Express & Star

England urged to send Ben Stokes home from World Cup

Steve Harmison has called on England to send Ben Stokes home from the World Cup or risk losing their Test captain for the start of their forthcoming series in India.


Stokes has revealed he will undergo surgery on his long-standing left knee injury once England’s tournament is over but, with the defending champions no longer able to reach the semi-finals, they could decide to cut their losses and bring things forward.

The first Test of a major five-match series starts in Hyderabad on January 25, with a training camp in Dubai beginning two weeks earlier, meaning Stokes is already on a tight recovery schedule for a major operation.

The 32-year-old’s instincts will be to see a grim campaign through to the bitter end, with games against the Netherlands in Pune and Pakistan in Kolkata still to come, but former England quick Harmison feels decisive action is needed to take the decision out of his hands.

“I am amazed Ben is still in the country, I don’t see any point in him being there,” Harmison said. “I’m sure that conversation has been had but it needs strong leadership. It needs someone to say, ‘Ben, you’re going home. Here’s a ticket, there’s the plane, get on it’.

“I think Rob Key, as director of cricket, should probably take that decision and if I was (Test coach) Brendon McCullum I’d be doing everything I could to encourage him. I’ve got a good relationship with Ben and I know for a fact he won’t thank me for saying this, but I’m saying it because it’s what is best for the England cricket team.

“He has the chance to get a 10-day head start and it’s common sense to take it. You never know what they are going to find with a big op, or what the rehab looks like. So give yourself the extra time because it could be the difference between being fully fit for the first Test or the third.”

Despite his fitness struggles, Stokes has led England in all 18 games since he took over the red-ball reins from Joe Root. His bold, aggressive captaincy style has helped rebuild the side in a completely fresh image and Harmison cannot imagine taking on India in their own back yard without him at the vanguard.

“The single most important person in that Test set-up is Ben Stokes. They need their leader and that’s why he has to go home,” said Harmison, who is commentating in India for Star Sports. “This tour is going to be twice as hard as the Ashes given the conditions, so he’s going to be more important than ever.”

Harmison also called on England to put their faith in Harry Brook for the last two games of the World Cup, with the rising star bafflingly kept on the sidelines for the last three games despite repeated batting failures.

“I struggle to understand how Brook doesn’t get on. I know we’ve been picking world champions but they’re not playing at a champions’ level,” he said. “England should have been brave enough to say, ‘this bloke needs to play’. We are talking about someone who is the best we’ve produced in a long time. He’s not the finished article by any means, but he probably makes our best XI.

“The problem is England are picking names who haven’t performed and hoping it gets better. One bad game turns to two, two turns to three. It needs leadership and a bit of bravery to make a big decision.”

n Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews became the first player to be timed out in 146 years of international cricket during their controversial World Cup defeat to Bangladesh.

After Sadeera Samarawickrama was caught on the deep mid-wicket boundary with Sri Lanka on 135 for four, Mathews walked to the crease with the bat in hand but appeared to notice his helmet strap was broken before marking his guard.

The Sri Lankan number six signalled for a new helmet before facing a ball and Bangladesh captain Shakib Al Hasan then appealed to the umpire for the batter’s wicket, as he was not ready to face his first ball within the two minutes required by the competition rules. After much deliberation and no withdrawal of the appeal, Mathews was forced to walk off the field having not faced a ball.

While within the laws of the game, questions will be asked over whether the dismissal is also within its spirit.