135 at Headingley to level the series – a few months after he had played a pivotal role in England’s 50-over World Cup success.
“It is obviously great news for England as Ben Stokes is virtually irreplaceable in any format. He’s one of the great all-rounders in world cricket at the moment,” said former England captain Nasser Hussain.
“But more importantly it’s great news for Ben Stokes, both physically and mentally.”
Stokes will depart with the Test specialists and the reserve Lions squad on November 4.
The first of the five-Test series begins on December 8 in Brisbane.
England have won only one Ashes series in Australia since 1986/87 and have failed to even win a Test match in their last two trips Down Under.