A left-knee injury prevented Ben Stokes from fulfilling his role as a fourth seamer in the Tests against New Zealand earlier this year, with the England skipper bowling just nine overs across four innings.
He didn’t bowl in his first game of the 2023 Indian Premier League (IPL) too, but against Lucknow Super Giants on April 3, the 31-year-old bowled for the first time in two months, sending in a solitary over taking the new ball for the Super Kings.
Many back in England have expressed their concerns over Stokes ‘pushing himself’ beyond limits in the IPL, but talking to Sky Sports, the England skipper revealed that after carefully managing his injury for a few months, he’s started to bowl pain-free again.
Stokes also, in no uncertain terms, made it clear that his top-most priority is to get back to 100% bowling fitness by the time The Ashes commences.
"It's been a very frustrating year, bowling with this knee problem. Not being able to fulfill my role as fourth seamer has been very frustrating," Stokes told Sky Sports' Nasser Hussain.
"I've worked so hard over the last month to get to where I am now. Being able to bowl pain-free has been good.
"I managed to bowl an over without any pain in my knee (in the IPL) and that is down to a lot of hard work. Everything is going nicely and just take it step by step and not look to rush myself. The main priority for me is making sure I can fulfill my role as fourth seamer in the Ashes."
Speaking of The Ashes, Stokes revealed that is pretty clear on what England’s starting XI will look like, but said that he’s still asked the medical staff to give him ‘eight bowlers to choose from’ to provide the Three Lions as many options as possible.
"I could pick a 20-man squad if I wanted to," Stokes said.
"I have asked the medical team to give us eight bowlers to choose from and this year the games are close together, so being able to have those resources available every game is something I am keen to have,” Stokes said.
"We are fortunate to have a pick of a group of English players we have. I think I know where the starting 11 is going to be there or thereabouts.”
A potential selection headache is looming large for England, with Jonny Bairstow set to be available, but Stokes asserted that, above everything, the 33-year-old, who’s been out of action for eight months after breaking his foot in a freak accident, needs to keep getting back to full fitness at the top of his priority list.
"The thing for him (Bairstow) to concentrate on and everyone else to talk about is making sure that personally he is fit and giving himself the opportunity to be picked,” the England skipper said.
"He had a horrific injury. For that to happen was incredibly unfortunate. He has a long time before we go and hopefully he is using the time to get fit and put his name in the hat."
Stokes, who is currently representing CSK in the IPL, is expected to head back home mid-May to prepare for the Ashes, which commences on June 16.