London [UK], May 31 (ANI): England Test skipper Ben Stokes said on Wednesday that his fitness levels are back to what they were back in 2019-20 and hopes to come good as an all-rounder during the prestigious Ashes series against Australia, which will start from June 16 onwards.
A chronic knee injury has seen Stokes reduce his bowling output in recent years and it has cost England the balance he brings to the side as an all-rounder. This all came to its head during the series against New Zealand this year, during which Stokes felt "incredibly frustrated" at being unable to utilise his skillset as a bowler to play as the fourth seamer. He could deliver only seven overs in two Tests.
The skipper left Wellington to get right for his Indian Premier League (IPL) stint with Chennai Super Kings (CSK), receiving a cortisone injection in the knee before leaving for India. He made only two appearances for five-time champions, bowling a wicketless over and scoring 15 runs before his knee issues forced him to the sidelines.
Stokes used his time away from the game to regain his best fitness, with the help of the medical teams of CSK and the England and Wales Cricket Board. He now believes that his body is in the best possible place to contribute better with the ball as England starts their Test summer against Ireland from June 1 onwards.
"I have been away in India for nine weeks and made a promise to myself and my teammates, in particular the bowlers, that I will be doing everything I possibly can to be in a position to fulfil that role. I have done that," said Stokes as quoted by ESPNCricinfo.
"The knee is obviously in a much better place than was in Wellington. I have been in India for the IPL over the last nine to 10 weeks but what I have done is get myself into a position where I am not able to look back and regret or say I have not given myself the best opportunity to play a full role with the ball this summer.""I have worked incredibly hard with the medical team in Chennai, who were liasing with the ECB guys, and got myself into a place where I feel like I am back at 2019, 2020 space in terms of my own body and fitness. I have definitely given myself the best opportunity, but the mind and body are different things. But yeah, I have given myself the best chance," Stokes concluded his point.
Stokes was by no means a very prolific wicket-taker in the 2-2 draw against Australia in the 2019 Ashes, taking only eight wickets. But his 95.1 overs helped England hold their attack together. His spell of 3/56 at Headingley was notable, reducing Australia to a lead of 358, which was overshadowed by the unbeaten 135 that he played to guide England to a one-wicket win.
Stokes has not ruled out receiving more injections to help him get through the gruelling schedule of six Test matches in eight weeks. There is a strong desire to make amends for the previous year and to leave no stone unturned as he attempts to operate at full capacity throughout the summer in order to emulate earlier accomplishments.
"It has been a frustrating period for me, especially with the knee injury that has been hanging around. I know I would not look back on this series and regret any decisions that I had in the build-up period," said Stokes.
"I have tried a lot. Especially over the winter. But the great thing that sport and being out in the arena gives you is adrenaline. So it gives you stuff you are able to do in a game that you probably would not be able to do with training. I might turn up every day and bowl like I have before this little niggle turned up," concluded Stokes.
Squad against Ireland: Ben Stokes (c), James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Josh Tongue, Stuart Broad, Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Ollie Pope, Matthew Potts, Ollie Robinson, Joe Root, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood. (ANI)